The Green Girl first heard about ChiRunning years before she started running.

A friend recommended the ChiRunning book so I purchased a copy. I had absolutely no interest in running but something about ChiRunning piqued my interest. I found the reading material to be dry and it was difficult for me to get through the book. I lost interest and stuck it on my bookshelf to collect dust.

Years later, as I was struggling through the Cool Running Couch-To-5k program, I decided to give that book another try. On a flight to Hawaii, I read the ChiRunning book from beginning to end. This time around, I was absolutely fascinated by the book and the technique.

The author, Danny Dreyer, bases the ChiRunning technique on five principles:
  1. Cotton and Steel Gather to your center
  2. Gradual Progress The step-by-step approach
  3. The Pyramid The small is supported by the large
  4. Balance in Motion Equal balance and complementary balance
  5. Nonidentification Getting yourself out of your way
1. Cotton and Steel is based on T'ai Chi - the principle that all movement in your body originates in your center. To achieve this state and in order for your center to work efficiently, the rest of your body needs to relax.

To do this, Dreyer suggests the following exercise:
  • Stand up straight with your best posture and one foot slightly behind the other, hip width apart.
  • Relax your shoulders and let your arms hang limp at your sides.
  • Now pretend your spine is a vertical axle by rotating it first in one direction and then the other. As your rotate your spine back and forth, your arms will move because your spine is moving; let them flail against your body in a gentle way. Focus on keeping your spine straight while rotating back and forth. stay with the image of your spine being an axle. Try to see how relaxed you can make your shoulders, arms, and wrists.
  • This is an example of your core doing the work while your arms are just along of the ride
He suggests doing this visualization anytime during the day so you can focus on your centerline and relax the rest of your body. This is how he wants you to feel when you are running.

2. Gradual Progress is pretty much what it sounds like - it focuses on the importance of taking your time and not rushing or pushing yourself too much.

3. The Pyramid emphasizes the importance of picking up your feet and using your psoas muscles and hip flexors instead of your calves. Dreyer says when you run it should be the same motion as when you march in place - raise your knees and put your feet completely flat back on the ground.

To do this, Dreyer suggests the following exercise:
  • Find some sand to run on.
  • Level a path in the sand.
  • Walk across the sand as if you are walking on thin ice by picking up your feet with each step and trying to leave perfectly flat, crisp footprints. make sure you really relax your ankles when you do this.
  • When you've perfected this, run across the sand at a very slow speed, taking small steps and picking up your feet as you go.
  • Look back at your tracks. If there a little crater at front of each footprint? If so, you are pushing off with your toes instead of picking up your feet.
The goal of this exercise is to get to the point where your running footprints are as "crisp" as your walking on thin ice prints. Dreyer suggests you imagine you are running across a pile of hot coals.

4. Balance in Motion is about making sure you are doing the right things such as drinking enough fluid, eating right, etc.

5. Nonidentification is really about being open to change.

Dreyer uses Tiger Woods as an example. Dreyer said that in 1997, Woods was winning all these matches but when he watched a video of himself, he realized his swing really needed some reworking. When he discussed this with his coach, his coach told him he could do it but not to expect to win any golf tournaments for awhile. His coach said his swing would get worse before it would get any better. According to Dreyer, Woods was willing to take that risk because he knew it was the only way he could realize long-term improvement. Woods spent 19 months working on his swing and everyone wondered what happened to him. Then one day in May 1999, Woods felt that something happen in his swing and it was exactly what he'd been looking for.

The ChiRunning book made sense to me but I'm a visual person so I got a copy of the ChiRunning DVD. That helped a little bit but I still struggled to incorporate the technique into my running.

In May of this year, I signed up for a two hour private ChiRunning workshop with a ChiRunning Certified Instructor, Steve Mackel. This was when ChiRunning finally clicked for me.

Steve spent the first 45 minutes getting me into the correct posture. He showed me what a difference the direction your body points in the way you moves forward. Then, he went over my feet. He said to make sure they are not too far apart - he used a 3 finger rule. He also told me not to grip the ground with my toes. I learned have a tendancy to do that. Next, he had me "lengthen" my body. I had a hard time with that because I kept wanting to throw my shoulders back. Steve had me imagine there was an imaginary string at the top of my head that was pulling me up but then I had to make sure I wasn't raising my chin up too high.

I had a really hard time learning to straighten my pelvic area. Steve told me to imagine i was a bowl and to stop spilling. I wasn't able to do that. Then, he said for women mentioning it's like a kegel exercise helps. Since I had no idea what a kegel was, that still didn't help me. Finally, he told me to imagine I was peeing but then I had to hold my pee. I finally managed to do it using that visual. Steve had me lean forward and re-adjust my pelvic area again and make sure I could swing my arms in front of my legs and see my shoelaces. In this position, I felt like I was crooked but he assured me all my joints were in line when I was in this stance.

I also had a hard time with the arms. I'm such a tense person that I tend to go from one extreme to another because I don't know how to relax. Steve said to imagine there are bolts holding my arms in a 90° angle and my hands should be balled up gently like I have a potato chip in the palm of my hand. I never managed to get my hands right.

As we ran together, he would make me count out loud with him in time to the metronome. He also told me to imagine there was a string pulling my heart - he kept emphasizing the importance of leading with the heart. I struggled a lot at first - I would lean and then stomp. Finally, I managed to stop stomping but I would lean, start falling, take a few light steps with the form and then lose it. Steve kept telling me to make my strides shorter - I had a tendancy to want to lengthen my stride right away.

When I finally felt like I was in the ChiRunning groove in "gear 1", he had me change to "gear 2" and then "gear 3". Gear 3 felt so effortless - i was amazed. I felt a little self-conscious because he wanted me to count out loud with him and I was worried I was going to get too out of breath, but it wasn't bad at all. I wasn't exerting as much energy as I normally would at that speed.

Hill work was next. For hills, instead of keeping my arms at the 90°, Steve had me do upper cuts with my arms at about a 45°. I also had to increase my lean against the incline. I was so focused on this that i didn't even realize we had reached the top of the first hill. For really steep hills, he showed me the technique where you run with your feet at an angle - alternating every four counts. Depending on the incline, he said you can vary the angle of your feet. If you think of it like a clock, you could do it at 1 and 11; if it's a less steep incline and all the way to 9 and 3 if it's really steep.

For our last run, he incorporated some uphill and downhill work along with some stairs. For the stairs, he had me use the alternating angles like we did on the steep hill. At the end, I felt so light. I was running really fast but feeling really relaxed.

I am so glad I took the ChiRunning lesson. While I still struggle to maintain my posture on long runs, I can honestly say ChiRunning has made a big difference in my running. When I am feeling tired in a race, I increase my lean and I'm able to gain some speed without exerting a lot more effort. The uppercuts also make a big difference when I'm battling hills.

I really liked Steve's coaching style so I joined his group, the Sole Runners, this past season to train for the Long Beach Half Marathon.


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