The Lone Runner Series: Downhill Training for Marathon Runners
Downhill Training for Marathon Runners
by Ben Connelly
If you plan to run a marathon with any serious downhill sections, you need to practice running downhill during your training. Runners training for San Francisco, or Boston, should run fast downhill workouts. The goal of downhill training is twofold.
- Condition your legs to run downhill (especially at goal pace).
- Practice running downhill with proper form (at goal pace).
Downhill workouts should not feel very hard. They may cause post-workout soreness, but ideally over the course of training, you will notice less and less soreness as you accustom your legs to running downhill. Running downhill causes muscle breakdown (and potentially injury). Goal 1 is that over time your legs will incur less muscle breakdown while running downhill at race pace, and that when they do incur some muscle breakdown, you will feel less soreness (your brain and body will tolerate breakdown better and will generate less pain).
It is well known in weight lifting that the more frequently you lift heavy for your legs, the less sore you feel afterwards. Downhill workouts operate on the same principle.
As I mentioned in my last piece, on some of your longer uphill workouts, you can use the rest as an opportunity to practice running downhill with good form. For these workouts (and all downhill workouts), you want a very shallow hill. A steep hill will increase your risk of injury.
One of my favorite uphill/downhill workouts comes from elite marathoner/ultramarathoner Sage Canaday. Check out this video from his YouTube channel for more details. I highly recommend Sage’s YouTube channel for anyone interested in learning more about training principles.)
To run your own version of his workout, find a shallow hill longer than half a mile. Run up it at goal marathon race pace and down at tempo (lactate threshold pace). It should not feel hard. Practice striking with your midfoot and landing lightly while running downhill. Try to keep your knees bent as your feet strike the ground (avoid breaking your momentum).
Another good downhill workout is 4xmile at 8k race pace (rest by jogging back up). Find another shallow hill and run down at a pace between your tempo pace and 5k pace (unless you run 8ks at your tempo pace – meaning your 8k time is 60 minutes). Once again, practice good form while running down the hill.
A final downhill workout involves 4 miles of continuous uphill and downhill running without rests. Find a very shallow hill and run 400m up and 400m down until you have run 8 repetitions in each direction. Run this as close as possible to your marathon race pace.
You can begin downhill workouts early in your training. They become especially important about 8-10 weeks before your marathon. Run your last downhill workout about 4 weeks before your race. Although they do not feel hard, these workouts cause muscle damage. In the final few weeks, you need to focus on tapering and recovery. The key with downhill workouts is not replicating your race. The key is practicing good form while running fast down a hill. With that in mind, you can go out and start performing your own downhill workouts, preparing your body for the big day.
Ben Connelly is a freelance writer and an experienced runner. He has written multiple e-books on running and general fitness, including a marathon training guide, which you can purchase here. You can find him at his Amazon Author page, or at his website.