Chi Running is purely and simply, in my view, a way of moving mindfully - being fully mentally present in the body and using mental focus as one of the primary ways to improve our running. How do we maximise the positive effect of mindfulness to improve not just our well being, but our level of performance in running? 'The Mindful Athlete,' by George Mumford tackles the subject brilliantly and is sure to become a classic. It's an absolute must read for anyone who is an ambitious runner, and is interested in exploring the mental aspects of the sport. I think we all know that so much of our performance in running is 'all in the mind,' but actually unpicking how to hone our mental landscape can be very slippery. In my experience there are several interrelated pathways here. For example many people, including myself, have benefitted greatly by using sports psychology approaches such as Neuro Linguistic Programming, or other techniques from modern positive psychology. Some people seem to just be born with a huge level of grit and determination - a 'race winning' kind of mindset. My personal feeling is that developing mindfulness based habits has the potential to revolutionise a persons athletic potential. It is my preferred method of 'sorting out my head' as a runner in the long term.
Freedom To Run - Blog
Freedom To Run - Blog
Last weekend I was on a quiet retreat in Northumberland. After spending a while participating in a discussion I went for a run before night prayers. It was one of those moments when everything flowed and came together. Everything outside was totally and absolutely silent and still. It seemed like all my senses were heightened. I could smell the freshly cut hedges. The only thing I could hear was my own footsteps. I could feel my breath as it filled my lungs and it seemed that I was tasting the air even within my lungs. It seemed more nourishing than normal. As I ran i quickly became able to relax deeper and deeper into a state of joy. I even raised up my arms for a moment out of happiness. Then I just relaxed more, finding balance with my posture line and enjoyed the journey.
As a Chi Runner, I'm always looking for ways to develop mindfulness approaches when I'm out running so it wasn't long before I got in touch with @pullentherapy on Twitter for a tweet based interview. Here are the results.
@FreedomToRunUK Jon, I don't place the importance, the client does. I ask questions for all 3 with the same interest, emphasis and weight.— William Pullen (@pullentherapy) February 13, 2017
@pullentherapy that makes perfect sense.— ⚡️ Freedom To Run⚡️ (@FreedomToRunUK) February 14, 2017
@FreedomToRunUK I think that confinement and monotony are damaging to the sense of freedom and aliveness with which the human soul thrives.— William Pullen (@pullentherapy) February 14, 2017
(Sorry for the typo - I meant two words that really strike a chord.)
@pullentherapy confinement and monotony... 2 weeks that really strike a chord!— ⚡️ Freedom To Run⚡️ (@FreedomToRunUK) February 14, 2017
@FreedomToRunUK It very much sounds like it.— William Pullen (@pullentherapy) February 14, 2017
@FreedomToRunUK Yes. Learning how to just listen without interpreting or evaluating takes practise. What do you really know anyway?— William Pullen (@pullentherapy) February 15, 2017
@pullentherapy something I think I need to practise a LOT!!!— ⚡️ Freedom To Run⚡️ (@FreedomToRunUK) February 15, 2017
@FreedomToRunUK Learn to recognise and catch over-thinking.— William Pullen (@pullentherapy) February 15, 2017
@pullentherapy I'll have a go. That's a really interesting challenge— ⚡️ Freedom To Run⚡️ (@FreedomToRunUK) February 15, 2017
@FreedomToRunUK No, not really. It sounds good though.— William Pullen (@pullentherapy) February 16, 2017
@pullentherapy Chi Running is about your running feeling easier. Mindfulness is at the heart of the approach— ⚡️ Freedom To Run⚡️ (@FreedomToRunUK) February 16, 2017
@FreedomToRunUK Unquestionably. Its timeless, feels right, often it's a transcendent experience. And brings out the good in me You?— William Pullen (@pullentherapy) February 16, 2017
@pullentherapy I love the stories about Japanese running monks— ⚡️ Freedom To Run⚡️ (@FreedomToRunUK) February 16, 2017
@FreedomToRunUK Which ones?— William Pullen (@pullentherapy) February 16, 2017
@pullentherapy greatest benefits of Chi Running r energy efficency & injury prevention. Closely followed by bringing mind and body together— ⚡️ Freedom To Run⚡️ (@FreedomToRunUK) February 16, 2017
I hope you enjoyed reading the conversation as much as did talking to William. I also hope this has encouraged you to look again at the mindfulness element of your running. Mindfulness is right at the heart of Chi Running. Chi Runners believe running can enrich your whole life - not just whilst you are running. As Justin Whittaker puts it here: http://www.onbeing.org/blog/chirunning-a-sitting-meditation-justin-whitaker/
" It's a lot about mindfulness of the body and really feeling what's going on, learning appropriate posture and then relaxing into it. "
I personally think that's just the tip of the iceberg in what Chi Running has to offer. I use regular and specific mindfulness based exercises whilst I running. It's great to be able to add a bit to my collection of techniques. I think it's safe to say I will be blogging more on this subject. If you have any interest at all in mindful running, or in using running to improve mental health then give this book a read.
If you would like to explore this area more, get in touch, or book on to one of my Mindful Fitness Weekends. If you are interested in finding out more from William Pullen about his book and his therapeutic approach, his website is here. I also recommend reading Running with the Mind of Meditation which I have also blogged about.
I go to Huddersfield Parkrun every week and I can't see me ever stopping this fantastic habit. It's not just running ... it's Parkrun. Some of the stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things are just amazing. One chap is just about to finish running 2000 miles this year after suffering a heart attack on the start line just a few years ago. Then there was the time over 100 people were coached from couch to 5k by Acre Street Runners. Just awesome. If you've not tried it, see if I can convince you ...
We've all lost motivation from time to time. This can manifest itself in different ways. Since taking up Chi Running, my running has been uninterrupted by running injury. That doesn't mean I train enormous amounts of mileage and it doesn't mean I always feel like running hundreds of miles. I go to Parkrun every week unless I am away from home. If I'm racing that weekend or feeling poorly then I'll volunteer. Sometimes I'll just volunteer because I love that too. You get the idea - Parkrun keeps me running week in week out, year in year out better than any other group of people I've known. Maybe it's the fact that 5k it a nice, achievable distance whatever the weather ... but it still has a real challenge to it. I can't believe how many people have got in to running through Parkrun and gone on to huge running achievements. There it a guy in this photo (not me) who started running through Parkrun and has now run a sub 3 hour marathon and won an ultra marathon. Now that's motivation!
One by one, Parkrun has drawn everyone in my family in with it's hugely welcoming atmosphere. We get to run or walk together EVERY week. It's so lovely to know that whatever comes along in the week we always have a time in the week where we touch base. Plus we're always destressed at the end of the run so we always seem to have a chilled out and relaxed level of commnication. The friends we have made as a family through Parkrun are truly amazing people.
Whether it's enjoying running more, overcoming injury, winning Parkrun, completing Parkrun for the first time, or getting a PB it's great to catch up with my Chi Running clients and see how they are doing. It's not just clients though - the buzz of success for everyone, whoever you are and whatever yoru starting point is just amazing. There have been some incredibly humbling moments at Huddersfield Parkrun which just restore your faith in humanity.
If you are a stats geek then Parkrun is amazing. What's wrong with being competitive sometimes? I've really discovered a place to push myself in different ways as a runner. The course is so familiar that I have learnt how to run each hill, each turn, each flat. I am even learning how to breath for particular sections of the route. Familiarity leeds to success and sometimes it's great to be able to patient, remember the principle of gradual progress and build up your achievements.
I'm generally one of the quicker runners, but if I run with one of my children or a slower runner nobody asks why. It's part of the culture at Parkrun to help people along be it running as a pacer or just running along and chatting. I think my most 'successful' Parkruns have been some of my slowest.
I think you've got the message from the first 5 reasons! If you're EVER going to get off the sofa and run, it'll be at a Parkrun. Everyone is welcome and I mean really everyone. I recently witnessed over 100 people being coached from couch to 5k by a bunch of Parkrun volunteers... when they finished their first Parkrun the feeling was just INCREDIBLE. People were buzzing all week.
Have I got it right? Have I missed something? I'd love to hear your comments below.
Photos and Video
Did we enjoy it then?
Hints and tips for anyone considering running
Check the weather
How to prepare yourself for the this race
Remember you are well supported with energy
It’s in French!
A final word
This blog caught my attention. I thought I'd post a response.
The blog suggests that there are three reasons why we struggle to do things that are good for us (eg eat well, exercise.) 1. Lack of Awareness - we aren't aware of what to do. 2. Lack of Permission - we don't give ourselves permission to do what we know is good for us. 3. Obstacles or Road Blocks.
I'd like to respond to both of these thoughts, and then add a few thoughts of my own. My thoughts are based on my personal experiences using NLP (Neuro Liguistic Programming) and Mindfulness techniques.
Lack of Awareness
It's true! we're SO unaware of what we need to do to look after ourselves. We live in an unnatural and unhealthy modern bubble that is damaging to our bodies and minds. Fortunately the mindfulness revolution is really beginning to spread. Businesses are changing, the government is seeing that there are benefits in the NHS and in education. I've previously written a blog on the subject of mindfulness based improvement in running. I really do believe a mindfulness based approach is an important one here - learning to increase our awareness of the present moment - surely that's got to be a good thing! There are still a great many people charging around unaware that they are suffering from stress and living with a level of pain and discomfort that they simply don't need to.
Like the boiling frog - we are sat in a pan of boiling water (stress) that is getting hotter and hotter and we're unaware of it. Like a frog being dropped in to a pan of boiling water if we took a step back and realised how crazy our lives have become we'd jump straight out of the pan!
Lack of Permission
It's true! We don't give ourselves permission to look after ourselves. I actually got hostile looks in a meeting on wellbeing for teachers when I suggested that exercise could be a way to combat stress. It's true though, it sharpens our mind and keeps us calm. The research is there to prove it. But still in many work places you are made to feel guilty for looking after yourself. There's a kind of competition to see who can 'do the most' - and it's not healthy. I'm guessing that if you're reading this then you probably already give yourself a certain level of permission to look after yourself. Maybe it's time to take it to a new level?
3) Obstacles or roadblocks
We all have plenty of these! I think our attitude is really key here. There are so many practical barriers here. I actually think that the WOOP method suggested in the blog might be a really good tool for tackling the next steps your might be wishing to take in your Chi Running if you have been 'stuck in a rut' and not able to motivate yourself to keep focussed. Why not choose a Chi Running focus and give it a go?
The Yoda Factor
The very title of the blog is wrong. The word struggle should probably be banned from our vocabulary. What does it imply? The very word implies that we might not succeed. I'd suggest that we should eliminate certain words from our vocabulary and definitely from our self talk when it comes to looking after ourselves. When you're deciding whether to go out for a long run on a wet night or whether to take an easier shortcut to your route listen to your language. Try ... struggle ... these very words imply failure. Our self talk let's us down. Pay attention to some of yours nonjudgementally and maybe you should think about using kinder words instead.
"Do or do not - there is no try."
In Chi Running we teach the principle of gradual progress (see my recent blog on that subject.) So don't rush from a race straight back to your normal training regime.
Here is a bit of advice on post race recovery. Supplements and Sports Drinks are mentioned, which I believe do have a place for some runners.
Optimising Recovery after a Run
Depending on how seriously you train– recovery from exercise can potentially become a huge issue.
The Chi Running book has a whole section on Chi Living and also discusses diet. Diet plays a central role in becoming a better runner. I recently qualified as a Sport and Exercise Nutritional Advisor and am avidly reading through various books around the theme of nutrition for runners. See my previous blog on Finding Ultra, for example. I'm begining to explore more and more what raw and much less processed food can do for us as athletes (and as human beings!)
I'm going to share a few recipes in the next few blogs. Why not post a photo and comment when you've tried one out?
Paul from Paul Poole Mountainreering has let me share this yummy recipe. Make it today!
I talk to my clients about the idea of gradual progress, but I don't really get enough time to focus in this in depth during a workshop. I've noticed that we all vary in our understand of what gradual really means, so thought I'd write in a bit more detail than my previous blog on this subject.
I'd like to suggest that most running injuries actually come from breaking the principle of gradual progress - people run beyond what their running form is able to deal with - whether that is a change in distance, speed, gradient or just footwear.
I've just got back from a wonderful 'Introduction to Mindfulness' workshop lead by my good wife Becky, a trained mindfulness teacher. So I'm fresh and full of ideas for how mindfulness and Chi Running overlap (if indeed they differ at all.) In this series of three short articles on 'The Mindful Runner' I have already explored how "mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way On Purpose and In the Present Moment." (Jon Kabat Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living.) This final article focusses on being 'Non Judgemental'.
Unhelpful thoughts dominate our minds, if we let them. Our thoughts and words create our reality in a very real way, and we are only just discovering in the West the power of the mind and the difference it can make to the body.
I asked Becky to explain how important this principle can be, and what power these unhelpful judgements can have over us. Here is what she said:
What do we mean by mindful fitness? How about running with greater awareness, more mental presence and focus?
In my last newsletter I wrote a piece on running mindfully 'on purpose. ' Read the full text here on my blog.
According to Jon Kabat-Zinn...
"mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way;
in the present moment,
Have you ever been running, say in a race or a challenging run, and suddenly realised you can't remember Runnjng the last mile because your mind was elsewhere? That's an example of mindlessness. Mindfulness can help us be fully focussed in the present moment where we are, whatever we are doing. Wouldn't it be great if our running really helped us leave unhelpful thoughts and the stress of our busy lives behind.
How do we enhance and develop this 'being present?'
From one of the best City Marathons in the world, to a classic Cumbrian fell race. I ran a totally contrasting challenge just 3 weeks after the London Marathon. You can read my blog on the London Marathon here.
Fairfield was a totally different (and wonderful) experience. These photos testify to the amazing views.
I really enjoyed the race, finding the challenge of the incredibly steep hills and technical ground a refreshing change from flat tarmac. I'm not as well practised on technical downhill at the moment (never my strength anyway). This meant all my overtaking was confined to the smooth grassy and bridleway sections.
Here is my attempt at comparing the two events, if that's possible.
Chi Running and Walking are more than just a way of moving our bodies, more than a running technique. They are a way of practicing being present in each moment of our lives.
Are you interested in finding more relaxed flow and focus in your running? Do you want to explore ways to mentally and physically get 'in the zone?'
With Chi Running, I think about how I can apply the principles to my whole lifestyle, not just running and walking.
How can we cultivate a deeper awareness of the unity between mind and body?
According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way:
- On purpose
- In the present moment
- Non judgementally
In this short discussion, I'm going to explore what we mean by 'On Purpose.'
On purpose means we make a choice. To me, paying attention on purpose means setting your mind intentionally on a specific ChiRunning focus. You can start by choosing a focus from the Chi Running book, Ch Walking or Chi Marathon book. If you've worked with an instructor, try watching your video analysis again and considering whether the advice is still current.
Do you know what focus is currently affecting your running efficiency or would help you relax more as you walk? If not, it's a case of reviewing a few of the possible focusses and then listening to your body to find a focus.
Find triggers in your day to remind you of the focus. When your trigger is clicked, go back to your focus and concentrate your mind and body on it for a period of about 60 seconds. Ideas for triggers ... Maybe it's going to be every time someone says your name, every time you run last a lamp post, or every time you look in the rear view mirror of your car. Whatever your trigger, as you become more experienced at focusing 'on purpose' you will find things start to become more automatic. You may be work on pairs of focusses together, or even choose a mental focus to help release tension and anxiety from your whole mind and body, your whole emotional state whilst you are running.
How else can we learn to be more purposeful in our running? A few pointers:
Make a plan and stick to it. We clear and decisive. When you have made a decision then don't let tired thoughts drag you away from it. Stay positive and you will go a long way! If you plan to run up a particular hill, run up it. If you plan to run fast, know your Chi Running focusses for running at that speed and stick to them. If you get tired, know which focusses will help restore your energy whilst you are running. If you really can't stick to your plan, adjust or reduce the intensity and stick to the revised target.
Keep coming back to the basics. Whatever focus you have chosen, try starting the first part of your run by lengthening from the crown of your head and feeling the ground inder your feet as you settle in to the right amount of lean for whatever Chi Running 'gear' you have chosen to run in. Use this focus to get grounded. If it's a long run such as an ultra, you will probably need to come back to this grounding focus as various points during the run. Remember to run from your centre.
When your mind wanders (and it will) just keep bringing it back to the focus you have chosen.
Coming soon, The Mindful Runner Part 2, 'In The Present Moment'
I absolutely loved the whole experience of training for and running the London Marathon.
I normally run and compete on hilly trails and fells, so this was a bit of a departure. I found myself really enjoying my training sessions because running on the flat is so easy compared with running off road and on hills. From a Chi Running perspective, doing most of my running on the flat meant I could really get a strong sense of running from my centre, and allowing my running to feel like a controlled fall. Getting lean right and using that to create and control speed became much easier during these sessions. This lovely feeling of floating along is what Chi Running is all about and it brought back the reality to me that Chi Running is best practised at a slow pace on the flat. This really helps bring out the joy and effortless of the technique.
London Marathon and Marathon Running tips
The following are my own points to myself for next time. I hope they help you too. They are very much a collection of things I've read and conversations with people, so it's nothing too new really. Advice to myself for next time...
Before the event
Race specific training. I very much believe in training on routes that are as similar as possible to the race you are doing. Therefore I got serious about long flag runs - hard to find in Yorkshire. If I'm doing a 5 mile steep race that starts up a hill, make sure I train on the course or on a similar route, so the same principle applies whether it's a matathon, a night race or whatever.
My Protein sent me some of this to try out, and here are my thoughts.
When I read the packaging I couldn't believe the scoop size needed to use this powder. I started looking at the measuring spoons in my kitchen. Then I found the v absolutely tiny scoop inside the packet. "This is going to last for ages" were my first thoughts. To compare, a big scoop larger than an egg cup was needed for the last electrolyte powder I used. It's going to last for AGES.
It's supposed to be flavourless, however I am lucky and have delicious Yorkshire Water coming out of my tap and so I confess I do notice a slight taste. No problem though as I'll just drink it with my daily fruit juice, or with water and don't worry about the taste. In comparison other electrolyte I've tried has had it's own taste anyway so I guess it's personal preference. You might prefer tablets or flavoured powder, but you're not going to beat this for value for money. Some electrolytes are sold in single dose sachets, this pouch will go on for many, many doses.
Does it seem to 'work?' Tough to tell but I'm marathon training at the moment and I've not suffered any signs of dehydrating on my long runs so that's a thumbs up from me.
My Protein gave me some of this product to try. I've already purchased some more of my own. There are various discount offered here if you fancy some: http://www.myprotein.com/voucher-codes.list
When I was out running the other day, a friend asked me how Chi Running helps to focus your mind. I explained how I think I use my mind as much, if not more than by body when I am running. My intention is to stay in the present moment, using my mind to listen to and focusing my body in order to become more aligned and relaxed (and ultimately more efficient.) I went on to explain that energy flow and chi are about, for the runner, trying to find that special moment where 'everythign just clicks' and you have a fantastic run. We're setting up the conditions for energy to flow - but what does that really mean? This got me thinking about how to explain mindfulness to those who are less familiar with these concepts. Let's start with the word mindfulness as for me, Chi Running and Chi Walking are about mindful exercise.
Mindfulness comes from Buddhism, however the idea of living with an attitude of gratitude and thankfulness has a wider religious and non religious bases. Secular techniques have now been developed and mindfulness is taught across the whole of society for many different reasons. The word itself can get in the way, so why not pick a word from this list that suits you and forget about the jargon?!
Is technique important in running?
Is the mental side of things important?
Are the mental and physical parts of ourselves interlinked?
Most people would answer yes to all these questions, but few have explored the combination of the two, or indeed the link between exercise and the spiritual side of their life.
From long distance pilgrims, to marathon running monks, the spiritual and physical are not separate in any sense. Focussing the breath and focussing the mind are some examples of how exercise and spiritual practises can be linked together by those seeking to explore these links.
We thought our peanut butter product was junk free until we read the ingredients list on this one from MyProtein. It has one ingredient. Peanuts. Give the jar a good stir and smell the goodness, then slap it on to wholemeal toast. This is a really great product, and one which would make a great addition to any runner's kitchen cupboard.
The makers have a discount voucher page here and a short video about the product here:
I've read all these and they are great reads. They all all highly relevant to the Chi Runner (or in fact any runner.) Why not pick your next read now?