Tag Archives: downhill running

Colorado Fall Classic Marathon Training, Week 4

I can’t believe I’m already four weeks into this training cycle.  This was an interesting week of training, seriously lacking in strength training, stretching and foam rolling. J and I sanded and re-stained our deck, which turned out to be one of those jobs that you think will take a day or two and takes an entire week, so most of my afternoons were filled with deck work and not strength training. By the time we finished each evening, we were hot, tired, and filthy, and I just wanted a shower, not another workout. Oh well. I got all my running in, at least.


AM: 11 miles. My schedule said 80-90 minutes with the last 20 minutes getting progressively faster. I was cruising a little quicker than 5k pace, 30 seconds from being done with the fast part… and my foot slipped on some mud (or probably on nothing, but mud at least sounds like an excuse) and I fell. Sidewalks are evil.
photo (10)I gimped through enough of a cool-down to make it 11 miles and called it good. I was thankful that my only wound was a knee scab and not any real injury.

PM: 45 minutes of strength training. And thus ended my only double day this week.

9.1 miles easy and a quick core workout

16 x 400m repeats with equal recoveries, 11 miles total with warm-up and cool-down. I did half the repeats on a downhill slope, but I got sick of running up and down the same street, so I moved to the flat. Not the best training decision, probably, but a better sanity decision.

9 miles “easy” that didn’t feel easy at all, quick core work.

Friday: 7 miles slow and easy, then some core work

This was our anniversary (6 years! Hooray!). We wanted to get away for the weekend but didn’t want to spend a bunch of money, so we spent it in Colorado Springs. J’s aunt and uncle live there and are always happy to have us stay, and we hadn’t seen them in quite a while, so visiting them on our anniversary weekend was perfect.

I’d asked Aimee, who lives in Springs, to recommend a downhill run for me so I could start prepping for this marathon. She recommended the Santa Fe Trail, a rail trail that runs parallel to the mountains. It was a fantastic recommendation, as the trail was beautiful and the elevation profile was very similar to the marathon’s. I started way too fast for a long run, so the last few miles were a slog. I know I’m at risk of doing that in the race, too, so I’m hoping I learned my lesson here and will pace myself better next time.My iPhone doesn't come close to doing justice to the beauty of these mountains.

My iPhone doesn’t come close to doing justice to the beauty of these mountains.

J is an awesome husband; he got up super early, drove me to the trailhead at Palmer Lake, killed a couple of hours, and picked up my gross sweatiness 17.3 miles later. That is love, folks.

After my run, I cleaned up in a Panera bathroom (classy, right?), ate some food, and rehydrated, and then we headed to Garden of the Gods. I hadn’t been since I was a kid, and J hadn’t ever been, so it was a new experience for both of us. We had a great time. Garden of the Gods is stunning.

No filter needed for that Colorado sky.
No filter needed for that Colorado sky.

We didn’t want to fight the crowds in the main part of the park for very long, so we ventured off on some side trails — fantastic choice. We saw just a handful of other people but plenty of scenery on our 4.5-mile hike.
photo 3 (5) photo 4 (2) After Garden of the Gods, we grabbed some lunch and spent the afternoon wandering around Old Colorado City (a fun little tourist trap near Garden of the Gods) before heading back to clean up for real (as opposed to Panera-bathroom style) and go out for a nice dinner. And then we went to bed early because I was friggin’ tired. Not a bad way to spend an anniversary!

J’s aunt and I have talked about doing the infamous Manitou Incline together for years, but we had never done it. We decided Sunday was the day, and since J is a good sport, he agreed to do it, too. And then he saw this, and questioned his sanity (and his love for us):
photo (12)

The Incline is that little line going up that mountain: a trail that climbs 2050 feet in .92 miles. The whole trail is made of steps like these:Aunt Jan reaching the summit!

Aunt Jan reaching the summit!

It was definitely a challenge. Some people run the thing, which is insane to me. Today was supposed to be my rest day, so I didn’t even try to run. The view from the top is definitely worth the hike… it’s gorgeous! You can see the entire city.
photo 1 (5)The trail back down is longer but considerably less steep (and less treacherous), but I still didn’t run because of the whole “rest day” thing. The whole hike made for another fun morning in the great outdoors. If I lived in Colorado Springs, I’d definitely be a regular up here… it’s a great challenge, and I’d want to see how fast I could eventually do it.

So the week ended up with 64.4 miles of running, minimal strength training, and a whole lot of outdoor fun. Overall, I’m okay with that, but I definitely need to get my strength training, foam rolling, etc., back on track this week.

Ever fallen like an idiot on a run? Please tell me about it so I know I’m not the only one.

What’s the weirdest place you’ve cleaned up post-workout?

Have you ever (or would you ever) done the Incline?

Four Strategies for Downhill Training

I’ve mentioned a few (hundred) times that my quads and I are nervous about running the Colorado Fall Classic Marathon. I’ve run reasonably well on courses with lots of downhill before (Estes and Boston, specifically), but those were rolling courses. This one is all downhill, dropping 2500 feet over its 26.2 miles. And downhill running hurts.

In this article, Matt Fitzgerald explains why running downhill is so painful:   “When your foot strikes the ground, impact forces try to make your knee buckle. Unconsciously, you contract your quadriceps to stabilize your knee and remain upright. But your knee does flex and your quads do stretch a bit when you land, so those muscles are essentially pulled in two directions simultaneously. This strain causes microscopic trauma to the muscle fibers.” The effect of that trauma is twofold: limited performance and substantial soreness.

Obviously, I’d like to avoid both of those effects as much as possible (though post-marathon DOMS is inevitable), so I’m working hard to prepare for that long descent. Recently, I’ve searched all over the Internet, dug through some of my favorite running books, and learned a lot about downhill running.

As an English teacher, I know that one of the best ways to learn about something is not just to read about it, but to synthesize all that information and create a piece of writing. So today, I’m practicing what I preach and compiling some information about how to become the best and strongest downhill runner possible. I hope you learn something from this little synopsis, too!

Four Strategies For A Solid Downhill Race

1. Run downhill. A lot.

Duh. Fitzgerald says that “a single downhill run that is extreme enough to cause significant soreness provides a protective effect that lasts up to two months.” Of course that doesn’t mean that just one downhill run will entirely prepare me for this race, but it does mean that every downhill run I can get in will be beneficial. I don’t live near any long hills, but I’m hoping to get in at least two long, all-downhill runs. Even without long hills at my disposal, research suggests that I’ll be able to reap similar benefits from running downhill repeats. Here are some examples of killer downhill-repeat workouts from this article by Jason Karp:

  • 4 x ½ mile downhill (2-3% grade) at 5K race pace effort
  • 3 x 1 mile downhill (2-3% grade) at 10K race pace effort
  • 5 x 100 to 200 meters downhill (6-8% grade) at 5K race pace effort with walk back up hill as recovery

I’ll also be running most tempo and interval runs on a decline, even if they’re on my gym’s incline trainer.

A word of caution: Just like you would with any new stimulus (speedwork, increased distance, etc.), add downhills gradually. Going from zero downhill running to five days a week of downhills is a recipe for injury. Start with one downhill workout every week or two and build from there.

2. Run uphill, too. Running downhill exclusively will strengthen your quads, sure. But you’ll be neglecting your hamstrings, glutes, calves, etc., as Pete Rea explains in this article. Running uphill will develop those back-body muscles, giving your body better balance and the strength to push through that long downhill course. Ian Torrence explains, “Any short hill sprint or long ascent workout develops power and endurance, two necessary attributes when descending tricky slopes.”

(image source)

3. Find the downhill running form that works best for you, then keep it consistent. Running form in general is fairly individualized, and downhill running is no different. In his book You, Only Faster, Greg McMillan explains that the “best” form varies from runner to runner, so experimenting is the only way to find the form that is truly best for you (p. 217). There are some form guidelines that all runners should follow, though. In Advanced Marathoning, Pete Pfitzinger discusses those guidelines: “On downhills, try not to brake. Keep your center of gravity perpendicular to the hill” (p. 147).

I did some major braking the other weekend when I ran at Green Mountain... mainly because I was afraid of breaking my face.
I did some major braking the other weekend when I ran at Green Mountain… mainly because I was afraid of breaking my face.

This article from Competitor has some great downhill form advice, including using your arms for balance and looking ahead down the hill, and everything I read emphasized the importance of avoiding overstriding. Keep your feet under your center of gravity, just like you (should) do on the flats.

4. Do downhill-specific strength training. Certain strength exercises can help prepare a runner’s legs for the brutality of downhill running. Along with basic strength exercises like squats and lunges, Torrence suggests this quad strengthening movement:

(it’s apparently called “quadruped eccentric quad strengthening, but I call it “shifty downward dog”) and box jump-downs with a  small hop. Bobby McGee, quoted in this Runner’s World article, encourages other plyometric-type exercises that include “hopping and bounding” so your muscles get used that that pounding.

A strong core is also essential for all running, but especially downhill running, as your core is what keeps you upright and balanced. Planks (front and side), v-ups, metronomes, Jane Fondas, leg lifts, hip bridges, etc., are all making regular appearances in my strength routine.

5. Eat a lot of cereal. Just kidding. That one is in preparation for my all-night trail relay with the ladies of team Cereal Killers. But really, it can’t hurt.

Downhill running provides some unique challenges, that is certain. By following these tips, I’ll be ready (I hope) to tackle 26.2 downhill miles three months from now — and you’ll be better able to approach whatever declines your next runs send your way.

Any downhill running tips I missed?

What’s the most challenging race you’ve ever done?

Favorite cereal?

The Training Begins: Goals for This Training Cycle

Hi friends! We’re back from vacation (recap coming soon, I promise) and settling into the summer routine (it’s an awesome routine, for now, since it’s 9:45 a.m. and I’m chilling at home with some coffee). Did you enjoy the three guest posts while I was gone? Thanks again to Logan, Tina, and Rachel for filling in with your awesomeness!

Vacation was a blast and provided some needed rest for my body (I ran almost every day, but only 5-7 miles. Also, humidity is evil). Now I’ve got 15 weeks until the Colorado Fall Classic Marathon, so it’s time to kick my training into high gear. Though I’d been building mileage and incorporating some marathon-specific workouts for a few weeks pre-vacation, today was the first on-the-schedule run, so it feels like the “official” start of training.

Now that it’s official, I want to lay out my goals and plans for this training cycle. I’m really mostly writing this post for accountability for myself, so if you don’t really care, I won’t be offended… come back later this week for lots of beach and flower pictures like this:

photo 3 (2) photo 2 (8)

Here are my goals:

  • Train on downhills and trails. This race is all downhill. Check out this elevation chart (from the race’s website):
    If I don’t specifically train downhill, my quads are going to burn out way too fast, and I will gimp my way to the finish instead of finishing strong. I’d really like to run the Slacker Half Marathon this month to gauge how the steady downhill will feel and give me an idea of a suitable marathon goal time, but I’m not sure if it’s going to work out. It’s on our anniversary, and also I’m broke because we just took an awesome vacation.
    I also need to run some trails. The marathon is not a trail race, but I have this crazy relay coming up in July, so I need to get my trail skills at least kind of up to par. (Colorado friends: Who wants to run some trails with me? Or some long downhills?)
  • Strength train, stretch, and foam roll. I enjoyed the Nike Training Club program I did last month, and it was really convenient to do my strength workouts at home during those last few busy busy weeks of school. But I’m ready to get back into the gym (believe it or not). My goal for each week is to do two full-body, in-the-gym strength workouts and three core, stretching, and foam rolling workouts at home. Next week, the 8 a.m. summer course I’m teaching at the local community college begins, which means I probably won’t have time to do the core and stretching stuff right after runs on those days. That’s not ideal, but I figure that doing it later is better than not doing it at all.
  • Figure out nutrition and hydration for during the race. As this will be my seventh marathon, you might think I had the nutrition and hydration thing figured out. I do not, and it’s definitely affected my performances. Since this race is in September, too, it might still be toasty out, which will also affect my hydration and electrolyte needs.
  • Recover smart. If you read Tina’s guest post last week, you know why this is so important. But I’m really bad about proper post-workout nutrition. And stretching. And foam rolling. But if I want to get faster and stay healthy, I’ve got to recover properly, so that’s a major goal this time.
  • Eat smart in general. I’m going to start using my LoseIt app again to make sure I’m eating enough calories and the right macronutrient ratios (carb needs increase as mileage increases). It’s also important that those calories are coming from high-quality sources — whole grains, veggies and fruits, nuts, and lean proteins, not sugary desserts, cheesy appetizers, and wine (all of which I indulged in on vacation).
    Yep, that's a wine slushy beside me... I'm pretty sure it was equal parts wine and sugar... obviously a nutritionally sound snack choice.
    Yep, that’s a wine slushy beside me… I’m pretty sure it was equal parts wine and sugar… obviously a nutritionally sound snack choice.

    So those are my goals and priorities this training cycle. Keep me accountable, friends, okay?

What’s your favorite indulgence?

Any tips for downhill running? 

Anything important in your life that I missed while I was gone? I’ve tried to read up on the blogs I missed, but there are just too many posts!