Friday, July 19, 2013

Downhill Running Practice

Last year at Speedgoat I found myself running with many of the top 10 women throughout the day.  Since then I have joked with people that when I do a big race that draws lots of top runners my goal is to be top 10 in the women's category!  There are a lot of amazing female runners out there so I would consider this brag-worthy accomplishment to be able to hang with them!

Photo John Medinger
Last year I would have been 12th woman overall so I have to pick up my game this year.  I had the opportunity to run with Meghan Arbogast (Yes she's a rockstar! See her results here) from around Baldy Peak at mile 23 or so to the finish.  We leapfrogged a number of times.  I was still crushing the uphill sections and she was destroying me on the downhill sections.  At the end of the big downhill after the Tunnel Aid Station I was finally able to catch her on the following mile that has nearly 1,200 feet of gain.  As I passed she jokingly said, "See you on the next downhill!"

It was funny but I told myself I was going to try and maintain a good push up the hill to get enough space that she couldn't catch me on the downhill.  The downhill is 5.2 miles and 3,200 feet of descent so I knew I would have to really push.  I am not sure how far ahead of her I was at Hidden Peak but I held her off for as long as I could and she passed me less than a mile from the finish.  She passed by with a smile and finished a few minutes ahead of me.

I had no idea who she was at the time and when I got home I looked her up.  After seeing her impressive running history I felt pretty good to even be near her!  Watching her glide downhill was a sight to behold which has undoubtedly helped in her numerous top ten finishes at Western States.  So I thought I would just ask her what her secret is!  Most of the accomplished ultra-runners, both men and women, are very approachable and are happy to talk with everyone at races.  I sent her a Facebook message and asked her what if she had any advice for me.

I found this yesterday when I was cleaning out my email and I figured I would give her advice a try while running up and back on Lucky Peak.  It was a bit darker today since we started at 5am and although I had a headlamp I turned it off as soon as I could make out the rocks.  Running pre-dawn when the light isn't the greatest does force me to trust my foot placement more.  It is uphill for 5.15 miles though so obviously I wasn't moving too fast when the light was low. 

The downhill drops roughly 3,100 feet in 6.05 miles after hitting the summit.  I was with Derek and David this morning and settled in behind David.  I wanted to get the 'find a good downhill runner and chase them' part of the plan working right away.  David is super fast and even Derek and I hold HIM back!  Staying relaxed and loose has always been my problem.  I think it stems from being overweight my whole adult life prior to running.  I always have this feeling like I am killing my knees a legs and consequently give about 75% on the downhill.

Today I kept my arms loose by my sides, took longer strides while still keeping my feet under my hips, leaned into the downhill from the ankles/hips, etc....all the stuff I ALREADY know but never really seem to put into practice.  

Chasing David and paying attention apparently worked for me today.  I cut over 7 minutes off of a route I have done many times and the majority of the improvement was on the downhill while maintaining a 145 heart rate.  This is a comparison to my previous best time by mile (other than lap 6 which is the summit and the final stretch to the car). 

Moral of the story....just relax and have fun. The details work themselves out with practice! Thanks Meghan 


  1. Thanks for this post. I need to figure out the downhill thing too. Sometimes I can feel my knees doing the braking which leaves them destroyed later in the run/race. Very bad.

    Cool that you got to spend so much time on the trail with Meghan!

  2. Just before I caught up with Meghan I climbed Mt Baldy with Mindy Campbell (who is a stud too!). After cresting the top she made short order of me and put 20 minutes on me in the final miles. My goal this year will be to conserve and be smart in the beginning and have some gas left to run strong at the end like I did at Antelope :D


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