Running Downhill is Eccentric

Northern California is full of experienced, talented ultra runners.  I don’t really consider myself one of those.  Since I started running Ultras in 2009 I have done 11 ultras, only 6 of which took more than 6 hours and just one 100 miler.  I think Ian Sharman did 11 already this year.

So when I had a bad day at work and ended up registered for a 100 mile race last October I went into sponge mode.  When Ian asked if I wanted to run up Diablo with him I did not hesitate at the chance to pick the brain of the crazy man, Leadville Champion, and new Grand Slam record holder himself.  Ian is only a year older than me, but in ultra running years (I think there is a McMillian or maybe Torrence Calculator for that) is light years more mature than me. The most critical thing I learned that first trip up Diablo was that just because you run (or hike) up slow, does not mean you need to run down easy.  3600 ft of trail descent with 3 sub 5:10s thrown in for good measure and I had my first “real” taste of downhill training.  I say “real” only because I am not an exercise, running science, newbie, and I do understand training.

Several years ago while living in Copenhagen I signed up for the CCC, the younger, less mature, you are not ready to be an adult yet, sister race of UTMB.  With 18,000 ft of climbing in 98k the CCC might not be primetime, but it ain’t a daytime soap opera either.  The thing about training in Copenhagen is that its flat, not relatively flat, but flat flat to the point that people trained in the staircase of the hospital for vert training.  I’m not crazy, so I did not do that.  Plus I knew that the eccentric (muscle lengthening, damaging, all things that make you sore) downhill running would kill me before going up.  I did not want to be “that guy” that walks downhill….backwards.  So I utilized our fancy treadmill at work for some -5% grade, 2-3 hour, slightly faster than normal easy pace long runs.  First time sore for 10 days, second session 5 days, third 3 days.  Despite having accumulated less climbing in 2 plus years of Copenhagen living, I survived the 18k of vert that circa-circumnavigated Mont Blanc.

Copenhagen Hill

Copenhagen Hill

After that first Diablo run with Ian it clicked.  I needed to “season” my quads for eccentric action.  Rocky Raccoon might be a flat 100 mile race, but its still 100 miles.  In the end, I did two more sessions with Ian on the hill moving off the trail and onto the perfect pitch of the road.  The first session we managed a sub 30 min 10k, the second a sub 14:30 5k to really get the turnover going.  Sure I was sore afterwards, put that was the point.  My legs adapted, got stronger, and I even set some new lifetime PRs.  Combine these awesome workouts with the advice that Ian was offering me and I was ready for Rocky.

more climbing = more downhill.

Mt Diablo.  more climbing = more downhill.

When incorporating eccentric running into your workouts I think there are a few key points to remember.

  • Do multiple sessions
  • Run at an effort that is relaxed, but a speed that is faster than normal.
  • Do not combine with an hard uphill session.  
  • Make sure you are completely recovered between sessions.
  • While you need to be sore after the session to know it is working, you should not over-exert yourself.
  • After each session you should recover faster than the session before to know you are getting a benefit.

Flat or hilly, downhill sessions will make you a stronger, more resilient runner.  Go out there and be eccentric.


3 thoughts on “Running Downhill is Eccentric

  1. says:

    Thanks Matt for the good advice! I am running CCC this year and would love to pick your brain about it. Cheers

    • mjlaye says:

      I ran a slightly modified course with really toned down goals, but would be happy to chat about logistics, etc…

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