I've written several blogs on this principle before. I just keep coming back to the belief that this is one of the fundamental cornerstones for runners, and wanted to put this right at the top of my list for client advice in the next phase of my coaching. I meet so many runners who have broken this principle. If that's you, don't be hard on yourself, it's really very easy to misjudge and there are a lot of people out there who seem to believe in the old paradigm or the 'push push push, mind over body' approach.
Freedom To Run - Blog
Freedom To Run - Blog
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.
I thought I'd put a few thoughts together to summarise some of the key messages from the Chi Marathon book by Danny and Katherine Dreyer.
"I had won three major marathons, Berlin (1997), London and Amsterdam (both 1998). I had very fruitful years with four world cross country silver medals, one European cross-country gold medal, countless national titles, two Olympic games, the Irish records in the 10k, half marathon and marathon, and a smattering of European and world championships achieved.
But I began losing my battle with niggling injury. Irish newspaper headlines regularly led with stories of me pulling out of big events due to injury. Running is meant to be enjoyed, not endured, I thought... I got my hands on a copy of Danny and Katherine Dreyer's book Chi Running, and I couldn't put it down. After enduring years of pain and injury and wondering what was the cause of it all, I found that Danny's book was providing me with all the answers."
- Catherina McKiernan, the forward to Chi Marathon
There is a reason why my business name is suffixed with 'Ease - Efficiency - Speed.' it's because I believe we need to get form right before we build up distance. Running beyond our form is not good for us. You've all seen that marathon runner who has lost all form and is struggling to keep going even at a walk. Chi Running is about listening to your body and enjoying your running more!
I think of the essence of the Chi Marathon principle as:
Form - Distance - Speed
Form then Distance then Speed
Perhaps you prefer to imagine it in the form of a pyramid, where we build up the basics first:
F O R M
The Chi Marathon book actually has a 24 week training programme, with no fewer than 7 separate phases. These are all focussed on training the whole person, and keeping you enjoying your whole experience. The principle of gradual progress is an essential for Chi Running, and this also underpins the Chi Marathon approach.
The seven phases are as follows:
1 Vision, Goals and Planning
2 The Technique Phase
3 The Conditioning Phase
4 The Mastery Phase
5 Taper Time
6 Race Weekend
7 Rest and Renewal
It's the development of technique first and foremost that makes the Chi Marathon principle so powerful. Building up the distance over which you can maintain good technique comes next. The speed at which you can run, maintaining that form, is the 'icing on the cake.'
How many runners do it the other way around? They launch themselves into speed intervals or massive mileage. It is only when they are injured that they think 'why.' I'm not wanting to sound judgemental here - I must assure you I've been there too and I feel the draw to get pulled in to that way of thinking. The truth is that it is only when I put technique first that I find I can run pain free.
What can you do to help prepare for your marathon?
- Remember Form - Distance - Speed ... in that order. Trust the principle through your training
- Work on your technique early on - Use Chi Running focusses such as posture, relaxation, alignment, cadence, lean
- Be very strict with yourself about gradual progress
- Remember speed work is fine, in facts it's GREAT, but it's not more important that anything else. The same applies to distance and mileage.
Chi Running isn't magic and it isn't a guarantee, but it has helped a lot of people and it's worked for me. I can't see how you can argue with the principles. Comments anyone?
Do you want to take your running further in 2017? Whatever your goal, Chi Running can help your running to feel easier and more efficient. Here are a variety of ways to become more efficient. They are all basic principles of the current understanding of good running technique and fundamentals Chi Running technique.
1 Run Tall
Posture is a fundamental of good running technique. If you have never related this to your running before, you could be on the verge of something big... well taller. Have you ever seen that runner who crosses this finish line and has totally lost their form? One of the first things to go is posture. Try experimenting with how long you can maintain good posture when you are running? Try a posture check every 10 minutes. If you aren't sure how to do that, you could start by imagining a helium balloon tethered to the crown of your head and lifting you up from that area.
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
The Oxygen Advantage by Patrick Mckeown - a book review from a Chi Running perspective. The books starts with some essentials on how breathing works. I love the title of the website 'The Oxygen Advantage - Simulate High Altitude Training.' This is a great introduction and easy for the non scientist to follow. It's fascinating to find out more about the anatomy and functions of the nose. If turns out it's not just two holes in your face!
You will quickly learn how to work out your Body Oxygen Level Test score (BOLT.) The aim of following the Oxygen Advantage course is to improve this score, and along with it gain the wide range of health benefits that the book claims. These include getting rid of asthma, weight loss, improving sleep and increasing sports performance.
As the book moves on and discusses some really useful practical exercises to help improve your BOLT score it also has some really clear examples of groups who breathe through the their nose all the time. This helps make the point about the importance of nose breathing. It also provides a nice link with the Born to Run book for those who have read that.
It may be surprising to think that many of us breath incorrectly. This is much like the way we have got in to bad postural habits and therefore a natural running technique like chi Running can make a huge difference to our running. It's true that learning Chi Walking and Chi Running seem uneccesary to some people, "why do i need to learn how to walk?" When people take the time to learn some simple techniques and accept that there is a link between the way they move and associated health problems, they will be ready to explore ways to change that. It's developing a mindful practice throughout all our lives and living by the principle of gradual progress that make a huge difference here.
I must say I have been utterly convinced (if I wasn't before) of the importance of breathing correctly, and also that so many people don't breath correctly. I've also been convinced that making changes in our everyday lives - when we are just sitting around and going about daily routines - can have a huge effect in our performance in sport. There is another parallel to Chi Running here, as I love the way that some of the best changes we can make to improve our running are those postural adjustments that we make all day every day throughout out routines. As you can see the book fits perfectly with the Chi Running philosophy and the two approaches complement each other very well indeed.
The surprise chapter, which really was the icing on the cake for me, was 'finding the zone.' This chapter spends a great deal of time discussing how important mindfulness is for the human being, and its relevance to anyone wanting to breath better. Again it had a lot of examples of how mind body techniques can be of huge benefits and did a great job of extolling the advantages of using mindfulness techniques together with the Oxygen Advantage breathing exercises. In fact, if you follow the programme properly you need to include mindfulness in it. This image reminds us of the links between breathing and mindfulness.
Here is a short quote from the Finding the Zone chapter to highlight just how close the philosophy is to that of Chi Running. "Scan your body for any tension that may be residing there, and bring a gentle feeling of release to tense areas to encourage relaxation. Tension of muscle groups during sports is counterproductive and consumes energy - learn to recognise areas of tension in your body and practise melting them away with the power of the mind."
The book suggests looking at a video of a cheetah running to see just how relaxed it looks. Here is an example of such a video (opens in new window.)
Can you see just how relaxed it looks? Can you see, yet again, a common approach shared between The Oxygen Advantage book and the Chi Running way of looking at running (and life)?
So this is definitely the start of my journey with the 'Oxygen Advantage' programme. I have used various breathing techniques before but I'm going to give this one some real sustained attention and report back in another blog. Please do comment and ask questions you might have about the book, any resources you have in breathing or any methods you have used yourself.
In summary, read this book if:
- You are a runner who has never thought about breathing technique
- You have had problems with your breathing at some point in your life
- You aren't sure why nose breathing is important
- You are interested in a mindfulness based approach to life
Read the book? Like my blog? Dislike my blog? As always, please leave your comments below.
If you want to learn the breathing technique, why not attend the following workshop, organised by Chi Running UK?
This workshop is only available through the Chi Running UK website and some places are still available at the time of writing. Please click the link above to purchase this, or to find out more information.
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'
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.
These are my thoughts on this inspiring book from my perspective as I train for a marathon next April, as well as with my Chi Running hat on.
I mentioned I was reading this book recently whilst on a training run with my club, Holmfirth Harriers. I was immediately asked what advice the book had for runners. Well it's packed full.... but is there a Kenyan secret that we're all waiting to hear? In this blog I will try and distill the essence of the advice given in the book. I'll also discuss a few themes that are considered by some to be the reasons why Kenyans make such good runners. I'll also consider the book from a Chi Runner's perspective.
Please comment below and let me know if you find this a helpful infographic.
The 20th of July found me running my 3rd Holme Moss Fell Race. The course has 3300ft of ascent over 18 miles of rugged moorland in the beautiful Peak District.
Chi Running principles involve focusing on alignment and relaxation, and so these became my main aims for the race. Given that I had competed minimum training I knew that using technique to preserve energy would be vital. This course is varied, with a few seconds of unrunnable, rocky hillside sections, especially in the first half. My main tactic was to preserve energy on some key sections, applying power and energy to run faster on other strategic sections eg. The descent from Tooleyshaw Moss and the return from Black Hill to Holme Moss. Also, I wanted to remain strong for the final scramble up a steep valley side at Ramsden Clough before the final 1.5 miles to the finish.
After setting off I found myself behind a large group of lead runners who I had no desire to keep up with. Just behind me were another large group of runners. I held my own on the way to Holme Moss summit, focusing on lengthening my spine and maintaining a good head position with the right amount of lean for the various different gradients.
Race Route trace:
Using my upper body to shift the work away from my legs was going to be important as the ascents were extremely challenging. I used the Chi Running technique for gradual up hill, adjusting my lean and stride length as well as engaging obliques and upper body. This worked well in the main, and I reached Holme Moss in about 38 minutes, feeling fresh.
After passing Holme Moss there was a steep descent and then a hands and feet scramble up to Tooleyshaw Moss. This was climbing pure and simple, no running technique was involved!
Then came a nice springy decent to Crowden on wide boggy paths. There were times here where I was able to bring in some downhill technique to good effect. I also used y-chi to focus on distant points. The issue here was keeping an eye on the technical nature of the path whilst still staying focused on distant features to use add mental targets. I will continue to work on exercises to train my peripheral vision.
An energy gel and water at Crowden and off to the steepest sections - Bareholme Moss and the legendary ascent of Laddow Rocks.
These required pushing down on my knees with my hands and keeping my upper body and centre of gravity add far forward as possible. When I got this right, I felt I was using my lower legs as little as could be expected given the severity of the climbs. Local knowledge and training on the course paid off here as I was able to find a decent line. Another energy gel ... the side of Laddow Rocks was more climbing than walking in places!
2 hours in to the race, I was conscious that the rest of the course was mainly runnable, but had I paced the first half right?
A lot of runners had already told me that they were not looking forward to the next ascent, Black Hill. I know that section well, and was able to settle in to a more determined pace. Then the heat really started to kick in. The wide open moors started to feel distinctly oven like. I was hoping to use more of a lean and create some speed on that section, however I felt preserving energy was important in the heat. A group of runners just ahead were visible all the way up Black Hill, but started to pull away during the intricate weaving through peat hags on the return to Holme Moss summit. Another energy gel.
I was expecting to feel strong in the return to Ramsden Clough, and was on track to get close to my target time of about 3:35. For some reason I was starting to feel tired?! The downhill section to Ramsden Clough felt like it was getting longer as I continued. I kept going, mindful of my cadence and posture, determined to maintain mental focus no matter what.
Just the small matter of running straight up the banking and then 1.5 miles to the finish. I say run up the banking. .. It was pulling up the heather using your hands. One poor chap asked if we had anything for cramp. Another runner asked where he was cramping. The reply? "Everywhere! "
I reached the top and was glad to find Phil with water. A nice bonus, thanks Phil. One final push needed.
Despite not catching any of those ahead of me I ran well on the final 1.5 miles, focusing to posture and arm swing to achieve decent split times. I finished with a personal best time. This still wasn't the time I'd hoped for, but I'd not gone the whole distance in training and I'm sure the heat made a big difference to everyone.
Here is me finishing the race - good to see my rear leg lifting nicely behind me:
It was a great event, and one I intend to make an annual event. What did I learn? On a course like this, knowing the route really well is extremely useful. I'd like to do even more training on it next year. I also need to work on the Cartworth to Holme Moss section before the race. Chi Running wise, I'm convinced I need to train longer and slower ahead of my next long race, the High Peak 40 in September.