Sunday, October 10, 2010

What kind of runner do you want to be?

I used to be a pained runner.  Jogging was not a comfortable activity.  I thought it was required to become more "healthy"' self-inflicted torture to be endured.  Boy was I wrong.

Most runners experience pain from running.  We think it is because running is "bad" for our bodies.  While physical activity may help with weight loss, doctors love to tell the general public that running is a high impact activity and that injuries are inevitable.  And if you want to prevent injury you must run less and buy expensive shoes and special inserts.  But the ultimate goal should be to run "free".

We should be able to run free of injury, free from self-doubt and free from the need to buy expensive crap.  And believe me I am familiar with all of that.

At one time I used to run with orthotics in my shoes.  They were the result of a repetitive use injury with my knees and working on concrete everyday.  The pain in my knees would keep me awake at night.  Even sitting on the floor with my legs crossed was unbearable.  The orthopedist felt that the inserts would aid my knees.  OK.  The orthopedist said my knee pain was due to degenerative cartilage and that I should not run.  OK.

Nine years later I am running farther and faster than ever.  I have no knee pain.  I wear no shoe inserts.  My "shoes" have no built-in arch support.  But how is this possible?

Last year I stumbled upon Chi Running by Danny Dreyer while at the bookstore looking for running books.  Danny believed that if we recapture the ease and joy of running similar to children then injury and discomfort associated with running can be reduced, if not eliminated.

Danny does offer trainer certification to teach Chi Running.  I even took a class with an instructor.  While I hope to one day become certified I am not and currently have no financial incentive to spread the "gospel" of this program.

What Chi Running has done is teach me to run in a more efficient manner.  I know how to move when I run and am able to self-diagnose causes of discomfort when they arise.  I am more mindful of tweaks and missteps and misalignment of my body.  Minor adjustments on the run can make a big difference.  Many of the pains I have experienced over the past year have been corrected without the help of motion control shoes, orthotics or the quackery of most orthopedic specialists.

I corrected a tough Achilles/tarsal tendon strain with a minor adjustment to the way I lifted my heel at the tail end of my stride.  The orthopedist I saw after this injury recommended rest, therapy & pain killers.  He said I was getting old and pushing too hard.  But he never asked to see how I run.  He did not care to know what I may have done to acquire such pain.  Treat the symptom not the cause.

Recently I thought I may have had a stress fracture in my foot.  With paid entries to several races on the horizon, skipping upcoming events will not happen.  I reviewed the previous weeks of running and remembered stepping into a hole during a long run.  I also remember running hills during one session particularly hard and fast.  I felt a lot of pain when flexing my foot but did have any issues when pressing directly onto the top of my foot.

My concern was that I was running too hard, pounding the pavement with too much impact force.  The answer was to stride "lighter".  Pick it up as I'm putting it down.  After yesterday's 20 miler on rolling hills of pavement and single track dirt trails I can see that running "lighter" has eased the pressure and pain on top of my foot.  The foot is nearly normal again.  All while increasing mileage and pace as part of my overall training schedule.

Fractures and other major injuries should be treated by medical professional and treated quickly.  The type of injury I write are the nagging issues with joints and muscle strain, like hip, knee, ankle, foot and back.  You have to study your body and your form.  Shoes don't dictate your running story.  Your body shape or size does not predispose you to any sort of future injury.  Doctors do not have every answer or any answers for that matter.  Only when you know how the body should move do you how to correct improper movement.  You owe it to yourself to take the time to learn about your body.  See what you are physically and learn how to become what you what to be.

My dream is to help anyone who asks to become a more confident runner.  I'm no trainer.  I am still learning about marathoning and conditioning and general health issues.  But if you want to run pain-free ask my how.


  1. I read Chi Running too and it basically enabled me to run. I was doing it all wrong and whenever I'd run it would be painful days of shin splints and icing my legs. I read "Chi Running" and "Born to Run" and started over with long slow runs and better running form. Once my knees and hips strengthened a bit, I have had no problems. I've lost 25lbs and I feel great. In about a month, I'll be running my second half-marathon this year and I'm already registered and paid for my first marathon next year. I might not be able to wait that long.

  2. I think learning and practicing chirunning did me a lot of good when I was trying to correct some form issues that were contributing to ITBS early this year. It's a sound form basis for running, but the probably the most important aspect of it is learning to sense what each part of your body is doing during the run. I started Chirunning after years of meditation practice where I learned to sense very specifically my feet, legs, hips during walking/moving meditations, so sensing the body was pretty easy for me to grasp. I am still surprised when people who run regularly (perhaps for years), ask the question "how do I know if I'm heel striking?" I always wonder how it is that they can't just feel it.

    Now, if the Chirunning organization could just make an effort to sound less like a quasi-religious cult with Danny Dreyer it's infallible leader...

    There are several systems out there that teach the same basic aspects of running form as Chirunning, but Chirunning is the only one that encourages runners to practice body awareness. It's more than just "listening to your body." It's learning to focus on each individual aspect of your running form, by feel. "Listen to your body" is good general advice, but it's about as helpful for improving your running as telling someone not to trip.

  3. Chi Running freed me of my prescription orthotics too! I got crazy knee pain after I started a couch to 5K program, and my doctor said it was because I had "flat feet." I should have known something was wrong when he told me, a pudgy teenage bookworm, that a lot of the college athletes he sees also have flat feet. ;)

    Becoming a certified Chi Running instructor sounds like it would be incredibly rewarding. But it also sounds expensive, lol.