2007: My Chi-ful Year That Was

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During the past year, I Chi-Ran five marathons. Over a 10 month period, I ran Paris, London, Berlin, Cape Cod and New York. I had a great time, making business contacts and friends at each race and seeing some the of the world’s most beautiful cities for the first time. My times improved with each successive race.

As pleased as I am with my year, the most astonishing fact was that it came eight years after being told I had run my last marathon.

On the heels of reconstructive knee surgery in 1999, friends, family and colleagues from the fitness profession advised me to leave the game for good. Even though the surgeon had promised his masterful work would deliver freedom from pain, there was still plenty of it over the ensuing four years. During that time I barely ran and was frequently depressed.

By pure force of will I gathered the energy to train for the 2004 Boston Marathon. I had to barter my way in because I hadn’t run any of the qualifying races. On the eve of the race I was petrified. I felt like a fraud, an impostor. I was sure there was no way I would finish the race. At the race expo that night I saw a banner that said “Run Injury-free for Life, Maximize Your Energy Efficiency.”

It was an invitation to a lecture with Danny Dreyer. I had never heard of him before and was deeply skeptical about the whole thing. Nevertheless, I ended up attending because I figured I didn’t have anything to lose.

To my complete surprise, Danny’s lecture had me spellbound. He compared running to practices like yoga, Pilates, t’ai chi and other martial arts. I had never heard anybody connect running with these disciplines. Rather than view running (marathons) as an almost masochistic exercise, Danny viewed it as a path to health, healing and rehabilitation…a spiritual practice that works alongside laws of nature (such as gravity) to move us forward.

Danny’s philosophical approach and practical framework gave me hope that I could run again someday.

I spoke with Danny in person after the lecture. I knew I was onto something and told him I wanted to start teaching his technique. The following day (race day) I put his theories to practice for the first time. At mile 15, my knee locked and I panicked, but then I remembered Danny’s instructions for maintaining optimal posture. I recovered my stride and began to move more gracefully, without pain. I slowly began to pick up speed. Before I knew it, I was crossing the finish line with arms pumping in the air and a profound sense of pride in my accomplishment.

Over the next three years I taught Danny’s techniques to clients, got certified as a ChiRunning/Walking instructor but I didn’t run much myself. Then, at the end of 2006, I felt eager to test myself. Could I run multiple marathons over the course of one calendar year? Could I run those 26.2-mile races over varying terrains in Europe and North America? Could I continue to perfect my form while finishing races? Would I be able to break for 4 hours? Would my knee hold out?

The answers were all “yes.” Each consecutive marathon this year, from my 4:20 finish in Paris to my 3:33:51 in New York, was a post-surgery personal record. The last race was, in fact, the second- best I had ever run, and came tantalizing close to my all-time best. (In 1997, I ran 3:33:16 in San Francisco… when I was a youthful 27-year old. )

Here are the lessons I have learned from my experience:

At the end of each day, whether you’re in training or not, reflecting on your experiences, and acknowledging your accomplishments and failures, will give you peace. ChiRunning is the a great way to sustain high levels of fitness and overall well-being. Following through with my “Chi notes” after each race helped me recuperate quickly from the long mileage, without pain or injury. If you’re following your vision you’ll always be fulfilled. Commitment to aCHIeving a goal will dictate your success.

As they say in ChiRunning, mastery is a gradual progress. Everything happens incrementally, each step building a foundation for the next one. Always ask yourself, “What will I do next?”

This August, I’ll do my first Ironman triathlon. My goal is to finish, perhaps even under 12 hours. Then I’ll be running the Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Hartford, CT, and Charlotte, NC marathons. The last one will take place a few miles from the ChiRunning headquarters in Asheville, NC.

Danny believes I can run a 3:30 marathon; others now say I can do it in under 3:15. I think my fantasy of under 3:00 will happen when it’s right (and, I allow it to happen). For now, I will allow myself to gradually progress toward my two inner goals of running effortlessly and injury-free!