At this point we went outside onto a basketball course to talk about speed. He first talked about cadence, or foot strikes per minute. He used a metronome and had us first walk, then jog around the court at different cadences. Eventually we ended up at 180 (90 per foot) which seemed to strike the right balance between short strides and light steps. He mentioned that people with long legs might drop to 175 and those with very short legs might go as high as 185. We spent some time using the metronome and getting used to synchronizing ourselves with the sound. He showed us how to change it to a 2-3 beat so that we would not have to have as many beeps : for example BEEP step left, step right, step left, BEEP step right. The beeps alternate feet so you don’t start unconsciously stepping harder on one foot.
Danny then talked to us about our 4 gears. Each gear resulted in a faster pace and was a combination of lean and stride length. Each gear was an additional 1 inch of lean from vertical. This is not much of a lean and I think I had been overdoing it quite a bit. When it all comes together Chi Running has a balance and the combination of lean and support should make you feel balanced and in control. The stride length is almost a natural consequence of more lean. As you lean more your leg moves behind you faster and has traveled farther before the ankle is pulled upward, resulting in a larger stride. We practiced switching between the gears and running slower and faster while maintaining the same cadence.
Loose and Fluid
Danny pulled us all together at this point to walk about hip rotation and in the importance of staying loose when we run. Since Chi Running is more about structure, form and body mechanics than strength and power, it is very important to not inhibit the body’s movement with tight and contracted muscles. He had us start out with some walking exercises where we would exaggerate our hip swivel as we walked, as if we were a Latin dancer. Then we lengthened our stride, letting our pelvis swivel around our spine. The required that our back and glut muscles be loose so that our back leg can fall farther behind us. We then broke into a trot from our fast walking and tried to keep the hip rotation as part of the stride.
We finished the day learning about how to run up and down both gradual hills and steep hills. Danny demonstrated some really interesting techniques for running hills that probably surprised quite a few people. He showed that hill running is more about upper body arm movement than it is feet and that if done correctly is actually an opportunity to rest your legs. He stressed that you need to keep your lean relative to the pull of gravity, not the slope of the hill and punch up and forward in the direction of the crown of the hill. For really steep hills the technique is even more radical, with a sort of side step and single arm movement. We were able to practice this on a pretty steep grassy hill and it was pretty impressive how easy it was and how it didn’t stress my Achilles.
After that we moved back inside and Danny took some time to sign his book and take pictures with us. I bought some materials for my dad, who mentioned he was interested in the whole concept. I talked with the coaches for a little while and then headed out. It was a really great experience and my head was swimming from all the information I had learned throughout the day.