If training on the Ridge Run course is the most important and doing uphill repeats is the second most important, then conditioning your quads for downhill running is the third most important training to prepare for the unique challenges of the Ridge Run.
Ridge Run – More Down then Up
Hills hills hills. The Ridge Run course is either going up or down. It consists of more down (9,000 feet) then up (7,000 feet). Being prepared for all the downhill is nearly as important as being in shape for climbing up all the uphills.
Training on the Ridge Run course and doing hill repeats is going to subject you to lots of downhill running itself. Nevertheless, there are some issues unique to downhill running that warrant focusing specifically on downhill running as an important part of your training. This is especially true in the early season when you are building up your training volumn.
What does Downhill Running do?
Going downhill puts the front of your legs, your quadriceps muscles, in a situation of being contracted as they simultaneously stretch and lengthen. This is known as eccentric loading.
A simple way to explain eccentric loading is to analyze your arm’s biceps during the simple motion of doing a pull up. On the way up, your biceps contract and shorten (concentric loading). On the way down, your biceps contract but lengthen (eccentric loading).
What does Eccentric Loading do to a Muscle?
Eccentric loading a muscle can have the effect of causing micro tearing of the muscle which leads to muscle soreness. This soreness may not be felt until the next day and is known as DOMS or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.
A little bit of soreness means that you have worked your muscles and they will adapt to better deal with the stress next time. If you overdue the downhills, the soreness can be severe and last many days. The muscles will have lots of micro tearing and the adaption may consist of excessive scaring. The end result is loss of elasticity of the muscle and loss of contractibility – things to avoid.
How much Downhill Running is the Right Amount?
As you introduce your legs to the eccentric loading of downhill running, the key is to build up gradually. You want to do just enough to cause adaption, not damage. If you have not trained on hills for a while, a hike up and then back down a steep hill such as the M trail will cause you quads to be sore the next day.
When building up the quantity of downhill running, you should wait a week before you subject yourself to the next dose. A plan would be to devote no more than one day a week to downhill running. Build up slowly. It is better to do to little and experience no soreness then to do too much and experience significant soreness.
As the season progresses, training on the Ridge Run course at least once a week will give you enough downhill work.
The Goal of Downhill Running is Inoculating your Quads from Future Soreness
As your legs adapt to downhill running, they will be able to handle more without getting sore. You can think of it as inoculation from future soreness.
In my experience, you have to keep exposing your legs to downhill running for the inoculation effect to work. If I let more than a week lapse between sessions, I will get sore again with the next session. If I prepare correctly, I will be able to do the entire Ridge Run and experience little or no soreness in the days after the race.
Downhill Running Technique
Factors such as speed and technique in downhill running also affects the stress and resulting soreness your legs experience. Look for a future blog about downhill running technique.
If you are interested, click here, to see a video on hill training in general. It contains a short segment on downhill strides.