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Going Downhill

Going Downhill

A Company, 7th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment,
159th Combat Aviation Brigade
Fort Campbell, Kentucky

One April, my sister talked me into running an insane 24-hour relay race called the Ragnar. Twelve of us decided to take on this challenge — a 192-mile trek through the scenic Wasatch Mountains, just east of Salt Lake City. With so many in our group, I only had to run three legs of the race. But don’t be fooled into thinking it was a piece of cake. Over the course of two days and one night, participants are awake, cheering each other on, wearing wacky costumes, listening to live bands and partying along the route. Good times.

I found out I was participating in the Ragnar about six weeks prior to race day, so I didn’t have much time to train. During the same time frame, my unit was busy preparing for an upcoming deployment to Afghanistan, so I put the race on the back burner. “Besides,” I rationalized to myself, “I’m a Soldier and I’ve always been in pretty good running shape.”

Every couple of days, I was able to squeeze in about three miles for training. I figured since I had two easy legs and one medium-to-hard leg that I’d be fine. What I didn’t consider was that although my last leg was only 5 miles, it was all down a steep hill. Who would’ve imagined running downhill could be so difficult?

I arrived in Park City, Utah, the night before the race. My teammates and I decided to go out for beer and pizza, which, looking back, probably wasn’t the best decision, especially on the eve of a grueling race. The next day, we woke up at 4:30 a.m. and drove 85 miles to the starting point. Our pirate-decorated van had our team’s name on the back — Where’s the Finish (WTF) — which everyone seemed to love. For us, this is where the fun began. We started out with little sleep and a lot of coffee, which eventually led to lots of energy drinks.

The race began beautifully. Everyone’s energy and excitement level were high and we were ready for anything. However, by hour 20, we were all dragging butt with bloodshot eyes. We had so much caffeine in our systems that we couldn’t sleep even if we wanted. We were all fatigued, and someone in our group had a pulled muscle, while someone else got sick. Undaunted, we carried on.

My last portion of the run was coming up and I figured it would be my easy leg because it was downhill. Little did I know that this part of the race would injure me so badly that I wouldn’t be able to run for the next six months! I hadn’t trained for downhill running, but, to my surprise, I ran my best time. I was proud and felt great afterward; however, the next day was a different story. My knees were killing me, running was impossible and climbing stairs was very painful.

Regrettably, I didn’t prepare for this race like I should. Ragnar officials recommend participants prepare as they would for a half marathon and start training at least eight to 12 weeks ahead of the race, increasing their mileage by 10 percent each week. I was advised to put away my running shoes for a while and take time to heal.

Looking back, I have a love-hate relationship with this race. I’m glad I did it but wish I had prepared myself better and been spared six painful months of recovery.


According to an article published in Runner’s World titled “Cruise Control,” written by Jason Karp, Ph.D., “Running downhill requires the muscles to lengthen, or make eccentric muscle contractions, which can cause microscopic tears in the muscle fibers and generate more force than when you're running uphill or on flat ground. To make matters worse, it's easy to hit top speed on a steep descent — and the faster you move, the harder each foot strikes the ground, and the more pounding the muscles endure. That doesn't mean you should avoid all downward slopes. In fact, research has shown that running downhills can give your pace a lift. A 2006 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research showed that when sprinters trained on uphills and downhills, they improved speed and foot turnover more than running uphills or flat surfaces alone. By incorporating downhills into your training, you can weather them better and bounce back from them sooner.”

  • 14 April 2024
  • Author: USACRC Editor
  • Number of views: 134
  • Comments: 0