Saturday, 23 June 2012

Chi and me

This time a week ago, I was running up a hill in Edinburgh with no pain and a sense of running well-being that I haven't felt in almost six months.  I think that I am a ChiRunning convert.

The ChiRunning workshop, taught by the wonderfully patient and encouraging Nick Constantine, was a revelation.  I was quite nervous beforehand, in part because I feared that the other participants would all be elite runners who would stand around and sneer at me as I struggled to keep up but also because I was concerned that my calf wouldn't be up to it.  I needn't have worried on either account.  We were a varied bunch, ranging from someone who had never really run before to someone who has speedily run countless races of all lengths and who now has his sights set on an ultra-marathon.  There was lots of support from the other participants and, purely on a social level, it was a very fun day.

We did this, but in the wind and rain!
We started with learning to engage our core, level our hips, create a strong column (shoulders, hips, ankles all lined up), and to use our arms effectively.  We learned to lean from our ankles while keeping our legs relaxed and then to maintain this, as well as a strong column, while progressing from walking in place to walking to running in place to actually running.  We practiced running with shorter strides, landing with the foot under or just behind our centre of gravity, and used a metronome to up our cadence to 170 steps/minute. 

Nick videoed us before and after the training.  I don't know how the others felt, but I was completely taken aback by what I saw.  The 'before' video of me was nothing at all like what I thought that I was doing!  It immediately was apparent to me 1) why I keep getting injured and 2) why I'm so bloody slow.  I wasn't using my arms at all - they were sort of wafting semi-gracefully by my sides - and was heel striking with my knee locked.  And I shuffle.  This in itself wasn't a huge surprise but I was shocked by how little I actually lifted my feet from the ground.

What it's supposed to look like
The 'after' video showed improvement.  My posture was better, I was using my arms appropriately, my stride was shorter and quicker, and even though I still was heel striking, it wasn't nearly as pronounced.  Lots to work on, but even these small changes resulted in me running faster than I have in probably over a year, with less perceived effort than I make when I'm running 'normally' and - more importantly - not hurting with it.  I felt so good that I even partook of the short hill (well, medium incline) session.  And, again, nothing hurt. 

Keeping Adam's words in mind - 'What's important is how you feel the next day' - I was pleased that my calf felt completely fine following all of this.  Oddly enough, my ankles (the hinge bit where your foot attaches to your lower leg) were quite stiff for the next couple of days, which Nick put down to having too much tension in my lower legs but also to just using my muscles and joints in a different way.

I wasn't able to take my new form for a test run until yesterday.  It wasn't ideal weather - rain and strong wind, with the second half of the run being into the wind - but it was the first day since the workshop where I had the time to go out.  I had my metronome, my Garmin, my snazzy red Gore jacket, and optimism that I would actually remember what I had learned a week previously.

I ran 3 miles, stopping to walk for 60 seconds twice only because I suddenly worried that I might be doing too much, too soon.  I felt great.  Even with the walking and the wind, I finished in approximately 34 minutes and my Garmin showed that I was whizzing along at one point at a 10:30min/mile pace (before I got freaked out and made myself walk).

Maintaining my ChiRunning form is hard; it will take weeks, if not months, before this starts to become even vaguely automatic.  And even then, one of the main tenets of ChiRunning is being aware and in the moment with your running, not zoned out and distracted.  (What?! No more My Chemical Romance on the iPod???)  But based on how I'm feeling after this very small experiment with it, I think this could be what I have been looking for. 

Plus, I'll probably have to buy some new running shoes.  Oh, the hardship.


  1. Wow. You're brave being videoed but sounds like it was worth it. I might have to give some of this a go too. I don't use my arms much - my thinking being that I don't run fast enough! Looking good for longer distances for you at this rate. Hooray!

  2. Brave implies that it was a choice! Even worse was the group photo, which was posted on the ChiRunning group page on Facebook! At least I was smiling...arms apparently dictate your speed. Who knew?...I feel very 'hooray' about my 3 miles, but am trying not to look too far ahead. Will just see how it goes. Very Zen of me!