This time last year I was injured. It was a persistent, nagging injury that was causing me no end of grief. I had a pain in my left thigh, which turned out to be a problem with my adductor. Or, to put it more plainly, I had an embarrassing groin strain. Sigh.
People sniggered when I told them – well, yes, it is a comedy injury – but it was really bringing me down because it had such a negative impact on my running. I’d run, it would hurt. I’d rest for a few days then run again. It would hurt some more. Finally, I booked some physio (Carnegie Sports Clinic in Leeds is thoroughly recommended if you’re in the north of England). That helped but my progress was slow and frustrating (not the fault of Carnegie – this was all about me, she says in manner of Liza Minelli in a full-on diva strop).
So, feeling quite desperate, I contacted a friend, an 11x Ironman triathlete, running coach, Pilates teacher and all round solid mass of super-fit muscle. “What shall I do?” I asked plaintively, expecting a long list of instructions, guidance, directives and to-dos. What he said was, “Read Chi Running.” He’s a man of few words, all of them meaningful.
So I did. And it changed my life. Devised by running coach and ultramarathon runner Danny Dreyer, Chi Running has become something of a phenomenon, with workshops taking place all over the world. I’m not the doctrinaire type and, whilst respecting other people’s belief systems, I take them all with a pinch of salt. Given this, I was suspicious of Chi Running, which adapts the principles of Tai Chi to running.
One of its central tenets is that we should forget about ‘power running’. Chi Running is about creating a mind-body connection and ditching the ‘no pain, no gain’ mentality that dominates the distance running discourse. This was confusing to me. All I knew was ‘power running’ – how far, how fast, what are my splits, can I get a PB? etc – and initially I couldn’t get my head around the idea that these questions weren’t the priority.
The thing I found was that with Chi Running these things come more naturally because you’re not stressing about them. Despite my advanced age (as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I am now approaching 102), I’m running further and faster than ever. Really.
In Chi Running you lean forward slightly and run more from your feet than your thighs, paying particular attention to your core and your breathing. I’m doing the technique no justice at all here; there are books, DVDs and workshops that explain in great detail what I’ve just outlined in a sentence! I’m by no means an expert in it. I just read what it told me to do and I do it. As it has had nothing but good effects for me so far, I have no intention of stopping. It works.
After my feeble attempts above, I’m not going to try to distill it; the book is very cheap, so that’s probably the best place to start getting the full picture. For me, it comes down to being mindful and not judging whether a run is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ but just being in it. This in turn tends to make the majority of runs ‘good’ because you’re not stressing about them being ‘bad’!
After having my body adjusted by the physio and my mind tweaked by Chi running, I’ve been injury-free for ages. This year I had a summer of long distance runs, comprising marathon training with a 96 mile run along the West Highland Way thrown in the middle for good measure (it didn’t mention that in my training programme!) And I enjoyed every single mile I’ve run, even the ones I didn’t enjoy, if you see what I mean.
It’s not like I’ve turned all Om, Chi, Zen or anything. To the outside observer I run like I always did and my training is still the same. For the Amsterdam marathon I followed my Run Lounge programme to the letter, doing long runs, sprints, intervals and hills just like any other runner would. After years of loving running, though, Chi Running has helped me love it even more. If that’s not a recommendation, I don’t know what is…
Chi Running is available from Amazon and other booksellers.