Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

How To Run Downhill: Advice From The World's Best Mountain Runner

Illustration for article titled How To Run Downhill: Advice From The World's Best Mountain Runner

At last! How to run downhill! While other so-called experts have brayed about the importance of likker and bendy ankles, this information comes from the world's most accomplished downhill runner, who has torn up and, more importantly, down 19,341-foot Kilimanjaro before lunch and is actually afraid of the flatness of the ocean, Pyrenees-raised goatman Kilian Jornet. The fun-loving author of Run or Die drinks from streams, snacks on foraged berries and flosses with grass as he skips down hostile scree, but his advice can be transferred to gentler slopes and flabbier thighs as well. Let's review in Domesticated mode.


Just do it, the European way. Run downhill all the time, for hours and hours, and you will get better at it. Makes sense. However, Jornet's blithe dismissal of both gyms and massive quads has angered Russ Greene who is even now preparing a lawsuit claiming that gyms and massive quads are absolutely essential for going downhill fast. And no one should say otherwise.

Don't look where you're going. Dang, this is brilliantly counter-intuitive. A little history: According to a story in the New York Times magazine, Jornet's mother took the young cub and his even younger sister out in the woods at night—barefoot, jammie-clad, no flashlight—and requested the babes find their way home in the darkness by feeling the direction of the wind and the change in pebble size under their little pink paws. I like this story. It's so Brothers Grimm. Anyway, there's a chasm of about 20 years of Hansel and Gretel that may swallow up the innocent who tries Jornet's eyes-closed 15 meter jog off the couch. I'm going to suggest a modification: At night, in your jammies, try to find your way to the kitchen using only the size of pointy plastic toys relative to your instep as your guide. While it may not directly effect your downhill technique, it will toughen your feet and broaden your vocabulary.

Relax. Big asterisk here. If you think of relaxation as not having to hold up your head, it may be helpful to think instead, Code Red Clench Everything. Jornet's advice, to "practice descending like you're dancing. For example, run down with your arms completely relaxed and every two steps do a little jump and kick your legs together" is for the way wigged out dancer. The traditional method of relaxation—eight cocktails and some porn—may be a good intermediate step.

Stretch. The master extrapolates on well-worn bendy ankles to include an entire "really elastic" body. See above.

Use technology. If they are paying you. And for bragging.

Don't think about the pain. Whatever you do, don't think about the pain. The feeling that all of your muscles have been extruded from a cheese grater and your DNA rearranged with an olive fork—don't think about that. Jornet goes into Mulan mode, imagining himself leaping lightly down the mountain on pointed toes in harem pants and a crop top. And a cape. Those with a more developed sense of imagination may want to think about something that is not the NFL.


And finally, the handmaiden to successful downhill running is not getting to the bottom and going home, as one would think, but rather using your hands and knees to get back uphill, slowly. "This is good exercise," says Jornet. This also sounds a lot like crawling, something with which Jornet wrongly assumes road runners have no experience.