So you want to race faster downhill ?....
Posted on February 22 2020
Hong Kong offers some unique challenges and opportunities when you are involved in a race which involves fast, downhill running.
We are focused here on races that are typically shorter and faster than an ultramarathon where often descending hills is an exercise in leg muscle preservation. Here we want speed, and to get down the hill as fast, but as safely, as possible.
So don't confuse speed with recklessness. The aim is to be completely in control at all time.
TRIPPING AND SLIPPING. The obvious concerns for most people are tripping and slipping which undermines confidence, so it's good to remember two things.
- You trip with your LAGGING foot
- You slip with your LEADING foot
Which means, the more technical the trail, the more you lift your lagging foot.
For your leading foot, foot placement is at least as important as shoe choice.
On top of that, building leg strength and choosing the right shoes brings control, and control brings confidence
SHOE CHOICE AND FOOT PLACEMENT. Many people complain about their shoes being slippy and indeed it's important to pick shoes that are good in Hong Kong's specific conditions.
- Choose less stack height over more stack height
- Prefer shoes with Vibram Megagrip, Salomon Contragrip, Altra Maxtrac
The compounds mentioned above are the best we have found for what we face here and smaller cleats are better than big ones. We don't get much mud here and many trail shoes are designed for soft ground. Best avoid them for racing in Hong Kong.
However, shoes can't protect you from everything and it is at least as important to think a lot about foot placement.
You should be able to spot the place where your foot is going to land about 2 meters ahead of you, look at it once and then have your foot automatically go there. This takes a bit of practice but will come.
Try to pick a spot where your foot will be anchored. By anchoring we mean picking a spot where the rocks or terrain hold your foot and will reduce the chance of a slip forward
Examples of anchoring
Also when cornering fast downhill, especially when its wet and slippy, remember the outside foot on the turn is the anchor foot
That way if you do slip you will catch yourself with your inside foot. If you lead with your inside foot there is no back up.
So much of downhill trail racing has similar principles to downhill skiing. Lean forward, centre of gravity over your landing foot, never lean back, always face down the hill, weight on the down hill ski (foot)
Shoulders square to the hill, arms forward and apart as if you are holding fictitious ski poles. If you must use poles, have your hands out of the straps when descending. (You will need your hands if you do fall)... better still, don't use poles.
STEPS. Steps are so much a part Hong Kong running so its a big advantage if you learn how to tackle them quickly....
- Practice 2 Steps at a Time => The only way to be FAST!
- On narrow steps, back your heel into the step, don't try to land your toes. There is a big risk of having the previous step tip you off the step you are trying to hit. If you buy shoes with a rudder (Lengthy protrusion at the back of the shoe) (e.g. ALTRA Lone Peak) CUT IT OFF IMMEDIATELY !.
- Never side-step
- Full foot landing and CoG over the foot on forward sloping steps
We have a lot of steps that have been constructed with a wooden plate or stone at the front of the step and inevitably the ground behind it gets eroded. These kind of steps can be very dangerous.
For these kinds of steps we recommend just resting you toe lightly on the plate (assuming the erosion is not so great that this becomes impossible). This helps remind you of the lip and prevents your toe getting caught when you lift it as a lagging foot. BUT REMEMBER, big lagging foot lift !!Beyond that, avoid stepping on the following
- Anything made of wood
- Tree roots
- Tops of rocks
- Anything alive :-)
We hope you find these tips useful. They are by no means exhaustive and whatever you do be careful,and practice well. Remember, Being speedy does not mean being reckless.
However, the feeling of safely descending trails at speed in a flowing relaxed way is one of the most rewarding parts of trail running.
About the author. Peter has raced in Hong Kong for the last 20 years on most of the trails in many different conditions. Prior to that he participated in Fell Racing in the the UK and can ski. He has always enjoyed the experience and thrill of downhill racing and still holds a few downhill Strava records on HK trails.