Fear is one of the biggest handicap on downhills. Fear of falling and hurting yourself possibly badly. Confidence in running fast downhills comes with skill at running fast downhills. Practice will add to both.
This is for those who have mastered my other drills, like The Staggering Drunk, The Cat-Walk, Don’t be Pushy, etc…
The key in running downhills fast, is as the title suggests, to let go, take off the brakes, relax, and “fly”.
Before you start out on long steep gravel trails, this would be a good time to practice on a nice soft grassy knoll – not to protect your feet, but rather to protect the rest of your body…
Some hills will require slowing down. But not all. I find that practice on a gentle downgrade, or a short but steep downgrade onto a pleasant surface (grass, soft sand, water), can help build skill and confidence. As you get to where you can run down a gentle or short steep slope while “letting go”, then you can graduate to less gentle or longer slopes on more challenging terrain. Like most everything, start short, slow, less steep, and build gradually as you become more skilled.
Now, the key thing to remember, is that you are going DOWN a hill. Too many people stiffen up, and launch themselves forward, or worse yet, UP with each step. That’s just a waste of energy, and a waste of your body when it crashes. So focus on allowing your knees to bend – even more, focus on running DOWN the hill, not forward out away from the hill. Focus on letting your knee bend on landing, rather than hitting the brakes.
On any hill that is too steep for the skill level you currently have, try running sideways, or weaving down the hill (Careful of other runners behind you), but sort of like skiing down a steep hill, zig-zag to make the slope more gentle (except my oldest brother, who likes to point his skis straight down the hill and go really fast!)
But again, as you practice, and if your body is flexible enough, there won’t be many hills in races that are too steep to run down. Just that you’ll want to get good at moving FASTER.
Alternatives to Running Down Hill
Sine Wave: As I mentioned above, instead of running straight down a hill, you may be able to weave from side to side, running in a sinusoidal pattern (be mindful of others running or walking behind you) if the trail/road/path is wide enough.
Sliding: I was once passed on a steep grassy downhill in the rain, by a fellow sliding on his butt (slippery shorts). At the bottom, he used his momentum to simply pop back up and continued up the next hill. I did not catch him again in that race… Though this technique may work occassionally, on particularly wet and slippery terrain, I wouldn’t want to depend on this (speaking of which, you may need to wear adult underwear for added protection).