A short Mud Run Maniac anecdote…(scroll down to skip to the goods)…I remember one summer my parents drove me to a two-week wrestling camp in World’s End, PA. The camp was literally on the top of a mountain, to the point where the car was crawling in second gear to get up to the grounds. Each morning we’d have to run down that mountain and then back up again, but by the time I got to the bottom of the mountain, I was completely spent. I had a hell of a time making it back up the mountain until my coach taught me how to conserve my energy on the descent. As our group was about to head down the hill one morning, he looked back and said, “Just let gravity do the work,” before leaving us all in his dust.
Some of the more extreme mud runs often combine flatscapes with rocky, hilly and/or mountain-like terrain. Steep hills, like the ones that make up several Tough Mudder courses, notoriously torment mud runners. Without proper mud run training, a solid incline can quickly wreak havoc to the legs and lungs. Tons of articles, forums and videos are available online that will illustrate the proper way to train for inclines, such as this post on Livestrong.
I had a hell of a time making it back up the mountain until my coach taught me how to conserve my energy on the descent.
However, what’s often overlooked in mud run training and hill training in general is the downhill portion. Frankly, when it comes to events like Tough Mudder, you need to train how to run downhill. Whether your course features a mountain or hill-side, the terrain is likely chock full of crags, crevices, puddles and possibly snow and ice patches, not to mention the mud! Add a touch of frigid or blistering weather and you have the ingredients for an extreme mud running environment.
As you approach a hill in your next mud run event, you will likely notice the majority of mud runners switching up their stride to brake and lean back and slowly navigate their way down. This tip-toe approach may seem like a good way to safely conserve energy before the next big obstacle. However, this “lean and brake” method actually forces the mud runner’s heels to hit in a braking motion, which will increase the impact on the foot and cause stress through the entire leg. Eventually, if not right away, the “lean and brake” method will lead to stress fractures and joint damage as observed in this study. Aside from the detrimental wear and tear, this method wastes energy in the runner’s battle with gravity.
Rather than follow the pack and tip-toe down your next hill, take advantage of the slope and “let gravity do the work” by engaging in some extreme downhill running. It may seem scary at first to see how fast your legs can carry you on a good decline. Since you are literally allowing yourself to fall down the hill, running downhill is really more about fall management and foot placement than it is actual running. Some hills are smooth and gentle allowing you to open your stride in a controlled manner. While the terrain on others may require a shorter stride and a strict concentration to footing. Either way, extreme downhill running is exhilarating and efficient when done correctly. It’s truly a rush like no other, especially when there’s a giant slip and slide waiting for you at the bottom!
Work some extreme downhill running into your mud run training regimen with these 10 tips:
- Save energy on the way up. Prepare for your extreme descent on the way up by downshifting your pace and running uphill efficiently. The last thing you want to do is blow all your energy before you get to the fun part. On the way up, try to maintain effort, but never pace. You can do this by monitoring your heart rate, which shouldn’t fluctuate too much if you are exerting energy properly. For example, if you run at an 8:30 pace with a 75% heart rate, you may need to slow to a 10:00 pace on the incline to maintain that 75%.
- Going down, fall forward. Leaning forward into the grade of the hill allows you to let gravity work to your advantage and keep you in proper running form perpendicular to the slope. Don’t bend at the waist.
- Widen your arms. Don’t pump your arms to get you down the hill faster (as you would in a sprint). Instead, bring your arms away from your body slightly to maintain balance and rhythm as the terrain changes on the way down.
- Lengthen your arm swing. This will likely happen naturally as your speed increases and you may find your upper limbs churning like the pedals on a bicycle.
- Engage your core. As you feel yourself “falling” down the hill, tighten those core muscles to stabilize your midsection. This will help keep you upright and take some of the impact away from your knees and joints.
- Step lightly on the balls of your feet. This will prevent you from over-striding and landing hard on your heels to help you avoid injury. Heavy steps cause headaches!
- Don’t run blind. Scope out your path before you head for the bottom and be sure to look ahead at the terrain that you will hit with each step. Be prepared to make some small jumps and quick sidesteps to avoid stepping in that gap or landing on the sharp edge of a rock.
- Maintain control. Extreme downhill running is an awesome rush. But don’t let the adrenaline carry you away. Don’t try to go faster than your body will take you and be sure to lean back slightly if you absolutely feel yourself losing control.
- Practice. Most importantly, you want to experiment and get comfortable with extreme downhill running before your next mud run. I like to practice on trails to get a feel for quick terrain changes. I also recommend practicing your downhills on grass prior to hitting the pavement. Mud run training is the key to mud run success.
- Have fun! Don’t be afraid to yell like Braveheart as you fly down the mountain. Remember, you are a mud run maniac–act like one!
Mud Run Maniac wants to know what you think! How do you train for downhill running? What other ways do you prepare for nasty terrain changes? Leave your thoughts below. Cheers!