Gravity-assisted sprints (e.g., running down hills as fast as possible) are the best.
There was a time when I used to fly down hills on Rollerblades, semi-protected by the helmet, wrist guards, and knee/elbow pads. My sister and I would blade through the Metroparks, taking the flat curves easily and being careful to stay upright when navigating down hills.
The grass was our safety net. If we thought we were going down (e.g., falling, having an unplanned sit, etc.) or needed to alter our velocity quickly, we would be prepared to jump off of the trail and jog-step on the grass, as the wheels never worked as well on that surface and the landing, if it came to that, would be softer. We dodged people, hopped over cracks in the uneven pavement, and went as fast as we dared down the big hill on the parkway trail near Fairview Hospital – knees bent and arms by our sides, ready to roll to the right, if necessary.
It was exhilarating!
And thank goodness for the foot brake. For one who learned how to t-stop on roller skates at a young age, learning to use the brake on inline skates was strange at first, though critical to preventing accidents as we explored the paved trails.
Going up hills was sometimes a challenge. If you’ve ever bladed up a hill, you know it’s necessary to skate with strong zig-zag strokes in order to avoid rolling straight back down on your way to the top. We practiced and sometimes used the grass to walk up, rather than struggling and risking a fall.
Of course, we were fine coasting down hills, once we got the hang of it. We learned to balance and tried to time our hills to coincide with a clear trail in front of us. Other people were obstacles, and the goal was always to make it down to the bottom without anyone getting hurt.
My sister taught me trail etiquette. Though I’m sure I learned to pass on the left and announce myself when doing so in conjunction with learning to ride a bike, the same rules applied when I began skating outside. My sister and I were courteous skaters, communicating with others on the trails and staying one behind the other rather than blading next to each other.
This made our conversations interesting – we tended to shout at times, as we couldn’t always hear each other well. The quality and content of our discussions depended on who was leading/following and how fast we were going.
From the good conversations that taper off as you move faster, to the way each activity makes you feel muscles you forgot (or didn’t know) you had, there are so many parallels between skating and running.
I haven’t put on my Rollerblades in years, and I’m not sure if I’d be brave enough to skate down that big hill by the hospital if I put my blades on today, even with the usual safety gear.
But I will run down a hill any day (providing I’ve got the right shoes on my feet).
It’s not the same…
With wheels, one can pick up more speed with less physical effort. The experience of skating down a hill requires balance, the ability to steer, and – depending on your comfort level – the skill to coast and/or brake as you descend.
When running down a hill, speed is affected by one’s turnover or cadence and the amount of force one applies with each strike of the foot. Balance comes into play, as do steering and braking (to a lesser extent), and finding a good patch of grass to roll onto is less critical, though never a bad idea. Breathing also plays a crucial role.
I LOVE running down hills.
It requires more effort than skating down a hill, and it makes me feel alive.
Some runners have trouble (and sometimes experience pain) running down hills because the mechanics of doing so stress the body. Running downhill while braking and simultaneously propelling the body forward with each step puts an immense amount of force on one’s joints.
It’s a little disconcerting to actively avoid the tendency to slow yourself down when you, without any extra padding, are flying through the air with every push-off. You can apply more force and fly further through the air if your balance is good and you aren’t afraid of tripping.
The key for me seems to be increasing my turnover so that my feet are only in contact with the ground long enough for me to push off again. I have to focus on my breathing to keep it steady and strong. My arms are pumping and I’m riding the wave with the gravity boost that I can’t activate when running on a flat or uphill course.
Speed is relative. Runners learn to compete with themselves and admire those who can make running look graceful, effortless – even as those elites are cruising at a pace that my body will never in this lifetime feel under my own power. We also admire those who run with the tenacity and perseverance to finish a race, despite never being anywhere near the podium and, sometimes, at the back of the pack.
My pace as I’m running down a hill is something I might be able to touch for 30 seconds to a minute on a treadmill on a very good day. Maybe. On a great downhill (thank you, Gates Mills Boulevard), I can keep a fantastic pace going a little longer with the gravity-assist, and there is serious airtime, which just isn’t going to happen on a normal treadmill.
I feel free. My mind is quiet. I’m focused on what my body is doing. My thoughts are in the moment with me, and I am taking in the experience as if it’s the first and last time I will ever run this hill.
Feeling the wind on my face and hearing my shoes striking the pavement as I absorb the impact of each step.
Feeling my chest expand and contract with every breath.
Feeling the calm and the power, the awe over what my body can do.
The ability to be in the present – to feel the freedom in slowing down time and immersing myself in only what is.
Whatever your favorite activity, I’m sure you have a number of reasons for why you keep doing that activity. I hope it’s because you enjoy what you are doing and that you aren’t suffering through the effort because it’s what you think you should do.
I run for many reasons, the strongest of which is that I love the experience.
Running down hills is the bonus that comes with all of the regular runs and cross-training activities I do to stay healthy, happy, strong, and injury-free.
This is my way of tapping into pure joy.