DIARY: ChiRunning Course

Today was a very exciting day for me as I participated in my first "ChiRunning" course at the gorgeously luxurious Castleknock Hotel & Country Club. Rooms here are EUR100 per night, but well worth it with fabolous sports and pool facilities, a top quality golf course, and a lunch package to die for (soup, rolls, sandwich, with top drawer salad, steak, and ham, to die for I tell ya'...).

What's ChiRunning?
I was first introduced to ChiRunning, created by American Danny Dreyer and his wife Katherine Dreyer, when I picked up up the book "ChiRunning - A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury Free Running" in Dublin's impressive bookstore: Hodges & Figgis.

I thought it sounded weird at first, but it proved to be an amazing combination of Tai Chi and running that is so inherently logical that it had a group of NASA researchers fascinated.

I later bought the follow-up book, "ChiWalking", but I'll cover that in another post.

I have been using the basic techniques, stretches, looseners, and exercises for two months now, and decided to go to the ChiRunning Website to see if there were any instructors in my area. Luckily there was! And not just any instructor, a celebrity instructor!

Our Instructor - Catherina McKiernan
Catherina McKiernan is the Irish Marathon Record Holder, Irish Olympic participant, veteran cross-country runner, and author of the book "Running for My Life" (read more on Catherina here: www.runcatherina.com).

As a Mountain Runner told me: "Catherina McKiernan, no, she wouldn't be teaching the likes of you and me though". As Dr. Cox would say: Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!

She is also one of the first batch of "certified Chi-Running instructors" bringing the message of proper running to the world. ChiRunning is the opposite of "Power Running" which basically means torturing your ligaments and muscles by forcing your legs to do work they aren't even remotely designed for.

Catherina was a lovely Irish lady with a strong accent that I suspected was from Kerry (she's actually from Cavan), and she started the day by filming us run, and then we went to a gym to do several exercises to provide us with proper posture and gain control of our lower abdominal muscles.

The Principles of ChiRunning
ChiRunning on the other focuses on the Tai Chi principle of "Cotton and Steel", a strong core (your lower abdominals - the steel) and completely relaxed limbs (arms and legs - the cotton). This not only improves your running speed (but patience is needed, something Catherina told us many athletes unfortunately lack in sufficient quantity) but speeds up your recovery time and reduces your amount of injuries.

I can attest to some of the effects already (and I am yet to master much of this discipline), as my recovery time after gruelling mountain races feels inhuman at times (I remember times when I would be sore for a week after a terrible run, now I often feel fine the next day!).

I believe I was always naturally built for this sort of running, especially as I seem to have a high dominance of long musclefibers. Today muscularity (and thus strength) is misattributed to the short musclefibres (the fast) which are often trained to abnormal sizes in gyms. In truth these muscles are largely ineffective, unflexible, need to much blood to function in a real world situation, and tell you little of physical prowess.

In other words, Power Runners would rely on big leg muscles to propel them forward, fighting gravity with each step, but they'd fall short of the ultimate ChiRunners: The Kenyans.

Look to Kenya
There's been theories that the Kenyans' ability to run so well is somehow genetic. This is highly doubtful, if not downright ludicrous, as they have not evolved in a vacuum and even if they had, they would have had insufficient time to develop a significant genetic variation from the other human ethnicities.

(The whole discussion of certain ethnicities being naturally more or less talented in certain areas, is highly suspect, as notaries such as Mike Stroud, Desmond Morris, and Richard Dawkins will affirm, but I'll cover that in another article.)

Wilson Kipketer, running for his adopted country Denmark, is a perfect example of a runner using the principles of Chi. Knees low, ankles up, slight forward lean, controlled arm movement, and as his musculature confirms, you wouldn't want big clunky muscles to move forward fast.
When we grow up, most of us are actually running the way nature intended, so if you want inspiration look at your kids (or other people's kids). Children adapt to their surroundings, however, and most of us pick up the disjointed running and walking techniques of the people around us.

In Kenya there is a long tradition of proper running, so when children grow up, they'll observe the correct technique, and they will not have to go on courses to "repair" their ability to move through the world.

Since they learn to move properly, their musculature and bone structure will adapt as they grow up giving them the lean "longish" look we are familiar with, making them the planets leanest, meanest running machines (those sprinter muscles of yours won't do you no good in nature either when you're being attacked by a lion, cougar, or bear...). The human ability to hunt was based on our ability to track down prey (especially wounded or weakened) over incredible distances, not rush at them for a quick kill (we're not naturally equipped for an open fight with other animals).

The Rest of the Day
Catherina moved on to cover the proper "lean" associated with ChiRunning and then took us for a run in a nearby park, giving out instructions to keep us focused as we jogged along. I felt marked improvements here already, and one of the other participants affirmed how "relaxed" I looked while running. Run and smile they say!

We went down to the fantastic lounge of the Castleknock club and got ourselves a delicious lunch (and I managed to catch a glimpse of the LFC-Manu match in the background!).

Once we got back, Catherina taught us the basics of a correct armswing (your upper body should do 30% of the work on flat terrain), and then a special technique for arm swing when running up (which looked slightly like knocking yourself out, but hey, I'll take a few blue eyes if it means I'll fly up the mountains like my hero: Eddie the Eagle).

Finally, Catherina showed us the videos of ourselves (she'll be sending them along, so hopefully I can share them with you all), and I learned that I leaned forward to much from the hips, still had too much "power running" about me (probably a damage from all the floorball and football!), and a very slight heelstrike.

All in all, a hugely useful course, that I'll recommend to anyone interested in running at any level (its only EUR150).

Tomorrow: I am going to the "Great Sugarloaf", the first mountain I "conquered" in Ireland, to do a training run, and practice my new "armswing"!