At the risk of giving away any racing advantage I have, thought I’d share my approach to mucky downhill running (also applies to any sketchy trail conditions). Think I’ve boiled it down to four easy steps. Don’t know if this is the endorsed approach, but it works for me and is nearly as much fun as fixed wheel MTB’ing.
1. Stay low & centered: Try to keep your feet under you not out in front, stay vertical, and ‘sit in’ or stay low by keeping your knees a little bent (don’t lock them up)
2. Maximise contact with ground: Increase your leg speed, decrease your stride length, the more time your feet stay on the ground the more control you have
3. Don’t fixate: See that obstacle you want to avoid, don’t look at it!! Look ahead at the general line you want to take
4. Relax: Don’t stress if you start deviating from your expected line or sliding around. Unless there are real hazards around, aim for general direction not total control
Simple eh? If you give it a go you’ll see that 2 is a natural outcome of 1. Sure, there is terrain where gazelle style bounding is your best bet, but doing that in the sketchy stuff and you are asking for trouble. If your foot starts sliding when its way out in front of your centre of gravity you’re on your arse, if it starts sliding when its under you you’re skating (weeee!).
In a word it’s about balance. Not only in terms of posture, but also control vs letting loose. Possibly the best way to improve your technique is do some of the MEC barefoot events when they come up, or run as fast as you can on wet grassy/muddy conditions on gentle slopes in low grip shoes. One thing you’ll quickly figure out is you’ll need to land on your forefoot, as heelstrikes are asking for trouble (including rolled ankles).
Now learning to get your leg speed up and forefoot strike resistance down while running down steeper slopes is another matter altogether… Do feel free to join me for some Glendowie off road runs which I post at http://groupspaces.com/MonkeyFoots/