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Once a week, I run down a small mountain (3 km, 450 m denivelation). 1/3 is asphalt, but 2/3 of it is a trail consisting of rocks and roots poking through mud, covered with dead leaves and the occasional loose stone. The surface is also wet or frosted depending on the weather. I don't jog slowly, I alternate sprinting and quick walking (for when I am out of breath). My gait doesn't help: I tend to land hard on the heel, which is cumbersome downhill.

If I try doing it in running shoes, I'll soon break an ankle. So I'm doing it in hiking boots.

While the hiking boots bear weight well and don't slip, they are still not optimal for running. Is there a way to make it easier on my feet? Maybe some kind of inlays? Something to correct for my overpronation?

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Are you sure you could not learn to descend in running shoes - or trail running shoes? While boots give better ankle support I have found that softer soled running shoes give better traction when picking my way down steep uneven terrain and allow a quicker descent than boots. This is something that I've trained at lower speeds and was able to increase in speed over time. It is quite a concious process of picking my next three or so landing points as I descend and launching myself between them. If the leaf matter is very slippery perhaps you need the 'emergency backup' of the boot more so.. –  silasdavis Jan 16 '12 at 19:35

3 Answers 3

Oh good lord - don't try it in boots - you definitely will break an ankle.

@alord1689's answer is pretty good. I would expand on it and say:

  1. Get some trail shoes. These have several benefits over road shoes or hiking boots: The heel is lower than a road shoe so the risk of tipping over and spraining an ankle or breaking a bone is less. They have a stone shield which protects against the pain of sharp stones. Lastly, the tread is much better for trails - bigger ruts for mud and the rubber is stickier on rocks.
  2. Build up your ankle strength and prioception. Prioception is your body's sense of where it is in space. The best way to do this is to stand on one leg for as long as you can and build up to a few minutes. Then do it with your eyes shut. Then open your eyes and do it while waggling all 3 other limbs around. Then do that with your eyes shut (it will take a fair few weeks to get to this point). For ankle strength get some elastic bands (e.g. Theraband) and do some exercises with those. The result is that you can learn to trust your feet to almost sprain but flick back to normal without you thinking about or getting any damage.
  3. Land on your ball or mid foot. Landing on your heel hurts (don't you notice the shock going up your body) and you have very little control. When you land on the front of your foot you have five little toes to help balance and control you. Then the rest of your foot works to absorb the shock a little before it works up the shock absorbing mechanism of your legs.
  4. A shorter stride helps a lot. You may find that you have to take little half steps or shorter steps in order to get the foot you want ready to go in the spot you want.
  5. Remember to look up every few seconds to pick the medium term path. It gives you time to pick a nicer route or to make sure you don't miss a turn in the trail.
  6. Learn how to run down hill slowly. As you build up experience you will get faster. Then you will learn the joy of working of a nice technical downhill and how it makes you feel. It's very similar to ski-ing in that you dance with the mountain.

I love running downhill. It's my favourite part of trail running and where I pass people the most (then they pass me back on the uphills - c'est la view). Using boots would be a tragedy unless you are fast-packing or hiking (the extra load requires greater support in your lower legs).

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Shorten your stride, increase leg turnover, land mid-foot. That's about it. Any chance you could run UP the hill instead of DOWN it?

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Shorter stride. That's what I was going to say. I would also recommend finding a good performance boot, if you must run in boots. There are some very good running boots out there! Bates Durashocks are a nice compromise between performance and price, but there are many others. –  jp2code Jan 18 '12 at 15:54

Here are my three recommendations:

  1. Try to avoid the heelstrike. You get less traction than using your whole foot and are likely to fall on your bum.
  2. Slow down and use shorter strides to maintain control.
  3. Find some hybrid hiking/running shoes, such as the hi-top lines available from Inov-8.
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The current link is dead, I changed it to the main site. If you happen to find a better one please edit again. –  Baarn Nov 11 '12 at 18:10

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