August 19, 2017

ChiRunning (and a local “ChiRunning” guru)

The cover of "ChiRunning" yes, it's one word!

I read Danny Dreyer’s “ChiRunning” last year and practiced many of his concepts from time to time, but I never made a concerted effort to master the “Chi” (pronounced chee) techniques.  The subtitle of his transformative book provides additional insight into what “ChiRunning” is all about: “A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-Free Running.”  Sounds good, right?  Over the course of my running life, I have thankfully remained virtually injury free.  Don’t get me wrong, I have experienced bouts of the usual suspects of runners’ injuries: IT irritation, a prickly piriformis, some isolated foot pain (that, unfortunately, progressed into some metatarsalgia that now has me seemingly forever stuck in custom orthotics), a tight shin/antirior tibialis or mild calf pain, but really, that is about all.  However, as I grow older and despite my best efforts at “spreading the stress” the idea of wholly “injury-free” running intrigued me.  Also, facing heavy run volume in anticipation of both the TransRockies Run and a late-season Ironman brought the idea of working a bit harder on the concepts Danny outlines in his book.  To that end, I did a quick Google search and learned  that a master instructor of the Chi program lived right here in Denver, Colorado (actually, Lakewood): Mary Lindahl.  More on that in a bit.

First, the book. Dreyer, in slightly more than 200 pages, identifies the likely causes of the pain that sidelines 65% of all runners each year (this is Dreyer’s number, citing that almost two thirds of all runners will have to stop running at least once during a calendar year due to injury), namely, “poor running form and poor biomechanics” coupled with an untenable allegiance to “power running.”  While I am not personally into any of the spiritual “zen” of Dreyer’s methodology, who can help but like one of the quotes he uses to introduce the “revolution” of ChiRunning: “A good runner leaves no footprints.”—Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching  Essentially, Dreyer portrays power running (the type that most of us do) as a violent “might makes right” or “no pain, no gain” affair where a runner continually strives to develop more and more leg strength and leg speed to run both faster and farther.  In contrast, Chi technique harnesses the power of “relaxation and biomecahnically correct running form” to help a runner move more efficiently, while placing far less stress on the body; the result allows Dreyer the freedom to label Chi as “no pain, no pain”  running.

 From “Chi Running” by Danny Dreyer

The five key principles of ChiRunning:

(I)     Cotton and Steel: Gather to Your Center

(II)   Gradual Progress: The Step-by-Step Approach

(III) The Pyramid: The Small is Supported by the Large

(IV) Balance in Motion: Equal Balance and Complementary

(V)   Nonidentification: Getting Yourself Out of the Way

The four Chi-skills:

  1. Focusing Your Mind
  2. Body Sensing: High-Speed Access
  3. Breathing: Tapping Into Your Chi
  4. Relaxation

If you can make sense of the five key “principles” and four “skills” without more, then you are far more sophisticated than I am.  No worries if you are with me, as Dreyer artfully explains the five principles and then provides instructive exercises that draw you into a basic understanding of the Chi skills.  Next, and also supported with helpful exercises, Dreyer dives into the “physical aspects” of ChiRunning.  Here is where the reader is treated to the actual Chi technique that rests on corrections in posture, adjustment of forward lean, position and movement of the legs and arms, and, finally, a guide to developing a Chi running program.  The remainder of the book features useful tips on everything from purchasing shoes, optimizing race nutrition, and even insights to diet, with Dreyer emphasizing the benefits of a “clean” (i.e. “high-quality foods) and predominately plant-based nutritional strategy.

The clinic:  As my wife, Hope, had also experimented with ChiRunning, she eagerly joined me for a clinic with Mary Lindahl, Master ChiRunning and ChiWalking Instructor (Mary routinely offers group clinics through the Denver area in addition to private training).  Mary has a tremendous running bio.  She has been running since 1976 and, at the time of our meeting, had completed 30 marathons—Mary is also a perennial Boston qualifier!

We arrived at Mary’s home in Lakewood shortly after 8 a.m. and were warmly greeted with a smile and the friendly company of Mary’s dog “Haley.”  We gathered around the kitchen table and talked a bit about our respective backgrounds (both running and non-running alike) before digging into the ChiRunning material.  Mary provided us each with a ChiRunning handout (primarily a concise handout of the Chi technique).  After some initial video analysis, we proceed to essentially work stepwise through the material that is presented in Dreyer’s book.  While Mary’s style is laid back and encouraging, she clearly demonstrates a mastery of Dreyer’s technique.  As we progressed through the material and exercise, as well as additional video and analysis, my wife and I gained more an more efficiency—we both began to “feel” the technique!  We worked consistently for more than 2 hours, progressing through each of the five ChiRunning principles and the four ChiRunning skills, concluding with some work in Jewell Park on ascending and descending steep terrain (i.e. hills). Outside of the principles and techniques, of particular note (and I will suggest of particular use) were the exercises used to transition both “in” and “out” of a run.  The “in” exercises included a series of pre-run “body looseners” that consisted of ankle rolls, knee circles, hip circles, pelvic circles, spine rolls, dynamic moves to work the shoulders and upper back, and “grounding stance”—each move is designed to setup the body to initiate the run in ChiRunning form.  Mary had set the stage for our running session by introducing us to these pre-run techniques.  On the other end, the “out” exercises included additional “body sensing” and static stretches designed to target the calfs and achilles, hip flexors, hamstrings, adductors (these are the muscles of the inner thigh), and quadriceps.

At the end of the day, we had collectively introduced, reviewed, and implemented each of the major principles (or “focuses” as they are known in the Chi) that “is” ChiRunning.  I felt as though I now had a sense of the techniques, whereas before I had been simply doing my best to translate the techniques from the text alone.  Mary served as a warm and talented guide to these techniques.  I knew going into the clinic that ChiRunning is a process and, as a result of Mary’s guidance, both my wife and I had moved further down the road to achieving the many benefits from working the ChiRunning techniques.

Mary Lindahl, Master ChiRunning and ChiWalking Instructor

Mary’s running bio: I can tell you exactly when I started running.  Frank Shorter had just won the silver medal for the marathon in the 1976 Olympics.  I learned that a marathon was 26 miles that day and I went out to see if I could run one mile.  I did and was hooked from that day on.  I ran 6 marathons during the next 2 years before I was sidelined by debilitating IT Band Syndrome.  I saw doctor after doctor and tried everything Western and Eastern medicine could offer to try and solve my knee pain.  Finally, in 2004, I found Chi Running and learned that the answer had been inside me the whole time.  I just needed to change my form!  Not only had I found the cure for my knee pain, but I’d found a new career as well.  I had recently retired from the University of Alaska Fairbanks as a Finance Professor and decided I could combine my love of running with my love of teaching.  I also knew that the best way to learn something was to teach it – and I had a lot to learn.  I needed to change just about everything in my running stride; and I needed to learn how to relax and feel what was happening in my body.  My knee pain disappeared after the first few months, but I was just beginning to learn what ChiRunning could do for my health, my energy, and my enjoyment of other activities.  Applying the principles of ChiRunning has become a way of life for me rather than a goal to be obtained.  It has changed my view on aging and I now look at this as something I can improve on for the rest of my life.  I have assisted Danny at workshops all over the U.S., Costa Rica and Ireland and traveled with the Dreyers to the Tai Chi Camp in China that was organized by George Xu.  As a Master Instructor, I am teaching some of the upcoming Instructor Trainings for Chi Living, Inc.

I still love running marathons and finished my 31st one on May 1, 2011 at the Colorado Marathon in Ft. Collins—and even qualified for Boston again!  I especially love teaching Chi Running and turning other people on to the efficiencies of this form.  All of my workshops include both a before and after video gait analysis that we watch in slow motion.  It can be very revealing!  Please call or email if you have any questions about my upcoming workshops or if you would like to organize your own small group: (425) 457-6567 in Lakewood, CO or runninginbalance@gmail.com .

You can view my “before” video as I work through some of my “gears” (ChiRunning utilizes a 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc. “gear” progression for running speed) here.  As a shortcut, within the Chi system, a slower running speed utilizes less forward lean and a shorter stride length which equates to a lower gear.  Conversely, a higher running speed utilizes more forward lean and a longer stride length which equates to higher gear.  Regardless of the gear, the tempo or is maintained at a consistent 85-90 rpm.  At the end of the day, I had made significant improvements to my form and Chi technique.

 

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