One year of ChiRunning
Well, the results, not evidence, are in. One year and one week after taking my first ChiRunning workshop in Chicago on the 10th of September, here are my PRs (all set after the workshop):
5km – 17.02 (41 seconds faster than 20 years ago)
5m – 29:52 (improvement of 4:30)
10km – 37:56
10m – 1:01:21
Half-Marathon – 1:22:42 (improvement of 8:37, 6:23 faster than the 2011 Chicago Half the day after the ChiRunning workshop)
Marathon – 3:08:08 (improvement of 25:45)
I’m 40 years old and fit into the Clydesdale category, as I weigh 195 lbs. I only run three times a week and attend yoga classes 4 – 6 times a week. I would consider my nutrition to be OK. My diet consists of organic foods if possible, very little red meat and if I choose to eat meat or poultry, I try and make sure it’s humanely raised and locally sourced.
Over the last couple of years, there’s been a seemingly inexorable move towards minimalist shoes, in no small part prompted by Chris McDougall’s seminal book, ‘Born to Run’. I was one of the groupies who went out and purchased two pairs of Vibram 5-Fingers after reading just a couple of chapters. I was also lucky, but stupid, because I didn’t follow the advice and transition into them gradually; however, despite diving straight in, I did not get injured. One can’t go to a race, or a sporting goods store, a running website or magazine where there aren’t people plugging gait analysis (in many cases, because they want to sell some shoes) and all of a sudden, everybody is wearing minimalist or barefoot shoes. And if they’re not minimalist shoes, they’re the latest models featuring unprecedented support. In my case, I took Danny’s workshop three months after switching to the Vibrams, and that probably helped mitigate the injury risk. After all, for an old bloke who ran his first marathon (Big Sur, which was also my first marathon) in 3:04 aged 52, Danny must have been doing something correctly!
Research-wise, this is still a nascent area. We’re starting to see a trickle of peer-reviewed papers on barefoot and minimalist running, many of which are encouraging, but it’s still going to be some time before we can claim that ‘the science is settled’ when it comes to minimalist running, let alone ChiRunning. We should also, however, bear in mind, as McDougall points out in his book, that there are no or few peer-reviewed papers supporting the use of regular running shoes with heavy cushioning and support in the heel. And for those who point to podiatrists and orthopedic surgeons who are quoted about the upswing in injuries suffered by barefoot or minimalist runners, are those injuries attributable to the footwear or poor form?
So why am I writing this? I thought I would use this opportunity to impart how I have benefited from ChiRunning, what I have learned, what I am still doing wrong, and what I need to do.
My times speak for themselves, but I am not sure that I can impute all of the improvement to ChiRunning alone. The Vibrams have certainly helped, as have regular track sessions, yoga, improved nutrition and regular massage, but my half and full marathon times improved significantly immediately after taking Danny’s workshop. This appears to be more than coincidental.
My times in training are much faster too.
Recovery times after hard races and training sessions have shortened, and there’s less soreness.
It’s rare that I’m out of breath after a race.
The metronome to regulate and maintain cadence has been critical.
What have I learned?
While Danny’s book and video are a great starting point, taking a workshop is even more important. But it doesn’t end there. If you’re serious about making the change, working with a locally certified instructor to point out flaws in form is also critical. In Chicago, I’ve been working with Maurice Willis, who has been filming me, reviewing the film, measuring angles and pointing out flaws with hip and chin positioning.
When tiredness sets in during training or races, performing a quick form focus while slowing down definitely helps get things back on track.
The speed improvements will come naturally with correct form.
I don’t need a heart rate monitor. It’s a distraction. At best, as Danny says, it’s a bio feedback tool to be used to measure progress at various points during training. I think it’s useless in a race.
What am I still doing wrong?
I’m not running from the core and focusing on the ‘needle in cotton’ principle to the degree that I should. As an aside, I HATE core exercises and need to rectify that, as well as be more focused on it during training and races.
My pelvic tilt and lean need more work, which will improve through continued focus, coaching, and practice.
My head tends to swing about when tiredness sets in.
What do I need to do?
Regularly circle back to the book and DVD and follow the advice of focusing on different form principles during training sessions. Get down to Chicago’s Oak St Beach and run barefoot in the sand so I can see how my feet are landing and if they’re in alignment.
Continue to work with Maurice on refining my style so that I am running more from the core.
Hopefully take a one week instructor course so that I can immerse myself more in the ChiRunning principles.
In summary, I can’t say that ChiRunning is for everybody, in the same way that I can’t say that minimalist shoes are for everybody. I find it more than coincidental that as I get older, my times continue to improve while maintaining my same Clydesdale weight and only running three days a week. It’s been a year now since I took the workshop. I’m not one of those numerous uplifting examples of an ITBS or PF sufferer who took Danny’s workshop and now runs injury free. I’ve managed to stay injury-free while improving my performance. There’s clearly something Danny has nailed with his ChiRunning philosophy. I’m a believer and intend to continue to seek improvement through the application of the ChiRunning principles.