As I was running a hilly race course in Martinez my mind went back and forth between listening to my breathing and wandering. I love running as a time to process things. It’s done wonders for me in helping clarify “issues” in my life.
On race days the mind is definitely focused on racing. On the Martinez course when I wasn’t thinking about my pace, my mind wandered to BALANCE. I mean the kind of balance that we use to run well. I was thinking about running uphill (we had plenty of them) and how you have to shorten your stride to maintain a forward balance.
When you run downhill you lengthen your stride to balance out the effects of gravity pushing you ahead.
The downhill seems to stymie a lot of people. It’s important to take advantage of the huge opportunity that gravity provides and trust in your balance. Your body will land properly without “putting on the breaks” if you let your feet take you forward as much as they want to go, as extensions of your legs.
The next time you’re running hills, think about letting yourself go on those down hills. Let natural balance and rhythm be your guides. You might surprise yourself at how easy it is and how well you do. Interestingly, the more strength and agility workouts you do at the gym, with free weights, and with a flexibility component, the better you will do on the up and down hill! Go for it!
When you try to stay upright (instead of moving forward with the slope of the hill) you lose all that wonderful opportunity that comes from not having to lift your foot up to produce the next step. Instead, when running downhill you only need to push off with the ball of your foot and the slope takes care of the elevation part by sloping away from you. I’ve come to realize that it takes strong, well balanced knees to allow runners to run hills the way I’ve described because you MUST be landing with shock absorption in the right places or your lower body, (especially your knees) will suffer.
When landing, place the heel first, but LIGHTLY, NOT as if digging in for the long haul. Continue the forward momentum with an immediate rolling to the ball of the foot where you push off at the ball and also with your toes to continue the movement. This is not a static motion. It is very dynamic with gravity being your guide. LISTEN to your body, relax, and let gravity do most of the work.