I've been reading quite a bit about Chi Running for a while now as well as other similar topics. These blogs are just my personal ramblings, so I'd be really interested to see if this one makes any sense to any other runners out there.
I thought I'd explain a model of learning that I find very helpful and relate it to Chi Running. This 'Stages of Competence' model came from research by Noel Burch in the 1970s,
although it has been attributed to (the great) Abraham Maslow (You can read more about it on Wikipedia.) When you learn to drive a car, you are at first having to think about every single action. Gear changes, checking mirrors. As you master the basics, they sink in and you carry out these actions without thinking about them (including the bad habits!) The stages go something like this:
- Unconsciously incompetent - You don't know you don't know
- Consciously incompetent - you know that you don't know
- Consciously competent - You know you know
- Unconsciously competent - You are unaware of your knowledge
Here is my visual attempt at relating this model to running.
So - my idea goes like this. This is where your mindfulness kicks in, what Chi Running calls 'body sensing.' You need to bring your body movements to your conscious awareness, sense tension, sense where your body needs to relax more etc. You bring an aspect of your running form to your conscious awareness. You work on it patiently, and gradually you gain unconscious competence over this new habit or aspect of your running form. Say for example you need to bring your shoulders back and down. If you remind yourself of this enough times, eventually you will do it without thinking.
There is, I believe a continuous cycle at work here in something like Chi Running, as there are so many possible foci for the runner to bring to their attention. Once you have mastered one skill, you bring your body sensing to bear again and then start once more at the conscious incompetence stage.
Personally I am now at the point where some elements of my running form are (I hope) now just becoming unconsciously competent. I in no way have developed an 'expert' Chi Running style, although I guess it all goes by comparison - we all have our bad habits. Certainly some areas of my running form have not been focussed on and need work on at a conscious level. I am sure if a master coach were to assess me they would also find areas where I was still at the unconsciously incompetent level. So we are all probably at all 4 levels at the same time, on different aspects of our running form.
Like driving a car, we all benefit from bringing many different aspects of the skill to our attention when we are at the early stage of learning in order to avoid bad habits.
Also, I guess the opposite seems true - as a child, most of had a lovely natural running form.
One final reason I think this model sits well with Chi Running is that it encourages patience. If running is a life long practice rather than an activity that we just 'do,' then it deserves the time it takes to get it right. The time we invest in getting the basics right is worth while. As it mentions in the early pages of the Chi Marathon book, we shouldn't run longer than our running form allows. So it's all about patience and good running form .... distance and then speed will follow. (More messages and themes from the Chi Running book.)