This is a guest post from Susan Lacke.
Running is hard. It’s supposed to be, isn’t it?
That’s the very reason why some of you run: to push the limits of the human body and remind yourself that you’re alive. There’s a little bit of sadistic pride that comes with having sore muscles after a brutal hill workout.
Even though it’s hard, running is something that comes naturally to us. We’re hardwired to do it; No one should have to teach us. As children, it’s a natural part of development: First we scoot, then we crawl, then we walk, then we run.
For that very reason, I’ve always had a great disdain for products or services which promise to make people better runners. Such items, in my mind, fall into one of two categories: Stupid Crap or Expensive Stupid Crap. So when some readers suggested I do a review of a ChiRunning workshop for the site, I began plotting an endless barrage of jokes outing ChiRunning as Expensive Stupid Crap. Most of them centered around a Himalayan Zen Master in a mountain cave, smoking some serious grass and encouraging compression-short-clad runners to “Wax on, Wax off.”
“Effortless, Injury-Free Running”
The folks from ChiRunning sent me a copy of the book and DVD to review before the workshop. Within both, I was able to learn more about what ChiRunning actually is (and no, the words “Wax on, Wax off” do not appear anywhere). The concepts of ChiRunning seemed pretty legit, with a focus on biomechanics and form to make running feel easier and reduce the risk of injury.
For example, ChiRunning encourages the use of a mid-foot strike when a runner’s foot lands, as opposed to landing on the heel or the ball of the foot. When you land on the heel, you’re essentially “putting on the brakes” with each step. When you utilize the mid-foot strike, your making it easier on yourself to keep the continuous motion of your legs going seamlessly.
Here’s a video of ChiRunning’s Danny Dreyer talking about how to avoid heel striking, to give you an idea of what ChiRunning is about:
To be honest, the book is a pretty dry read. Granted, running form is not exactly juicy stuff, but still, a little bit of entertainment (might I suggest a stoned Zen Master character?) would have helped. Plus, still pictures and written descriptions can only do so much – I needed to see what I was supposed to be doing to employ the concepts of ChiRunning.
Enter the DVD. It was good to see the concepts in action, and having talking heads was slightly more entertaining than the book. As I practiced the form adjustments demonstrated in the DVD, I found myself getting frustrated: Was I doing it right? Was I making mistakes? What the hell am I doing? My poor dogs must have thought I’d finally gone batshit crazy, watching a DVD, pausing it, and running laps around the apartment cursing.
The ChiRunning Workshop
Remember Carnivore from the great NMA Chamois Cream Experiment? I asked him to come with me to the 4-hour ChiRunning workshop that Saturday morning. At first, he rolled his eyes and made jokes (“You want me to teach you how to run right, Susan? Put one foot in front of the other. Repeat. Quickly!”). Then I think secretly he was just glad I didn’t ask him to subject his frank and beans to NMA scientific inquiry again. At any rate, he agreed to come along, though both of us were already convinced the workshop would be a waste of a perfectly good Saturday morning.
We were greeted at the workshop by Mark Wallis, an extremely approachable instructor. Mark began teaching ChiRunning after discovering the skills involved with the approach eliminated injury for him during his own running. His basic philosophy: Running should be fun, comfortable, and injury-free. Running should make you happy. When you’re learning from him, you can’t help but agree.
We began the day with Mark videotaping each participant running. We then watched each person’s video and Mark helped identify each person’s cadence, or number of footfalls each minute. In ChiRunning, the ideal cadence is 174-180 footfalls per minute – most of us run with far less. The initial video also helped identify basic form errors each participant had and how they could lead to injury down the line. From there, Mark guided us through a series of drills to help us understand concepts such as keeping a straight posture; leaning forward from the ankles (as opposed to leaning backwards or from the hip); and lifting your heels to avoid the slow “marathon shuffle” so many runners settle into.
To help us see our accurate use of the mid-foot strike, Mark had us run through sand and analyze our footprints. In order to feel the correct amount of lean, we tilted our bodies so our foreheads were touching the wall. To get us to pick up our feet, we did kicking drills, Riverdance-style (the homeless people watching us in the park were thoroughly amused, I’m sure). We ran up hills and down hills, and through it all were given solid constructive criticism.
The moment of truth came when we were videotaped, once again, at the end of the workshop. It was somewhat surprising to see how quickly everyone’s form changed in such a short period of time.
Going in, C and I both thought the whole thing was going to be a load of B.S. We were so looking forward to outing ChiRunning workshops as Expensive Stupid Crap.
And we can’t. We just can’t.
Mark, our instructor, gave us some new weapons in our arsenal to make us stronger runners. We were given great feedback in the classroom, and the drills made the application to running form easy. All videos from the class were emailed to us after the workshop, along with links to multiple resources that would help us continue to monitor our progress.
Though C and I both attended the workshop as guests of ChiRunning, we agree we’d have paid for this: the video analysis alone is worth the cost of the workshop (usually $125). Having Mark there to provide us with immediate feedback during the drills is so much better than trying to figure it out yourself while reading the book or watching the DVD.
The stamp of approval: If you can afford the workshop, do it. s not a waste of a Saturday morning, and it is not, in fact, Expensive Stupid Crap.
So now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go find someplace else to use all those stoned Himalayan monk jokes.