One of my Team Over The Top barefoot runners, Michelle Bolhuis, is in training for the Canadian Death Race (Rocky Mountains, Whistler, B.C.) that takes place in late July.
She just competed in the 50K Ultra Mountain race in Collingwood, Ontario, Canada. At a pre-CDR training camp in Alberta, Canada, it became painfully obvious to Michelle that she needed more effective techniques for running down mountainsides barefoot…if she was to come anywhere close to finishing both of the above events. Thus, she asked me for a few tips to help her better handle the challenges ahead.
Having run barefoot down numerous mountain trails over my running career, I knew that Michelle needed to learn more than simply how to run on hills. She had to learn how to survive running barefoot down some steep, rugged mountain terrain. We worked specifically on balance, reaction time, lowering centre of gravity, arm action, body positioning and foot speed. Running barefoot down the side of a mountain may not be the most difficult thing to do…but it’s close!!
There may be some of you facing a similar challenge to Michelle or you may be looking for techniques to improve your overall downhill (especially trail) running. If, so, the following tips will be of assistance:
- switch-backs – run parallel to the mountain and switch back within the limits of the path
- weave – angle to the side of the mountain then angle back. You basically weave back and forth
- quick feet lift – essential for bare-footers to avoid roots, ridges etc. The feet are lifted slightly higher than when running on a flat section with the knees remaining bent and stable
- arms out as stabilizers – doing this helps to expand the centre of gravity, improve balance & better control downward momentum
- side-to-side striding – allows for better reaction to obstacles, improves balance, lowers the centre of gravity (thus decreasing the risk of falling forward)
- cupping the feet – done when striking a sharp object (stone, rock, stick). This is an instinctive curling of the toes along with a quick lift of the foot. It helps you avoid cuts, slivers etc. that can stop your run
- bracing the core whilst squatting lower than normal. This helps you absorb the impact of the downhill grade, protect your quads & hip flexors from premature fatigue and react faster to sudden changes in terrain
- high knee lift when in mud – if you hit muddy, slippery sections where sinking below ankle level is a possibility, doing this prevents the feet from bogging down and sliding off the course
Using the above techniques may not guarantee a world record downhill barefoot running record but they will help you arrive safely at the finish line!
JOIN COACH JEFF for an upcoming clinic and enjoy #InjuryFreeRunning!