May 2015 Instructor of the Month: Alice Diffely, Oregon

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A native of Portland, Certified ChiRunning® and ChiWalking® Master Instructor, RRCA Certified Running Coach, and Registered Yoga Teacher Alice has been an avid runner since highschool. In addition to running and walking, Alice practices yoga and meditation regularly.  She lives in NW Portland with her husband and two children.  Alice offers group and individual ChiRunning® and ChiWalking® instruction throughout the Portland Metropolitan Area. She also teaches weekly yoga classes at Shine Yoga in NW Portland.

Run with Alice! Meet her in Portland at Danny's June 27 Workshop.

Read more about Alice below, and get more info on her upcoming workshops here.


Tell us a little about you. Where you live, what your background is.
I was born and raised in Portland, OR. After spending a number of years in San Francisco, by husband and I moved our family back to Portland (and the trails of Forest Park!) in 2005. While in San Francisco, I obtained a law degree; then practiced law for several years until soon after our daughter was born. Our son was born three years later. I completed the ChiRunning/ChiWalking instructor training in 2007,when he was in kindergarten. I’ve been teaching in the Portland Metro Area ever since. In 2011, I completed a 200-hour yoga teacher training with Sarahjoy Marsh. I teach weekly yoga classes at Shine Yoga in NW Portland, where I have shadowed Shine’s owner Emily Soiney, PT, DPT, PRC, CST, RYT in her development of Postural Restoration®-Inspired Yoga.

How did you start running?
I played a lot of tag as a kid, along with tennis and a variety of team sports. I started running in earnest when I joined my high school cross country team as a freshman.

When and how did ChiRunning come into your life? (The short story.)
Beginning in my early 30’s, I was plagued with recurring bouts of Achilles tendonitis and plantar fasciosis. The injuries caused me to limit my running for several years. I learned about ChiRunning shortly after the first edition of the book was released in 2004. I read the book, watched the DVD, and benefitted tremendously from attending a workshop with Master Instructor Hazel Wood and from doing a series of individual sessions with Master Instructor Chris Griffin.

In what ways has Chi changed your perception of and success in running?
During the years when I was perpetually injured and wasn’t running as much, the silver lining was that it opened up the time and opportunity for me to deepen my yoga practice. As I learned more about yoga, it dawned on me that mindful attention to my alignment and movement patterns might be the key to overcoming my injuries. The problem was, I didn’t know quite how I should be aligning or moving my body in order to run with less impact. When I opened up the ChiRunning book, it was like reading the blueprint I had been wishing for. After beginning my ChiRunning practice, I was gradually able to dispense with the limits that had restrained me in my running. Although I prefer to run trails, I no longer shun pavement. Rather than avoiding hills, I seek them out. I enjoy training for events and incorporating speed work into my training. I’ve completed numerous half marathons in the past several years, as well as a couple of very challenging trail marathons. I consistently place near the top of my age group.

What do you think is the biggest misconception of ChiRunning?
Historically, many running coaches and medical professionals have resisted the notion that running is a skill that can be taught and improved upon. For a long time, the prevailing wisdom seemed to be that, “You run the way you run.” The fear was that if you tried to change the way you ran, you might trigger an unforeseen injury. Happily, the medical and mainstream coaching communities are beginning to embrace the possibility and importance of learning and practicing sound running form. I recently attended a sports medicine conference called the Pacific Northwest Symposium, where I was very encouraged to hear prominent physicians and physical therapists on the panel advocate attention to running form. Most of their views were very much consistent with ChiRunning, too. The brilliance of ChiRunning is that between the books, DVD’s training programs, apps, and availability of certified instructors,it offers a comprehensive, well-supported approach to convey the skill of running with less impact and greater ease.

What motivates you to run?
I love the way running makes me feel, both while I’m running and in the hours and sometimes even days afterwards. I love being outdoors and experiencing the seasons. Running by myself is one of my favorite ways to enjoy solitude, and running with training partners is one of my favorite ways to connect with friends.

What does your average week look like, run-wise?
Depending on the time of year, I’ll run 4-6 days per week. I’m kind of a Luddite, so I don’t wear a Garmin. I pay more attention to time on my feet and to the level of effort I’m expending than I do to mileage. When I’m training for a half marathon or marathon, I love to follow the form-based ChiRunning Training Programs. Most of my races are on trails these days, so I do most of my training on trails in Forest Park. The nearest trailhead in an easy ½ mile jog from my house. Once a week or so, I enjoy getting to the track to work on form focuses and speed work. I typically choose 2-3 events to train for in late spring, summer, and fall. I tend to cut back on my running some in the winter months, when I try to rest more and devote a little more attention to yoga and other interests.

What other forms of exercise do you practice to complement ChiRunning?
ChiWalking is my favorite complement to ChiRunning, because it shares so many of the same focuses. I’ve practiced yoga regularly since 1997. My home yoga practice is very precious to me, both for the peace that pranayama and asana bring me and because it becomes my laboratory for developing sequences to share with the students in my Postural Restoration®-Inspired yoga classes. I don’t make it to the pool as often as I intend, but when I do I enjoy working on Total Immersion Swimming drills.

What led you to become an instructor?
I realized that completing the rigorous instructor training would help me master the ChiRunning & ChiWalking techniques. I was also drawn by the opportunity to offer the benefits of ChiRunning & ChiWalking to runners and walkers in Portland.

What do you most enjoy about instructing?
I love it when clients check in with success stories or to share jubilant race photos. It’s also rewarding to meet a client for a refresher session at the track, when I can see and hear how much their practice has progressed. In addition, I’ve felt extremely fortunate to engage in work that reflects my own passions and values.

Advice for people new to ChiRunning?
Skim the first 5 chapters of the book, watch the DVD, and find an instructor.

Favorite race you’ve run and why:
The Timberline Half Marathon. The trail rings Timothy Lake up on Mt. Hood, about 1.5 hours outside of Portland. The first time I ran the race a couple of years ago, I literally gasped with delight several times as I rounded a bend in the trail and came upon yet another spectacular view of the lake and/or the mountain.

Most memorable race:
A couple of races from my youth stand out. Both were huge PR’s, when months of solid training coalesced. The first was a 3000M at a night meet when I was a senior in high school. I ran a 10:09, placing third behind a couple of the top girls in the state. My goal going into the season had been to break 11 minutes. I’d trained well through the winter and surprised myself with a 10:45 in a pre-season time trial. I’d chipped away at my PR nearly every week leading up to that invitational. I felt like I was on top of the world. The second most memorable race was a marathon I ran when I was 25. I’d run a prior marathon at age 20, but I had hit the wall around mile 21, paying the price for not doing nearly enough mileage in my long runs. Painful rookie mistake, but I was fit enough at that young age to still run a 3:39. I waited 5 years to train for the second one, because I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time to devote to my long runs. That was one of my favorite summers ever, with some spectacular 3-hour training runs in San Francisco, the East Bay, and Marin. The end result was a 3:06 marathon. Once again, I was on top of the world.

Ideal weather for running:
Overcast skies with steam rising up from damp pavement.

Focus that currently dominates your running:
Definitely breathing. When I’m running, I focus on my breathing. It fascinates me.

Favorite place to run:
There’s a 10-mile run I can do from my house. Most of it is on the Wildwood Trail in Forest Park. You climb up the hill to the Pittock Mansion, which has spectacular views of the city and the mountains. Then the trail crosses over into Washington Park, where there is a redwood grove that is cool and  misty and smells amazing. The turnaround point is by the Oregon Zoo.

Upcoming race/goal:
I’ll be returning to the Timberline Half Marathon in late May. Yeah!

Run with or without phone/music:
I’ve never been a fan of running with music. I enjoy being aware of the sounds around me, and I like to have my head clear to focus on my running.

Repeat on your playlist:
Bob Dylan, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Brandi Carlile

If I didn’t run I would still walk, swim, and do yoga.

My first race was a 2-mile fun run when I was 11 or 12, and I loved it.

My current favorite shoe to run in is Lem’s Primal 2 on asphalt and for shorter trail runs; Altra Superior for longer or rocky trail runs; Altra The One for runs that include concrete and other hard surfaces. I wear my CorrectToes in each of them.

My most difficult run ever was the Wild Woman Trail in July 2014. The course is beautiful, but the trail is rugged, the hills are steep, and it was frustrating trying to pass runners wearing headphones on single-track trails. My attitude suffered mid-race, but I managed to turn it around and finish strong by pulling lovingkindness meditation out of my bag of tricks. I continued using lovingkindness meditation in my training and decided to do the Forest Park Marathon about 4 weeks later, so I could employ the meditation for the full 26.2 miles. That was a beautiful experience.

Posted in Inside Chi

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