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Reconnecting with Chi Running: Chi Marathon Training

Book cover for chi marathon. A group of eight or nine people running on a wide path with green grass on either side.Way back at the beginning of our blog, I wrote about Chi Running. Chi Running is a style of running that touts itself as “injury free.” For many, the idea of running without any injuries at all is a wishful thinking.

I was doing pretty well for awhile. I’d incorporated some of the techniques of chi running, like the midfoot strike, slight forward lean, and keeping a well-aligned “column.” All of this changed my running and over time it’s come to be something I really love.

But…

I’ve been training for the Around the Bay 30K on March 29th. It’s a race with a venerable history — first run three years before the first Boston Marathon! It’s a challenging course and many say that if you can do ATB the you can do a marathon (I guess it depends on the marathon). There’s usually a killer hill at the end, even more severe than Boston’s Heartbreak Hill. This year, road construction means we’re detouring past the brutal hill.

Back in November I joined a clinic to train for the race.  We do hills on Wednesdays, tempo runs on Thursdays, and LSDs (Long Slow Distance runs) on Sundays.

The distance runs have slowly, and then more quickly, built distance. Back in November 13K seemed long. But a few weeks ago, we did 23K, up from 19K the week before that.

And my knee. My poor knee.  About 18K into the 23, I felt a twinge on the outside of my knee. For the last little bit of the run, it just got worse and worse. And I couldn’t warm up my hands no matter what I did. And my feet got wet. But I made it. Not just that, I added an extra block to the route because with the store in sight we were still short of our 23 by 0.5K.

The next Sunday, we went back down to 19K and again, the knee acted up. And finally, I actually scaled back the week after that, running what should have been an easy 14K with Anita (my Scotiabank half marathon partner).  I limped along in thick slippery snow with a funky right knee for much of that route. That’s when a week of rest started to sound like a plan.

I’ve been seeing a great physiotherapist who encourages me to run through the pain if I can. But when I went in last week and said, “I’m thinking of taking a week off of running,” he thought it wasn’t a bad idea. His words: “If you’re thinking of taking a week off, then you should take it.”

I’ve been diligently doing my physio exercises to strengthen my hips and glutes so that my IT band has more support.  And my plantar fasciitis, which is the main reason I started going to my physiotherapist, is pretty much gone!

But I’m also supplementing all of that with a renewed interest in chi running. I picked up a book at the library called Chi Marathon. It’s also by Danny and Katherine Dreyer, authors of the original Chi Running book.  It’s reminded me of a lot of what’s recommended in the original book, and when I get back to running later this week I plan to practice some of what I’m re-learning.

Sam and I are making provisional plans (just ironing out some details) to attend a chi running workshop in Dayton, Ohio in May, with the man himself, Danny Dreyer.  I’m serious enough about running that I’m willing to drive a few hours for this sort of thing. I’ve read that the workshops make a huge difference and, frankly, I could use some feedback concerning my running technique.

All that is going to come a bit too late for the Around the Bay in March, and, gulp, the Mississauga Marathon that I’ve signed up for on May 3rd. They say that sailors get a thing called “foot-itis,” where you want a bigger and bigger boat.  I think a lot of runners get this too — distance-itis!  I’m guessing that in the end I’ll settle in at the half marathon distance. But I’m not going to do that until I run at least one marathon.  So, Mississauga here I come.

I’ve got my fingers crossed that this is all going to fall into place. When I first wrote about chi running, I’d been experiencing shin pain:

Where I used to have some shin pain and lower back pain before I tried Chi Running, the posture and foot placement alone have dealt with both. If I feel any discomfort when I am running, I just re-focus on my posture (they call it ‘leveling the pelvis’) and check in with my foot placement.  Giving this kind of attention to the form of running helps me address the source of discomfort as soon as I start to feel it, and to correct it right away.

I had high hopes that chi running would transform my running:

 

Learning to run without serious risk of injury means a lot to me. So far, I feel optimistic that Chi Running, once mastered, will help me achieve that goal.  I recommend the book to anyone interested in a gentler approach to running. Reading the book will give you enough of an idea of what Chi Running is about to decide whether you want to follow up with a workshop. I plan to do just that in the spring and look forward to reporting back once I do.

Well, I would hardly say I’ve mastered this approach.  And I’m happy to have an incentive (knee and hip pain and tight IT band) that has taken me back to the basics, renewing my commitment to chi running. I want to run for a long time.  And, as a friend pointed out to me the other day, we’re not in our twenties anymore!

 

12 thoughts on “Reconnecting with Chi Running: Chi Marathon Training

  1. My massage therapist showed me the “tennis ball trick”, where you roll your hip socket on a tennis ball, to get to the IT insertion point. It’s painful, but it works really well to spread out the connective tissue.

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    1. Thanks for that. I’ll look it up and give it a try. I’m doing similar with a lacrosse ball, recommended by a chiropractor who I train with in the triathlon club I’m in. Thanks!

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  2. Loved reading this – big fan of Chi Running – own the books. I only run 5Ks, did a 10K once, but definitely am an addicted runner. Good luck with your marathon goal – that’s great

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  3. I’ve been running now for a little while, and I’m thinking about starting to do races. My knees do give me a little trouble. I’d never heard of Chi Running before this, do you think that would be a good place to start to relieve some of that pain?

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    1. Absolutely. When I had pain as a beginning runner, Chi Running addressed it almost right away. You definitely want to concentrate on your form right from the beginning, and Chi Running really gives you some good pointers on that. Good luck!

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  4. Hey, Tracy, Thanks for your wonderful blog. Our PR person just saw it and forwarded it to me. One thing I would say about the chronology of your knee problem is that when your knee first started acting up, it was a great time to check in with yourself to see what might be causing it. In your case it might have been beneficial to have a friend video you on their cell phone so you could see how your form might be falling apart after 19k. Another thing to be very aware of is, when it’s cold, snowy, slippery… or anything less than an Ideal running surface, you should immediately scale back and not push yourself to have to do the scheduled mileage in your build up. Any environmental challenges that I mentioned are considered an “upgrade” and need to be considered accordingly. If your knee was bad, running on slick or uneven surfaces would definitely have aggravated the injury. Taking time off is a good thing, but taking time to figure out what you could do differently in how you move might be even a better option.

    If you could come to the Dayton workshop, I promise you I will watch you and tell you everything I see you doing… for better or worse, and give you focuses and exercises to help correct the cause. The last thing I want is for a ChiRunner to be running with an injury if there’s anything that can be done to correct it.
    I wish you all the best,
    Danny

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    1. Thank you so much for your expert feedback, Danny. I hope very much to see you in Dayton so that you can help me correct what needs correcting. Good feedback on running form is so hard to get. And I agree that bad surfaces are no help at all. I am looking forward to trying things out again in Miami on the weekend. Thanks again!

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  5. I saw that you mentioned doing hip and glute strengthening to deal with your knee. Have you tried the myrtls at all?

    Click to access myrtl_routine.pdf

    I was dealing with some pain and tightness on the outside and kneecap of my left knee – for two years! through my ultras and everything! – and these have cleared it right up.

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