August 2017 Instructor of the Month: Hazel Wood

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This month, we are featuring our amazing Master Instructor, Hazel Wood! Hazel has been practicing and teaching ChiRunning since 2002 and is dedicated to making a posiitve impact on the running communities in her beloved San Francisco Bay Area! Read on to learn about her history, her goals and why she loves ChiRunning so much:

Tell us a little about you. Where you live, what your background is.

I live in San Anselmo, California,  just north of San Francisco.  I’m originally from England and lived there until my early twenties.  One of my first jobs was working for the American College in Leysin, Switzerland for two years.  That was my first teaching experience and my indirect journey to California.  Most of my work career has been in sales and marketing, with a long run working for a major software company—Autodesk.  I was in the first group of ChiRunning Instructors and have been teaching for over 13 years to a full range of students from one-on-ones to small groups to corporate groups. I also teach Strength and Fitness to Seniors in the Community Education program of my local college.

How did you start running?

It was the result of a friendly bet.  Shortly after I moved to San Francisco I was at a bar with a friend and a guy who said he was an FBI agent was chatting us both up and telling us that he was a runner. My friend said she was a runner too. I suspected she was trying to impress him so I challenged her to a race around the Marina Green the next day.  Well, not only did I win but I discovered that I loved the feeling of running (I had a few dates with the guy too).  The next day I started training and within a year ran my first marathon.

When and how did ChiRunning come into your life? (The short story.)

After many years of racing and several injuries I hit a plateau— running wasn’t as much fun and felt like a lot of effort.  I saw an ad in my local running club newsletter (Tamalpa Runners) that Danny Dreyer was giving a talk on ChiRunning at the local running store. I was curious and open to any help I could get to prolong my love of running.  After the presentation  I signed up for a series of  private lessons and like Forrest Gump never looked back.

In what ways has Chi changed your perception of and success in running?

Prior to meeting Danny I was a  typical  runner thinking that to improve I just needed to run more and further, faster and do hill work. I knew how to run.  I  blamed my lack of energy and waning enthusiasm on midlife changes.  After the lessons with Danny and a few months of practice I felt revitalized, my times dropped and I got back into running marathons and ultras—including a 50 mile race.  I realized that during all those years I was running and competing I had never once stopped to think about the way I was running.  The only time I paid attention to my body was when it hurt.   I credit ChiRunning with teaching me to notice and listen to my body and to enabling me to just let go—I carried a lot of tension and over time discovered that the more I relaxed the better I felt and the more I enjoyed myself.

What motivates you to run?

I have a variety motivators which might explain why I’ve been running for so long.  A big one is the love of being out in nature, the variety running offers—one day you can do a road run, another a trail run, you can run in so many different places it’s a great way to experience the world and nature around you.  Another is the opportunity to be with friends, meet new runners. It’s also my time alone—to be at one with my surroundings and my body, loving the days that Chi is flowing and I feel great.  I also like the challenges and sense of achievement that running offers—whether it be terrain or races. Did I mention I love the variety running offers?

What does your average week look like, run-wise?

These days I run less than I did in my prime.  Typically it will be at least a 4-day running week. Again, it’s a variety.  Currently, I’m mostly on trails since I have so many virtually at my doorstep, running anywhere from 5-10 miles, but when I want to run flat I do easy road runs of 4-5 miles unless I’m training for a longer race . 

What other forms of exercise do you practice to complement ChiRunning?

Mostly ChiWalking.  We’re about to get another dog so I’ll be doing increasingly more.  Some strength training, yoga and exercise bike.

What led you to become an Instructor?

It was a light bulb moment. During one of my lessons with Danny (probably one of my last ones since I’d felt some changes and improvement in my running) he casually mentioned that he planned to start a ChiRunning Instructor program. Without a second thought I said “sign me up!”.   I had to share the benefits with others.

What do you most enjoy about instructing?

I really love helping people with different needs—from helping new runners discover their innate ability to run and witness the joy they feel to helping people rekindle their passion for running to helping people who’ve suffered unnecessary pain while running to helping runners improve and reach their goals. I’ve met so many wonderful people over the years and I always have a lot of fun teaching.  I love seeing the students have fun too.

Advice for people new to ChiRunning?

Don’t try so hard.  Just relax and focus on one thing at a time (gradual progress) starting with a focus that feels good for you (gets you in a positive mindset) then practice the focuses little by little.

Favorite race you’ve run and why:

The Dipsea. I guess it’s my addiction—I’ve run it 36 times (yes, I know that admission ages me) and am the proud owner of 3 black shirts (awarded to the top 35 finishers). It’s a unique handicapped race based on age and gender.  The appeal goes way beyond the race itself.  First run in 1905, the Dipsea is the oldest trail race in America and the second oldest race behind the Boston Marathon. It’s a beautiful course but it’s grueling (ask Danny Dreyer—he’s run it). The only flat part is 100 yards to the finish line. It’s not just the race that makes it so special. It’s the party after the race, the camaraderie training for it, and especially the dedication of runners who return year after year, the most legendary being Jack Kirk who ran the race 67 consecutive times. He didn't quit until he collapsed at the top of the grueling 1,362-foot elevation Cardiac Hill—at age 96.

Most memorable race:

American River 50 miler.  It was a few years after I started ChiRunning and up to that point I had never once contemplated running anything more that a 50K.  But I was curious how I would fare going longer putting ChiRunning into practice.  After a week of heavy California storms and a wet start to the race the weather cleared and was perfect.  The course in the Sierra foothills was beautiful and I felt great the whole way.  A great memory from the race is that I kept focusing  on “needle in cotton” and imagined myself being in a big cotton ball from my neck to my ankles. Each time I did that I sped up—and I certainly wasn’t trying to run fast, I just wanted to finish.

Ideal weather for running:

Spring and Fall.  In the Spring I love to see the green landscape (unfortunately it doesn’t last long in northern California) and in the Fall—especially the late Fall the colors and crispness in the air.

Focus that currently dominates your running:

Relaxation—especially the shoulders and pivot point (T12/L1).  Before ChiRunning my tenacious and recurring injury used to be achilles tendonitis so “peel and lift” is also a big focus for me.  When I learned that focus I was amazed to discover I was no longer pushing off going up hill and my calves could stay relaxed.

Favorite place to run:

Trails.  In particular the lakes on Mount Tamalpais in Marin County and the adjacent Golden Gate National Recreation Area.  With fantastic views and a huge selection of trails and no crowds it’s a runner’s paradise. 

Upcoming race/goal:

Probably a half marathon.  I haven’t run one for a while and it’s actually my favorite distance.

Run with or without phone/music:

Without music. I take my metronome but don’t keep it on all the time, I use it to check if I’m keeping my cadence.

If I didn’t run, I would:


My first race was:

An egg and spoon race when I was about 5 years old.  It was also the first time I applied ChiRunning principles—focus and balance.  I don’t know if this was my very first race in adulthood, but it was certainly the earliest one I remember—the Golden Gate Marathon that went from the Ferry Building in San Francisco to the Ferry Building in Larkspur, Marin County and I won my age group in 3:29.

My current favorite shoe to run in is the:

Inov-8 Trail Talon 250.

My most difficult run ever was:

The Marin Headlands 50K.  I remember it well because it was the National Trail Championship and both Danny Dreyer and I won our age group (50-55).  Although the scenery is jaw dropping gorgeous, the climbs and descents were brutal.  It’s constant on that course—you’re either going up or down and I remember the ups being way steeper than the downs.  Still, it was a great experience and I went back for one more run at it a couple of years later.

The longest distance I’ve run is:

50 miles

Posted in Inside Chi

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