A few weeks ago a fellow runner and blogger, Jessica Payne opened my eyes to ChiRunning. If you haven’t visited Jess’s blog I encourage you to check it out at, http://runpinkjess.com. Jessica was raising money for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital and held a little drawing for donors. I was lucky enough to win and the prize was a book titled, “Chi Running” by Danny Dreyer. I had never heard of ChiRunning before getting the book but after a quick browse through the pages I was intrigued enough to read it in more detail.
ChiRunning is a running technique based on martial arts skills of T’ai Chi. ChiRunning seems to be closely related to the elements of neigong and qigong which focuses on breathing, movement and awareness exercises. ChiRunning was created by Danny Dreyer in 1999. You can learn more by visiting his website at, http://www.chirunning.com
Basically, the main principles of ChiRunning are:
Correct alignment and posture
Landing with a midfoot strike
Using a “gravity-assisted” forward lean
Engaging core strength for propulsion
Connecting the mind and body to prevent injury
Through my own running experience I’ve discovered relaxation, posture and a midfoot strike are keys to preventing injuries so much of the focus in ChiRunning follows my own principles of running. Martial arts is something I’ve never had an interest but running relaxed without injury is something I have a great deal of interest. I like enough of the principles of ChiRunning I’m willing to give it a try.
I’ve just barely examined the focus areas of ChiRunning and it will probably take me several weeks to a few months just to get comfortable with the focus areas. I know it’s going to take months for this technique to become natural.
This week I’m just focusing on two things: nose breathing and cadence. I’ve always been a mouth breather. ChiRunning principles ask you to breath in from your nose and exhale out of your mouth. I can’t believe how hard this is for me to change. I get all out of whack. I forget to breath out from my mouth. Sometimes my stomach is going in when it should be going out. Or I completely forget to breath in through my nose and start breathing in and out through my mouth. I’m hoping this is a common problem for runners to learn. I’m just a few months shy of sixty years old and you know what they say about teaching old dogs new tricks. I’m hoping my problem is the former and not the latter.
Cadence seems to come naturally for me! ChiRunning asks you to run with a cadence between 85-90 strides per minute. After a few trial tests of my cadence I’m pretty confident my natural pace is at or very close to 90 strides per minute. At least I have one focus area I don’t have to worry much about. I’m sure my cadence does fluctuate and I know I’ll need to work on that but staying steady isn’t usually that hard for me.
I’m posting this now for two reasons really. Now that it’s public knowledge this puts a little more pressure on me to continue practicing ChiRunning. I’m willing to give it six months to a year before I pass judgement. So, that means you probably won’t hear a lot about my specific progress with learning ChiRunning for several months. Maybe on my 60th birthday would be a good time to post an update? What do you think? I’m curious to see what affect this will have on my performance. If my performance drops initially I’m not going to be too concerned. I want to give this a fair shot. My second reason is I didn’t want to wait six months to a year to tell you about my experience with ChiRunning. If I think there is potential benefit to this technique then you should know it. If this posts sparks any curiosity in ChiRunning then by all means don’t wait for me to tell you how well (or not) it works. Go ahead and explore and learn about it for yourself.
There! Now I’ve said it. I’m not sure where this journey will take me but I plan to enjoy the ride.
Time to wrap up this introduction now. Since that 10K race in 2013 I’ve finished four 5K races and six 10K’s. I’ve got one more 10K race scheduled for the end of February and that will be it until the half marathon at the end of April.
I’ve made slow but steady progress since 2013. I ran the Broad Street Ramble 10K at the end of October 2015 and finished the race with a time of 01:04:44. That’s over 11 minutes faster than 2013! My last 5K was almost a year ago and I finished it with a time of 31:10. I feel like I can get that under 30 minutes now.
The upcoming 10K is an event I’ve never ran before. Since my focus is on training for the upcoming half marathon I don’t expect to hit a new personal record (PR) at this one.
I’ll probably never get back to my 10K finish times in the 44-55 minute range from twenty years ago. I’m Ok with that. I do hope to break the 60 minute mark sometime during the Fall 2016 running season though. That’s my goal anyway and time will tell if I can do it.
The day arrives when I will run my first 10K race in nineteen years! I can’t say I was really ready but I prepared enough to get out there and finish the race. The night before the race we had thunderstorms like crazy. It pretty much rained all night. By race time the rain had stopped but it was unusually warm for the time of year and the humidity was well over 90%.
I think you can tell by the expression on my face I was struggling a bit toward the finish line. My finish time was 1:15:59. Not exactly a smoking fast pace. Still, I finished the race and that was my goal and I achieved it.
Now that I feel like I can call myself a runner again I’m ready to go out and run in an organized event. I search the internet for races in my area and I find a 10K scheduled in about eight weeks. At the time I certainly didn’t feel prepared for a 10K and would have rather signed up for a 5K but there wasn’t anything available that fit my schedule. I decide to go ahead and sign-up for the 10K.
With eight weeks to get ready I added the 10K Runner app to my iPhone to use as my training plan. The 10K Runner app is a fourteen week program with the first eight weeks exactly like the 5K Runner app. If I started with week nine I could complete the training program in time for the 10K race.
Now, I managed to complete the program in time for the race but in hindsight I should not have. I really should have started the 10K program from the very beginning. Before the training was complete I started having some pain in my left knee. I could still run, in fact it felt better when I did. My knee hurt the rest of the day. I did go to a sports doctor to have it checked out and he didn’t find anything obviously wrong with my knee. He gave me a prescription for some anti-inflammatory meds and told me to go out and do as much as I felt comfortable to do.
The meds helped but I didn’t want to take them for very long. After each run I would ice down my knee to help with any swelling. I couldn’t see any swelling but I didn’t want to take any chances either. It took me several more months to figure out what was going on with my knee. The problem wasn’t from overuse but from poor running mechanics. I’m convinced had I started the 10K Runner training program from week one instead of week nine I would have detected the running mechanics problem much sooner. Also, starting at week one would have given my muscles and joints a chance to regroup after finishing the 5K training program. This alone may have prevented my knee pain altogether. I’ll write more about running mechanics on a later date.
After completing an eight week running program I feel proud enough of my accomplishment to call myself a runner again. Not much of a runner mind you, but I can run more than a mile without stopping at least. I can run 5K in less than forty minutes! Not fast by any measure but it’s not about the speed or distance–it’s about the accomplishment and the feeling of calmness after each run. Maybe now is the time to sign up for an organized running event?
I had long ago made up my mind my running days were over. After several months of daily walking I started thinking maybe that wasn’t really true. I was comfortably walking for over an hour and started thinking if I can walk six or seven miles then surely I can run one mile.
I knew I needed to start slowly but I wasn’t exactly sure what that really meant. I did some online research and this brought back many memories of running a long time ago. I remember the feelings of calm and tranquility at the end of each daily run and I missed that. One the downside, I also remember the aches & pains that came with the sport. The aches and pains were something I wanted to avoid this time around. I also learned a few new things as well. One thing I learned was there are many mobile phone apps to help you get started. If you have an iPhone or Android mobile device, finding a training app for running is pretty easy. The hard part is trying to figure out which one to use. Some of the apps are free and some are not. There are minor differences in the training plans of each but they all seem similar enough. In the end I decided on Fitness22’s 5K Runner. I would say my second choice would have been the Couch to 5K app from Zen Labs. Both companies offer a free 5K training app for both the iPhone and Android mobile devices. Either app will make a good place to get started. I know there are still some people who don’t have smart phones, especially in my age group and older. That’s ok, but you will need a watch with a timer or stopwatch at the minimum.
So now it’s time to get started running right? Not quite. In the early stages my running still involved a lot of walking. I would start by walking–usually fifteen to twenty minutes before I would start up my new 5K Runner app on my iPhone. Day one of the training called for a 5 minute walk followed by running for one minute and then walking for a minute and a half. This is repeated six times and concludes with a 5 minute cool down walk. I usually continued to walk to complete at least an hour of activity. Of course, you could just follow the 5K Runner app and have your workout finished in 30 minutes if that is all the time you have available. The app continues through an eight week program of three running days per week. The great thing about using one of the smart phone apps for training is you don’t have to constantly monitor a stopwatch to track or remember how many times you’ve completed each interval. The app runs in the background and beeps and speaks to you so you know when to walk and when to run. If you listen to music while you run, you can listen to music and still get prompts for each interval. By week six the app works you up to ten minutes of running with a five minute walk, followed by another ten minute run. At the end of eight weeks you are running for 35 minutes without stopping.
Now here’s an important point I want to make–by the end of the program I wasn’t running 5K in thirty-five minutes. At my age and fitness level I just couldn’t run fast enough. One of my important rules about running for a lifetime is when you train: base your workout on duration only. Let’s face it, some days are better than others. Sleep, diet, temperature, humidity, running surface, and traffic congestion are a few variables that will affect your running performance each day. You can’t completely control those things so don’t try. Go out with a running duration goal in mind and let the rest take care of itself. Depending on the duration and the variables I just mentioned my per minute mile pace can vary by as much as 2-3 minutes per mile. Accept this and you will free yourself from the pressure of always trying to perform better. You will get better, you just have to give it time. We’re not training to be professional competitive runners–we want to run for the rest of our lives. Patience and long term goals are the key to success.
My return to running began in June of 2013. Actually, it didn’t start with running at all. It started with walking. At first it was just a mile or so and I gradually increased my distance over the course of about three to four months. By September I was easily walking for an hour or more. It was an easy progression really. About eighteen months before I started my new journey in running I moved to a new neighborhood that has fitness trails that run through different sections of the neighborhood. This turned my walking into a bit of an adventure to explore and learn the various paths.
To help monitor my progress I use an activity tracker. My activity tracker of choice was the Fitbit Flex. You certainly don’t need an activity tracker but they can help you stay motivated. There are trackers made by Nike, Apple, Garmin, Jawbone and a few others. They all have advantages and disadvantages and I’m not recommending one over the other. I will say what I like about the Fitbit products is their mobile app for the iPhone or Android devices. To me, the others just don’t compare. If you don’t use an activity tracker I do recommend you start an activity diary. It can be a small notebook that can easily fit in a pocket or purse where you just record the date, time and duration of your walks. The advantage of a diary is you can look back and see your progress. Seeing progress, even if it’s in small increments can help you stay motivated.
For the first few months I tried to walk at least six miles a day. Everyday. At first I didn’t do this in one session. Many times it was in the course of three or four walking sessions during the day. If you’ve got a spare 15-20 minutes–go walk! That’s what I did. Some days I didn’t get my six miles in and other days I went well beyond it. The main thing is to stay committed. When you put your mind to it you can find all kinds of opportunities to walk more. One easy way is when you pull into a parking lot to park don’t look for the closest parking spot near the building you want to enter. Instead, find a spot that is the furthest out. I think you’ll find many times this will be a time saver because you’re not driving up and down the parking lot looking for that spot closest to the building.
As you see, the first steps to running for a lifetime isn’t running at all. It’s walking. Over the years I’ve watched too many people take up running by starting out too quickly and too aggressively only to stop due to injury or frustration over the constant aches and pains cause by running. If you want to run for a lifetime, you’ve got to have patience and a bit of discipline. Regardless of where you are physically you will always need to stay with it and start slow. As you progress, slow will be faster than the first day you started running but it should always feel like you are taking it slow.