ChiRunning, by Danny Dreyer, should be on the bookshelves of all runners and triathletes. It should be used as a reference guide in order to remind ourselves, at least weekly, that we need to maintain a conscious awareness of what we’re doing while we’re exercising instead of using exercise as just another means of escape from reality. Tune out distractions and tune in to your breathing and form. Training to save energy will always produce results faster than training to increase it.
The premise of ChiRunning is quite simple and not a surprise: “If you try to add speed with improper running form, you are magnifying the poor biomechanical habits that cause injury. So, the best place to build a good foundation is in getting your running motion smooth, relaxed, and efficient. Then you can add distance or speed without risking injury” (p.4). Still, how many of us are out there now, during the off-season working on mindfully improving our foundations? This is Eastern thinking people—less is more so a little focus, here and there, goes a long way. My sport psych professor used to remind us regularly, “It’s normal for your attention to wander, but we must condition ourselves to ‘change the channel’ and bring ourselves back into the present.”
“Ultimately, you’re not working to build distance and speed, you’re working to build presence, and that can happen at any distance or speed” (p.6). This reminds me of when I heard Simon Lessing say that the primary difference between the pros and the amateurs comes down to the ability to focus. It makes sense, the more you increase your presence in a race, the better the outcome. When you let the outcome goal go and give yourself over to focusing in the present moment, the outcome takes care of itself. Our minds, however, are not conditioned to this.
Our minds are so oft driven by egos that command us to worry about uncontrollable elements such as who’s racing, where they’re at in the race relative to you, what kind of bike they’re riding, etc. Learn to let that stuff go and get your head back into your present process with a positive mindset, and you’re going places. “The emphasis of ChiRunning is to set yourself up so there are no energy blocks in your body. This means three things: maintaining good posture; keeping your joints open and loose; and making sure your muscles are relaxed and not holding any tension” (p.15). Again, this requires attention in the present moment.
The forward lean…
“The Kenyans have a beautiful forward lean when they run, which does two things: It allows gravity to assist in pulling their body forward, and it allows them to land on their midfoot instead of their heals, thus avoiding the braking motion of the heel strike, which is common in most other runners” (p.20). The Kenyans also run pretty darn fast. The danger as Dreher describes it, is leaning from your waist, i.e., bent at the waist, rather than leaning from your ankles with body like a plank. It’s easier for a faster runner to “step on the gas” and lean into a fast pace. A slower runner is better off still focusing on the Four Chi-Skills while being especially mindful of where they’re leaning from.
The Four Chi-Skills…
1. Focusing your mind 2. Body Sensing 3. Breathing 4. Relaxation
I always think about what Dave Scott advised on pacing an Ironman, “What you save early will be there for you later.” It’s not just the conscious slowing of your pace. It’s much more than that. “There is no question that when I run a 50k race, I am using all of these skills to maximize performance while minimizing physical effort” (p.43).
“The use of Chi-Skills allows your [typically mindless] running to become multidimensional. Your workouts will have more depth and breadth because there’s something more going on than running. You will begin to approach running in ways that go beyond the realms of farther or faster” (p.43). (which is immediately a healthy notion to ponder).
Here’s where the teacher in me gets excited…
“Learning is what we are meant to do. It is our birthright as humans. If we stop learning, we stop growing, and our minds become stagnant” (p.44). Just like our muscles, “If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.” These skills don’t come easy--nothing good or worthwhile ever does. You have to stick with it. You have to strengthen your mind, like Neo in the Matrix--you must believe that "there is no spoon." Stay positive though—-it’s well worth it to have six months pass and see your improvement in energy savings! “[t]he ChiRunning focuses can be a meditative practice that trains your mind to curtail its arbitrary wanderings. As in meditation, the greater aspect of ChiRunning is that you learn how to be present with your mind and body, which is where true inner freedom lies” (p.45).
In closing… Get yourself videotaped!!!
“People have their biggest breakthroughs when they see themselves on a videotape replay. This is because they can remember how they felt when they were running [or swimming or cycling], then match that up with how they looked in the video” (p.50).
Go forth and cultivate as much Chi into your life as you can -- Energy for life and living.