After an amazing winter in Queenstown I have finally decided to hang up my boots and board and throw on the running shoes to explore the many trails that are on offer – starting with Queenstown hill. My run up the mountain turned very quick from a run to a jog to a fast paced walk. However, after taking in the amazing view at the summit I took advantage of some downhill momentum and sprinted down.
On my way down, I got to thinking how it could all go very wrong in the blink of an eye, a rolled ankle, a slip on some uneven ground and realised that running downhill, although a lot of fun, needs to be done with some care.
With that in mind, here are my top 5 for injury prevention from a physio point of view:
- Footwear – A decent pair of trail running shoes with good grip are a must especially when running on loose, uneven ground. A snug fit both width and length is also important to avoid your foot sliding forward in your shoe (I once lost my big toe nail to ill-fitting shoes running down Mt Fyfe, never again!).
- Focus – Being aware of your foot placement and what sort of surface you are about to launch onto is important to prepare your body (especially your ankles) to adjust and counteract any unusual forces. This is even more important for those who are carrying a lower limb injury as your proprioceptive mechanisms (your joints ability to detect its position in space) might not be 100%. In other words: don’t look at the view – focus on what is underfoot.
- Activate your core – In order to support the greater forces going through your body and a higher stride frequency associated with downhill running it is very important that the hips are stable and well connected to the upper body and feet. Some prime core stabilisers include transversus abdominis, multifidus, gluteus medius and the pelvic floor – if you are unsure on how to activate these muscles, have a chat to your physio!
- Change it up – To alleviate joint pain that some experience from the heavy forces going through your body in downhill running, change your technique up a little. On slightly flatter descents trial heel striking and then revert back to toe striking when it gets a bit steeper. You can also zig zag or side step down wider, less uneven terrain to reduce the deceleration forces through the front of the knees.
- Listen to your body – An increase in muscle tension is often the first sign that things are getting a bit out of control. When that happens, you need to either slow down or increase your cadence – both of which will reduce the force being put through your body by each foot-fall.
Be careful though it’s easy to unconsciously increase your speed as you increase your cadence. That may seem like a good thing, but if your downhill speed is substantially higher than your average speed on a flat course your ego may be writing cheques your body can’t cash!