Ski to Sea. Racing the Running Leg Well!

If you’ve ever been at the end of the Ski to Sea race and watched the team members hurry toward the finish line to meet their kayaker, you have a pretty good guess who the runner is. He/she is the one who is often limping along or walking very stiffly and gingerly.

You will be dropping about 3000 feet over eight miles (a slope of about 7%)! That downhill run leg can really take it out of you, despite the fact that the paved downhill course can make you feel like you are flying and running mile splits faster than ever. So here are some tips on how to successfully thrive in, then survive the run!


  • This run takes a strong core! Make sure you are strong from legs to glutes to abs. If your core is not strong enough for your pace, you will slow down eventually in order to not fall down!
  • Practice good downhill form. Stay over your feet. Short but quick strides. Arms high and quick tempo with elbows angled out a bit.
  • Build your mileage and especially your downhill mileage.
  • Speedwork (fast repeats and intervals) is helpful to doing well in this race!
  • Visualization works. Practice the race with your mind.

Some workouts (from

4 x 2’ drills (four minutes running on flat ground, followed by two minutes downhill) and ‘up and down’ drills that alternate between uphill, flat, and downhill terrain in two to three-minute increments. Beginners should start small and gradually increase distance and time spent running downhill in relation to time spent on flat ground. Eventually, the racer will be ready to train with ‘hill medleys’ (10-mile courses that consist of six miles downhill, two miles uphill, and two miles on flat terrain).

What to wear:  

  • A shoe you know and trust, somewhat fresh, and extremely well-fitting (we can help!). Cushion and good fit is better than light weight in this race. You’ll need some space for foot swelling but not so much that the foot slides forward in the shoe over time.  Be sure to double knot those babies!
  • Use Body Glide or Second Skin on your feet as a precaution and then put on fresh clean socks. Try a new or newer pair of your favorite well fitting socks.  Older socks may have a build up of residual salts from past sweaty runs which increases the probability of irritation and blisters.
  • Compression socks/sleeves, even compression shorts/tights can help. Recall video of vibrational trauma.
  • Don’t wear so many clothes, man! A light hat and gloves and zip neck shirt and shorts are good enough. Just keep moving and you’ll be fine if you have a stash of clothes and a warm car at the transition.

Tips and strategies down the mountain:

  • Just for fun you can tear off like a speed demon at the handoff, but be sure to ease back as soon as you get out of sight and get real (i.e. focus on settling into a maintainable pace). —how to find the right pace? think form and technique.
  • Hit the tangents!!! Follow the rules about which side of the road to run on, but look ahead and use your visual geometry skills to hit the tangents as much as possible.
  • Don’t lean back, stay over your feet, don’t land with your knees straight or locked, maintain a shorter stride, stay in control and think about quick turnover, not stride length. Elbows out to the side a bit can enhance balance.
  • Keep focus up ahead and not at your feet
  • If you see somebody, go ahead and try to pass them! Approach patiently and then kick by them strongly so you can leave them securely behind.
  • Cramping? Try changing up your stride or gait. Change speed, stride length, posture or your foot-strike. Can’t run? Better walk!
  • Think about sticking with a fellow racer if it’s likely you could both arrive at the handoff together. Your cycle teammate will thank you! It’s helpful for them to draft off each other while trying to catch riders ahead of them.
  • Save a little bit for the bridge “uphill” and the finish (but not too much)–so that you’ll be lookin’ good!
  • Hope your teammate didn’t sleep in and be sure to make a smooth exchange!

 How to recover sooner than later:

  • Soak those legs in the the oh so chilly river afterward.  Find some pals to joke around with and feel more sane as you go in!  Do a set of 3 ins and outs and scream (releases the lactic acid and makes it easier to stay in the water)!
  • Start on “Tissue Rejuvenator” from Hammer. Wear compression socks and tights. Also try ice, do some cycling and walking in the days after (anything to keep moving), yoga, stretching and get a good massage (The Stick or Trigger Point massage tools can help, too). You’ll be back feeling good in no time–maybe a week or so!

Have fun barreling down the mountain!


More Articles

coach image

Hi, I'm Coach Steve Roguski

Owner of the store with my wife, Genevie. I have enjoyed many years of running, racing, race directing, running club volunteering, reading about running and leading runs and clinics through the store. Happy trails!