Can’t avoid night running anymore. All geared up with head lamp, reflective suspenders and flashing lights fore and aft. Most cars don’t try to kill me, but I’m not sure what they are saying when they flash their high beams at me.
When I saw that there was a Chi Running workshop being held only half an hour from my house I was very excited. When I saw that it would be taught by Danny Dreyer himself I was ecstatic. I had been dabbling in Chi Running for quite a while and had recently started to take it more seriously. The opportunity to be taught in person by the founder of this innovative style of running was one I could not afford to pass up. The date was for one day before the Baystate Half-Marathon and I was concerned that I would be very wiped out following an all-day running workshop. I wrote to the coordinators of the workshop and they assured me that there was very little actual running and my legs would be fresh the next day. This was both true and not entirely true, but I will get back to that in a bit.
My expectations for the workshop were very high. Although I had read the book and watched the DVD, I was struggling with many of the concepts and I was convinced my technique was inherently flawed. I was right. In retrospect I can say that the book is completely accurate and I am sure that many readers get everything they need to master Chi Running by reading the book and following its drills. I must be in the rare minority of people for whom both the book and DVD were not sufficient. All through the workshop I had these light bulbs going off in my head as I finally connected what I knew which how it felt.
Gorgeous day for a race with wonderful crowds and mostly nice course. I do wish they had mile markers every mile as I got confused several times. I forgot to start my watch so I was at the mercy of course markings. Now, this may be considered flat by some people but it’s not smutty nose flat. God that one bridge in particular felt a little masochistic the second time around.
I started the day with intestinal distress and light nausea and almost didn’t get in the car to go. Sitting my car before the race my HR was up to 72, up about 12. During the race my HR remained high and I started to get what I call excessive heart rate nausea followed by the predictable chills. Basically I was headed into stupidville over-reaching territory. I massively pulled my pace back from 9:00 to 11:00 for the last 3 miles and walked the last water stops and then walked 2 times in the last mile. Ended up averaging 9:30 for the race.
The opposite of The Pull is The Drop (my terms not Danny’s), when you drop your leg into place underneath you. I already described quite about how to do that in the “The Pull” but there are a few things that need to be clarified. You knee should not swing out much in front of you if you are running on a flat surface although it will if you are running up a hill a little bit. One drill to get a sense for what this feels like is to stand facing a wall with your nose almost touching it. Lift your right heel behind you (and this will take hamstring/calf work since you are not moving) and then let it drop in place while you lift your left ankle. Jog in place with your ankles flying up behind you. If you pull your knee forward you will bang it into the wall (ouch!).
Ok, but how do you get your leg up behind you so it can fall into place beneath you? Sadly, this is even harder to describe. Let me tell you what you don’t use: Your hamstrings, glutes, quads or calves. Let that soak in for a bit. You don’t use leg muscles to lift your leg and you don’t use leg muscles to place your leg beneath you when you land. Its all about body mechanics and posture and physics. Let’s say you are running down the road. Your front torso is falling forward and your legs are moving backwards. If you let your pelvis rotate slightly around your spine (parallel to the ground) then you have one leg beneath you and one leg behind you. Visualize “lifting your ankles”, leaving your foot limp (no toe off) and use your core to rotate your pelvis back and the leg behind you will be pulled up using a combination of core and ligaments. I had been using my hamstrings before, but that is wrong. Trust me you can do this without using your leg muscles at all. Leg muscles are only really used to minimally absorb the impact of each step, and that is all.
I think this is the part most people have heard about Chi running. You lean forward and let gravity pull you down. You put your foot down underneath you and if you are in a proper one legged posture stance you will have perfect support without bone jarring impact. This is the part that is so hard to explain or to read about and it turns out I was not doing it right. This is very hard to explain, but here goes. If you look at babies when they first learn to walk they will totter forward, sort of a controlled fall, with their legs sort of falling into place underneath them to stop them from falling on their face. Similar idea here. If your right leg is up behind you and you just let it swing down and fall into place then once again you let gravity do the work, not muscle.
Your weight should be equally distributed throughout the foot. When running this is often called the “midfoot strike”, mostly to differentiate between forefoot and heel strikers. Picture 3 points on the bottom of your foot, one under your pinky toe, one under your big toe and one in the middle of the heel and think of this as a “tripod” of stability. It is a highly stable configuration, where your weight is distributed evenly across your foot.
This refers to your entire posture and is also referred to as “Run Tall”. You lengthen your neck, but keep your chin level. Don’t let it drift upward. Your knees are “softened” out of a locked position and your core is engaged. You should be able to look down and see the laces of your shoes (assuming a flat tummy).
The idea here is that you pivot your pelvis so that it is parallel to the floor rather than sloping back to front. This lets it rotate properly when you run and engages your core muscles. This is where I learned I had been doing it wrong this whole time. I was clenching my stomach muscles to pull my pelvis and my glutes to push it. Both are completely wrong and explains why my butt always hurts after long runs. Your butt should be very loose and you hold your core lightly, as if you were sitting up in the chair and not letting your back touch.
When you are standing properly with your pelvis leveled you should be able to reach behind you and use your knuckles to lightly punch your gluts. They should jiggle like jelly, not be as hard as rocks.
You can read more about Chi posture here, on Danny Dreyer’s site.
My Disclaimer: I am not a Chi Running instructor or an expert runner or a coaching professional of any kind. These represent my notes, primarily for my own edification. If they are helpful to you then that is great and I am glad for that, but I don’t guarantee that everything here is absolutely accurate as they are a reflection of my own experience and memory.