Chi Running

One of the greatest obstacles for any runner is their own mind; it often gets in the way when we’re trying to achieve new goals - whether PRs, longer distances or even just getting our workouts done for the week.

Since running is by far one of the healthiest things we can do for our body and mind, we caught up with Sally Mitchell, Certified ChiRunning Instructor and expert to talk about how runners can run more mindfully to prevent burn-out, injury, lack of motivation and even boredom.

What is ChiRunning and why do people need it?

ChiRunning is a natural running form that includes many focuses and techniques, both physically and mentally, to help reduce impact when we run, prevent and often cure running injuries, and allow us to be more efficient and run with a lot less effort. We call it ‘effortless running’ because it really does feel light, natural, totally effortless and almost playful when it all comes together. I call this our natural running flow, and named my ChiRunning business ‘Running Flows’ after this feeling I have when I now run.

ChiRunning uses elements of Tai Chi, such as:

1) Running from our core, using the strength of our energy center, or Dantien as they call it in Chinese medicine, right in the middle of our core, and relaxing the arms and legs. In Tai Chi this is called Needle in Cotton, strong core in the middle (the needle), surrounded by our relaxed limbs (the cotton).

2) Using gravity to propel us forwards and moving in the same direction as the forces that act upon the body rather than against them. This makes running so much more efficient.

3) Body sensing, noticing how our body feels, relaxing our muscles, breathing deeply, and being mindful and present when we run, and in life in general of course!

ChiRunning helps us to come back to our natural running form, as we ran when we were a child. Children look so natural and effortless when they run. They use gravity and just let their legs come along for the ride. They rarely get tired because they are running more efficiently than we do as adults. When we run with this natural form that we were born with, we begin to use less energy and we automatically run faster because we’re using gravity to push us forwards, and not using the power of our legs and muscles to push off.

So often when we run, we’re in our heads, thinking about how far we’ve run, how many miles we’ve run, what our speed is, where our heart rate is, and maybe even when we’re going to be finished this run, or what we’re having for dinner when we are finished! We’re often not truly connected to our bodies, and that can result in us not noticing if something doesn’t feel right, and often getting injured.

Injury prevention is a huge reason that people need ChiRunning. I was badly injured with knee pain, ankle and hip injuries, and ChiRunning made all my pain disappear. Even people who are not currently prone to injury can benefit so much from ChiRunning because power running and using strength and muscles to ‘push off’ can have so much wear and tear on the body, particularly as we age, causing pain, muscle imbalances and chronic injuries. ChiRunning helps keep our bodies and minds young and healthy, and helps us to continue moving and running our whole life!

How could this technique help runners prepare for the EMPOWER Race Series?

As part of preparing for and racing in the EMPOWER Race Series, you may setting yourself a goal of running a distance greater than you’ve run before, or maybe getting a PR in terms of speed/time. Whatever your goal is, we recommend that goal number 1 (after having fun of course) is to have good running form. One you have good form, running further and faster will come naturally, without much additional effort.

Even in your training, you are probably ramping up and running further each week, buliding up the miles. These miles can certainly take a toll on the body if you don’t have good form and reduce the impact with every step, by using your core and gravity.

After all this training and excitement about the race series weekend, you want to be able to get to the start line, don’t you? ChiRunning will help you to stay healthy and not get injured during your training, so you can get to the start line on race day with confidence and a healthy body and mind!

What are the steps necessary for incorporating Chi Running into their training plans?

Gradual Progress is the key to incorporating ChiRunning into your training plans and schedules. I highly recommend attending a ChiRunning class somewhere near you, or watching some online ChiRunning videos, so you understand the basics. The ChiRunning book is also a great resource, although nothing beats getting personal feedback by a Certified ChiRunning coach and instructor, in my opinion. I did a 1-1 private class back in 2005 and I learned so much more quickly by doing a private class and receiving considerable personal feedback.

There are a lot of tips to learn and lots of helpful drills, exercises and ‘focuses’ when learning the ChiRunning technique. I recommend taking one of two focuses per run and only thinking about those during your run. Take a different two focuses on your next run, and so on. This is the best way to change your body memory and really start to feel the new natural running form in your body, and even become one with your body. 

It’s also helpful to build it into your running slowly by doing a few minutes of ChiRunning and then a few minutes of ChiWalking, using the Run/Walk technique. We teach this during our workshops as well, and it’s a great way to get started with a ChiRunning program.

Any advice for first time runners?

Make sure you keep having fun! Seriously, that’s the reason we all run, isn’t it? To get outside into nature, move our bodies, feel amazing, be part of a wonderful supportive running community, reduce stress, and have fun. If you’re a ‘first time runner’, it’s a perfect time for you to learn ChiRunning because you won’t already have years of poor running form habits, like I did when I learned ChiRunning! You’ll be fresh off the boat, so to speak. I recommend focusing on good form first, then once you feel your form is relaxed and efficient, you can begin to ramp up the distance and speed slowly, of course always coming back to form on every run in some way.

That’s the great thing about ChiRunning, it’s a lifelong practice, and we are always practicing and improving. On every run, I still think about elements of my form, even 12 years after first learning ChiRunning. As well as it helping my body to relax and feel efficient and glide forwards effortlessly, it helps to focus my mind and forces me to be fully present right here right now, in my body, with every step.

Here’s an article I wrote recently with 2 awesome Injury Free Running Tips that have helped me.

And another article with some amazing ChiRunning wisdom and inspiration from founder, Danny Dreyer. 

I hope these articles and all this information helps inspire you towards learning ChiRunning and getting to the EMPOWER Race Series start (and finish) line pain-free, feeling fantastic and having fun! 

Sally loves teaching ChiRunning because it has changed her running life and allowed her to continue running totally pain-free. 6 months after learning ChiRunning in 2005, she ran her first marathon with a time of 3:30 and qualified for Boston marathon. All thanks to Danny Dreyer for creating ChiRunning, and her fantastic instructor Bryn Randolph!

Living in Sonoma California, Sally teaches ChiRunning (and ChiWalking) at her Body Flows Yoga Retreats in Sonoma California, Hawaii and Mexico. Read more about ChiRunning, Sally and her Body Flows Yoga Retreats.