Running and the Principles of T’ai chi
Over the past year my knee has been healing thanks to the Chi Walk-Run program - I'm running up to 45-60 minutes at a stretch with most of my focus on good alignment and relaxation. Two weeks ago, on a whim, I signed up for a 5K race - first since September 2011! I would not have done this if I didnʼt think I was ready. I did surprisingly well, especially given the hills and the lack of 'speed work', as most of my running has been relaxed and on relatively flat surfaces. I owe much of this to the principles of Chi Running and T'ai chi. I describe my race below in those terms, with reference to where they can be found in the Chi Running book.
Nonidentification (p. 122) - Meet your body on its own terms. At the start, I was tempted to try and stay with my friend (who is faster), but instead, I told her to run her race. My knee was more important! When the gun went off, as I ran easy, I checked in with my form, made adjustments, and settled into a nice floating feeling that comes with the lean.
Gradual Progress (p. 37) - Let the run come to you. I started out slow and easy, and let my body warm up to the race. At about a half mile, I felt loose and really started enjoying the run. I felt aligned and relaxed and almost giddy as my body came into the run. This was a good idea to do this race!
Use your y'chi (p. 44) - direct the energy and movement through your eyes. The run along the bluff felt like a comfortably hard run, and there was a great view of Puget Sound. I allowed myself to look over at it now and then, but mostly, I directed my gaze forward down the road and let that pull me along. It really made the gradual uphill climb seem flat(ish), and helped me stay aligned and direct my chi forward.
Tap into your fire band (p. 175, Chi Marathon book) - use your upper body to climb the hill; use your obliques. As the race progressed, and we came to the turn off the bluff, we hit our next hill (though we had sort of been climbing all along). I used my arms even more and added in the use of my obliques to drive up the hill. This made good use of my fire band and got me up the hill with relative ease.
Needle in Cotton (p.35) - lengthen your spine and engage your core. All that climbing eventually led to a downhill - a really steep downhill. As we started to descend, my first thought was 'gotta protect that knee from pounding!' The hill was a very steep descent, so I went into a grounding stance (p. 182-83 of the ChiRunning book), engaging my low abs to keep my pelvis stable, and rolled heel-to-toe down the hill until the descent leveled to a more runnable downhill. Keeping a lengthened spine and relaxing around that center, allowing pelvic rotation helped keep the weight off that knee and made my landing happen under instead of out front of my body.
As I turned the corner to come to the finish, I did a quick posture check and then leaned into it. As my stride went out behind me instead of way out front, my knee thanked me for that. The bonus at the end was I placed third in my age group! All it took was staying mindful, body sensing, and applying Chi Running principles. I was grateful to have the tool box of focuses to allow me to run again. There's something to be said about those principles...
- injury-free running,
- knee pain,
- knee injury