“I’d love to start running, but my knees…”
So, let’s talk about injury-free running. It is possible, using a gentle form called Chi Running. This practice combines a forward lean, neutral arm swing, mid-foot strike, and engaging the core, to create a sweet spot, where running feels comfortable. It’s also a mindful, almost meditative, experience.
But first, some background information. I always admired the freedom runners had to practice functional fitness in nature, on trails and on beaches, but I didn’t start running until my early-40s. Every time I attempted a conventional running practice, I’d injure myself. My ankles were usually the source of my pain. Thanks to Todd Lange, from 5k101.com I completed a “Couch-to-5K” program. I did this on a treadmill, with his expert audio guidance, and increased my running intervals gradually. At the end of 8 weeks I was able to run a full 30 minutes.
But I made a rookie mistake by going out on pavement and running much too aggressively. The ankle injuries stopped me again. As I recovered, I searched for injury-free running guidance. This led me to chirunning.com and the creator of this form, Danny Dreyer. He developed this running practice when he lived here, in Marin County.
Inspired by people practicing Tai Chi in Golden Gate Park, Danny wondered if the principles of that practice, namely, efficient movement, deep core awareness, cooperating with gravity etc. could be applied to running, to prevent injury.
In Chi Running, you do not pound the pavement. A hard heel strike can leave you prone to joint injuries (ankles, knees and hips.) Landing on the ball of your foot can make soft tissue (calves, Achilles tendons, hamstrings etc.) vulnerable to injury too.
A mid-foot strike, combined with a lean forward “into gravity” allows you to keep your legs, feet, and ankles relaxed. To increase speed, you simply lean forward one more inch. Running is more fun when you aren’t fighting gravity, but using it to create movement. Watch Danny explain HERE.
Another benefit is a series of body loosening exercises, taught as a warm-up, before a run. I’ve incorporated them even on the days that I don’t run. They keep my energy flowing, between massage appointments, because Chi (life force energy) cannot travel through joints that are tight.
My certified Chi Running instructor is Sally Mitchell from runningflows.com in San Francisco. I’ve taken every level of training she offers. One session, as she was evaluating my form, I stopped because I had the strange sensation of going downhill, even though we were on a flat stretch in the Presidio. It was the first time I experienced that “sweet spot” where running felt effortless.
Thanks to this practice and running form, I can run about 5K (3.1 miles) 3 or 4 times a week, without injury. This practice is best done on trails, and is an opportunity to connect with nature, be conscious of the earth below, and establish a steady breath cadence.
Body awareness, breath practice, and freedom that comes from being in nature, make Chi Running my foundational self-care practice.