Saturday, February 11, 2012

It's all about the Chi

I'm about a week into my ChiRunning adventure and I'm liking it very much. It seems to be all I talk about these days: posture, mid-foot strike, swivel hips. I'm preaching the gospel of Chi! (Actually, I'm just thrilled to be running again on a regular, if painfully slow, basis.) After 45 years of running on my heels, I feel sort of reborn. A mid-life re-birth of running.

The basic idea of ChiRunning, meticulously detailed in Danny Dreyer's book and oft repeated by yours truly in and around Mystic, CT is this: stand up straight with a long neck and neutral pelvis (held in check by your lower abdominals), lean slightly from your ankles keeping your "column" nice and straight (huge challenge for me), let your feet and legs relax (again, almost foreign) and break your fall with a soft midfoot stride. The idea is to let gravity do the work. The midfoot stride eliminates the "braking" process of the heel strike. You simply lift your foot and put it back down a little further down the road. Effortless! Simple!

The book has ten lessons to work through before you start adding distance or speed. A major tenant of the ChiRunning philosophy (not a cult, not a cult) is the idea of Gradual Progress. Because of my injuries, Gradual Progress is just what I need. Because of my obsessive running personality, Gradual Progress is difficult for me to embrace. You see the problem. I'm working on it.

I have spent almost a week on Lesson 1: Posture. My posture is terrible. I'm well on my way to becoming a bent over old lady. So this is good for me. Holding myself up straight takes a tremendous amount of concentration. It's borderline frightening how many times each minute I have to remind myself to pull my pelvis straight and lengthen my neck. And as soon as I do that, I start to heel strike again, then I forget to relax my lower legs, and by the time I've fixed my feet, my butt is sticking out well behind me. Pull the pelvis back in. Woops! the feet. Long neck. Heel strike. No!! Midfoot. Butt back under.......etc, etc.

After 45 minutes of this at something like a 12 minute pace, I'm exhausted.

But I am making progress. Each run feel a little teeny bit more natural. My foot and knee don't hurt at all while I'm "running." Every once in a while, for very small intervals, I get that effortless feeling, like my legs are just along for the ride, that Danny Dreyer promises me will in time become more of the norm. Though even he admits that he still has to think about this stuff while he's running.

It's a practice. Like yoga or something. Almost a meditation. I like it.

There's one exercise in the book you can do with a friend. Stand in your regular, everyday posture and have a friend pull down on your shoulders from behind. If your everyday posture is anything like mine, you'll slump like a ragdoll. Then get into proper ChiRunning posture (long neck, straight pelvis, neutral feet), and when your friend tries to pull you down you'll stand solid as a statue. It really works! I have been doing it to people at the gym, Other Mothers at birthday parties, friends and family. It's all I can do not to stop people in the grocery store and teach them how to stand properly.

I like how all of this fits into my everyday life. I practice my posture all day long. I run in place a little bit to try to figure out the ins and outs of the "lean," which still somewhat eludes me. I try to walk like a supermodel to get the swivel hips part of the run down. (Your supposed to swing your hips from the middle of your back to alleviate pressure on your hip flexors). I'm quite a sight to see, you can imagine.

I still can't tell if this is just a chapter in my running life, or if this will define the rest of my career. For now, it doesn't matter. I'm outside again, sort of running pain free, and I'm excited about it. Can't ask for anything more than that.


  1. Pam, I am glad that you are at least getting outside and running. Take your time and get used to constantly monitoring your posture and how it relates to your individual run. I do it every time I go out, whether in my old shoes or in the Vibrams. I hope that this chapter of your life is a very long and healthy one.

  2. Can you teach me? I am going to do a rugged maniac in September and part of it entails running. I haven't run in years because of my asthma and I want to restart the right way. Think about it pleaseeeeee!!! I'm a visual learner and reall could benefit from seeing positions etc.

  3. Pam, so happy you have found a way to get back to running again!

  4. Lovely to feel your excitement for chi running. I changed running from heel strike to mid foot landing 3 years ago...attempting to dodge recurrent injury problems. I actually went for pose running style...but there are a lot of similarities. Be patient with took months to feel natural to me. Also, I found getting a video of me running was invaluable. Our perception of how we run can be completely wrong. Usually the video was just for my own eyes, but sometimes I shared it with other pose runners for advice. I still have lots to learn, but so far, I am injury free.
    Looking forward to following your progress

  5. Can you please come for a visit and teach me how to stand?

    I had to do a lot of this for physical therapy 2 years ago and I will say, all the thinking was quite exhausting. I never really got it, honestly. Once the injury abated, I lost motivation. Funny how it always happens that way. It does sound like good stuff though, and I'm glad you are getting out there! Hope it continues injury-free!

  6. I hear you, Gretchen. The only reason I'm running this way is because it hurts to run my old way. I have never been coached, so my form sucks (or shall I say, suckED). 6 miles is the very most I can manage -- new muscles and so much concentrating. I'm sure your form is much better than mine. You're certainly not getting injured all the time, so if it ain't broke....

    I hope I can keep this up if an when my foot and knee completely heal. Clearly I need to get off my heels. Luckily there's another guy here in town going through the same process, so we keep each other motivated. I'm hoping it will all become second nature eventually. I'm very slowly putting it all together.

    Oh, and p.s., don't be surprised to see me and my whack-job family show up in Truckee someday. ROAD TRIP!! (and until then, keep a long neck and use your lower abs to keep your hips in line. that's it.)

  7. Helen, there's a borderline freaky video on YouTube of a very tall and skinny guy Pose running in huraches through what looks like suburban Los Angeles. Whenever I run now, I try to channel that guy.

    I'm curious about Pose, but the book is so expensive....

    I'm really looking forward to having this feel more natural!

  8. That would be a heck of a long road trip, but I think you guys should do it! Plenty of space for the kids to camp in the yard here in the summertime, and you can help us build a chicken coop.


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