Freedom To Run - Ease, Efficiency, Speed

Jon Burdon, Chi Running and Chi Walking instructor based in England and Wales

Freedom To Run - Blog

This blog is all about my journey with Chi Running. I try to discuss all aspects of the practice. I also write a book review for every book I read about running. Please DO post comments below - you don't event need to have an account - just leave your name :)

6 Reasons I LOVE my local Parkrun

famrun

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 ...

 

 

Have I got it right? Have I missed something? I'd love to hear your comments below.

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Gradual Progress

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.

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The Mindful Runner Part 3 - Non Judgement

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'.

 binit

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:

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The Mindful Runner Part 2 - in the present moment

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;

on purpose,

in the present moment,

and

non judgmentally."

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?'

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London Marathon vs Fairfield Horseshoe Fell Race

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.

fairfield3

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. 

londonvsfairfield

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The Mindful Runner Part 1 - Running Mindfully and On Purpose

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'

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My London Marathon advice and tips

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

Blue Start, London Marathon

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.

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MORE FIRE - How to Run the Kenyan Way by Toby Tanser

 

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.

More Fire Book Cover

The Author, Toby Tanser, runs the Shoes For Africe charity.

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High Peak 40 Mile Challenge 2014 - a Chi Runner's review

Phew! I just completed my first Ultra Marathon.
 
Why did I enter?
When I took up Chi Running a few years ago, I had made a decision to run regularly and be determined about becoming injury free - hence Chi Running. Chi Running was developed by Danny Dreyer, an ultra runner from the U.S. and together with stories of ultra running from various books such as Feet In The Clouds by Richard Asquith (see my blog) and Born To Run (see my blog) I guess I couldn't resist entering an event like this eventually.
Friends also inspired me to run an ultra (thanks Wil) and I guess I've been through a process of breaking through mental boundary after mental boundary over the last through few years. I hadn't done a marathon before this event, but I had taken on a succession of long fell races including the Holme Moss Race, the Three Peaks Race, and various Dark and White Challenge events. My aim would be to complete the race and be comfortable the next day.
 
How did I prepare?
I'm not the only person in my family wanting to train and take part in leisure, so I knew from the start that training for long hours and mileage wasn't going to happen. Also, I was coming back from some time off after an operation, so was mindful that I didn't want to over train. After completing the Holme Moss Fell Race in July I put 4 long training runs in the diary. 15, 18, 22 and 30. It wasn't ideal in terms of gradual progress, but I was determined to get to the 30 mile distance in training. Also, I had easier weeks after each long run in order to allow my body to recover. During August I ran a total of 102 miles. This seems pathetic compared to the distance that many do in preparation for events like marathons, however it was the most intensive month of my life and it would need to suffice. Worrying about inadequate training would be counter productive, and experience told me that I could run for many hours in the hills without needing to stop.
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Finding Ultra by Rich Roll - a book review from a Chi Running perspective?

I got a few comments on my last blog about diet and exercise - thanks folks. It's interesting that diet, and the question of whether to change what we eat, is a topic very close to our hearts. I did make an assumption our diet isn't perfect in my last blog on this subject. I should perhaps have clarified that it all goes by comparison. (And, of course, I'm not a nutritional expert but the ideal diet is different for different people.)

Personally I notice that most people don't tend to place much importance on the benefits of diet to enhance their performance in their exercise, and to help live a whole and fulfilled life. The reason I would suggest a high standard for our diet as runners is after reading a few books recently which tell the story of how diet has transformed peoples running. The first was Finding Ultra, by Rich Roll. The book is very challenging and throws up a lot of questions about what makes an effective diet for an athlete.

The subtitle of the book is 'Rejecting middle age, becoming one of the world's fittest men, and discovering myself.' Rich talks through the total transformation in his lifestyle after a 'eureka' moment when he realised he was shortening his life and he needed to make some huge changes. What follows is amazing, at times hard to believe and incredibly inspiring. He participates in some of the most gruelling endurance events imaginable. Within this journey he stops eating meat, but changes his diet far far more than that. The result is what he calls the Plant Power diet. The advice and tips he gives along the way show how it is possible to drop those energy gels and sports drinks and go natural. I for one would really love to start fuelling myself with something a lot more like the Rich Roll way. The book, including the appendices, are packed with advice on how to change your diet.

Finding Ultra

If you don't like people telling you what to do, don't read this book. If I have any criticism it would be that the author is quite pushy with his beliefs in diet. He is evangelical about what he believes is the right way forward for everyone - but then you would be if your life has been transformed in the way his has.

What I find fascinating is the incredible transformation in Rich's athletic performance which was brought about by changes in his diet. You could say this was because he was on such a bad diet in the first place, but I don't think it is just that.

The stories of endurance in the book are absolutely inspiring and worth reading for anyone who is considering endurance running of any kind. I love the way they make the 'normal' efforts runners go to look so small. I don't look at running for 4 hours in the same way at all any more.

So what has all this got to do with Chi Running? Well (these are my personal opinions of course.) Chi Running advocates a mindful and holistic approach to our whole life. The Chi Running Book has a section on diet. Chi Running is, I would say, mindful running - it's a holistic practice. And you can't separate that from the other aspects - diet, mental, emotional, spiritual etc. So Rich's whole approach to life is a journey in to discovery about this holistic, mindful approach. I'd say if you were in to Chi-Living, then you'd really get on well with the Rich Roll way of living.

Something else that really attracted me to the book is the spiritual journey which Rich follows. More about that in a later blog.

Read this book if you are interested in nutrition, and if you enjoy stories of human endurance and transformation.
Don't read it if you prefer not to be preached at.

If you want to read more:

http://www.richroll.com/

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Holme Moss Fell Race 2014 - a review of my race from a Chi Running technique perspective

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:

A Chi Running finish to the Holme Moss Fell Race
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.

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Running with the Mind of Meditation

I've never seen anyone out running who enjoys themselves. Someone actually said that to me. I said I felt the opposite, all the runners I know enjoy their running. (Well most of the time.)

That got me thinking. In 'Running With The Mind of Meditation' by Sakyong Miphram he discusses how much runners complain about pain when they are running. He think points out the best way to deal with this by accepting the pain, but not making more of if than you need to. It's very illuminating to hear a blend of eastern and western perspectives and this is just one chapter of the book that is packed with wisdom and understanding.

The book is full of gems that nourish the runner's mind, and there is even a free download from the website.

Danny Dreyer talks about how Chi Running should become a holistic practice that percolates in to every aspect of out life. There are various sides to Chi Running - the running form, the focus on posture, relaxation, high cadence, running at different speeds etc. For me personally the mind body link is one of the main things which sets Chi Running apart from other approaches to running. Running with the Mind of Meditation is an absolutely essential read if you enjoy the Chi Running philosophy and want to look deeper in to the mindfulness and meditation side of it.

I'm going to blog a lot more about this book as I feel it's an absolutely essential read for the Chi Runner if you have any interest at all in mindfulness. You might not all be ready to 'get in to' that side of it right now, but when you are, give this one a read.

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Relaxed and Enjoy .... Britain's most brutal race!

I went to watch the leading runners cross the A635 / Greenfield Road checkpoint of The Spine race today (known locally as the Isle of Skye.) Fortunately my house is less than 10 mins from this Checkpoint, so we followed the runners using the online tracking and got the hot chocolate ready until they were a few mins away from the road. I run that section recularly, so I had a good idea when they would cross the road.spinerunner crossing Dean Clough

The runners had set off in some bad weather early this morning from Edale. They face either the full 268 miles of running all the way to Scotland - thats the whole of the Pennine Way - or the Challenger race (the 'Fun Run' option ?!!) which is just 100 miles to Hawes. I walked this when I was 19 in 19 days. Last year the finishing times were between 5 and 7 days (!) for the full race. Back in my teens, people spoke about doing the whole route in about a week as a light weight walk.

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How similar is Chi Running to minimalist running?

A few people have asked me if Chi Running is the same as, or similar to, a minimalist running style. So here I am offering my (humble) opinions. I'm by no means the expert here, any there can be a lot of confusion between natural running / barefoot running / minimal running etc.

To start with, bear in mind Chi Running is a mid foot running style. It is believed by Danny Dreyer, inventor of Chi Running that this is the way of running with least impact and least risk on injury.

To dip in to this further, I thought I'd open the latest copy of Trail Running Magazine (August / September 2013.) There is an article entitled 'Is Minimalist For You?'

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Anatomy for Runners by Jay Dicharry - a review from a Chi Running perspective

This book is a must read for anyone interested in running without injury, or anyone interested in Chi Running.

As books on Chi Running clearly focus on what makes Chi Running unique and effective, they include a lot of information on the Chi Running technique itself. This book is a brilliant complement to that reading because it is deeply grounded in the science of running. If you have no idea about Chi Running but just want to be injury free - read this book!

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Stanbury Splash Fell Race: A review of my race from a Chi Running perspective

(For the benefit of those outside northern England, fell running refers to running up and back down the hills / mountains of that region.)

So, it's January and 337 runners meet up out on the icy, snow covered Yorkshire Moors to race! Let's go... I must admit I felt a little intimidated by the appearance of the opposition (after all, many were wearing shorts and a running vest... in SUB ZERO temperatures...) My first temptation was to launch in to the fastest start I could manage. However, thoughts in the back of my head about even paced running encouraged me to concentrate on a steadier start, saving myself for the bridleway about 1/2 a mile in where I would start to pick off the competition a little.

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Book Review: 'Running High' by Hugh Symonds

This book is an autobiographical account of the first continuous traverse of all 303 Mountains of Britain and Ireland. And guess what? He did it all uninjured!

Everyone should read a few books like this one, whether you run, walk, or neither. 2000 miles in 97 days, half a million feet of mountains, 277 Munros, 4 English tops, 15 Welsh Peaks + 7 Irish Summits. How about that for expanding your horizons. I must say, along with Born to Run and a couple of other books, this one really helped me shift my own personal horizons and beliefs considerably. I kept catching myself thinking thinks like "If Hugh can run 2000 miles, surely 20.... or 30.... or 40 wouldn't be that far... especially if you take our the mountains." This achievement makes running the Bob Graham Round look small fry.

The book is written mainly in diary style and is accompanied by

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Playing around and thinking about focus

One of my favourite running workouts now is just a 'fun run.' I head about and just play around with form and speed depending on the terrain and how I feel. Today I my 6 mile run included 2km flat out in 'gear 3,' some hill work, gear 1 and 2 work mucking around with my lean and arm swing. It's good (and probably best) to just one form focus for a run. But sometimes it's good to relax, no pressure, and just have a play,not worry if your mind wanders. For me, this makes for a very relaxing and enjoyable run. There are loads of ideas in the chi running book for different focuses that you can use.

I used to feel bit frustrated when I lost concentration whilst running. On a 5k race, or a

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Book Review: Born to Run (Christopher McDoughall)

Born to Run: The Hidden Tribe, the Ultra-Runners, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen

This book is absolutely fascinating. I love the stories Doughall unearths in this book as he rubs shoulders with some of the world's ultra running elite. The underlying theme in the book is 'Why do runners get injured and is that really inevitable?' Whilst this theme is explored, the reader is drawn in to a compelling story set in the Tarahumara tribe of Mexico. Along the way, descriptions of some of the toughest running events in the world are described such as the Leadville 100. The accounts of the mental attitudes of the Tarahumara tribe towards running are truly amazing and something which all runners should. They are guaranteed to change the way you think about distance and endurance.

The book also takes us right back to our ancestors to

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Where to find me

 

I live in the Holme Valley, near Huddersfield and on the very northern edge of the Peak District National Park. Workshops are in venues easily accessible from:

Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds, Bradford, Liverpool, Huddersfield, Halifax, Wakefield, Barnsley, Cumbria, West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, Derbyshire and North Wales.

 Imonhandpickedtrails



Mountain Training
I am a qualified Mountain Leader, registered with the Mountain Training Association.

Photos of the Holme Valley Landscape are by Andy Leader of Made in Holmfirth

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UKA Leadership in Running Fitness qualified.

I'm UKA Leadership in Running Fitness qualified.