As a lifelong runner, I'd weathered my highs and lows with the sport. Over the past few decades, I had experienced the joy of breakthrough performances alongside the occasional disappointments of shin splits and other standard running ailments. But following a season of high-mileage training last summer, I'd developed illiotibial band (ITB) syndrome and plantar fasciitis—neither of which I could shake.
Physical therapy, new shoes and breaks from running had provided little relief, and although I didn't want to believe it, I wondered if my body had hit a breaking point and I'd reached the end of my running rope.
When I heard of the Chi Week Camp, a seven-day program that promises to teach participants the basics of ChiRunning, I quickly signed up. According to its followers, Chi Running helps to correct injury through improving one's running form and mind-body connection. The possibility of pain-free running was too tantalizing to ignore, so I ventured to the mountains of North Carolina for a week-long lesson.
The BackgroundChi Running's founder, Danny Dreyer, created this technique based on the principles that contributed to his own running success. In his career as an ultramarathoner, Dreyer used tai chi to bring mindfulness to his running. The energy balance and alignment central to the ancient martial art helped Dreyer power his body through 100-mile races.
In creating Chi Running, Dreyer identified three key principles: proper alignment and relaxation, gradual progress and balance in motion. The goal of Chi Running is to become more aware of your movement within nature. Dreyer believes, "Running should become a tool for your body, instead of your body being a tool for running."
Principle #1 Alignment and RelaxationChiRunning emphasizes running from your core, not your legs. When I first was introduced to this idea at the camp it was difficult to grasp in theory but made more sense in practice. Dreyer uses a visual image from tai chi of a "needle in cotton." A runner's centerline is a strong axis of focused energy. With an engaged core, our arms, shoulders, hips and legs are able to move freely. When we tighten our center and relax the rest of the body, we should reach a new ease of movement and balance.
Principle #2 Gradual ProgressFor those of us who've spent our lives pounding the pavement, transitioning to Chi Running takes time. To help runners progress in their practice, Dreyer introduces sequential lessons addressing specific aspects of the Chi Running form. These lessons include landing on the mid-foot (as opposed to the heel), improving posture, minimizing pelvic rotation, increasing cadence and shortening stride length.
As you spend time practicing each lesson, you can assimilate new techniques into your run gradually. Dreyer recommends experimenting with only one or two techniques per run, so as not to become overwhelmed. Chi Running also asks runners to "body sense," or check in with their bodies frequently during a workout to pick up on aches or discomforts in order to make micro-adjustments. As body awareness increases, so does personal capability for preventing injury.