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The art of Chi Running

ChiRunning takes you back to the natural and efficient style you had as a kid.

I came into this world flat-footed and flailing with the upper body structure of an NFL linebacker—thanks, Dad—and the ground speed of the average Clydesdale. To further drive home my point, grade school gym class was less a time of physical activity and more a time to reflect on how best—dramatically—to avoid physical activity.

After decades of perfecting my ability to fake injuries or illnesses not reported since the turn of the century, I ventured into the world of personal fitness. Slowly at first, with modest weight lifting and some aerobics classes, but pretty soon I was pounding the pavement every morning for a run. Soon, I was a regular at my physiotherapist’s office, on a solid diet of anti-inflammatories and wrapping myself in ice packs whenever I felt like rain was coming. Though there are some benefits of being a human barometer, I knew there had to be a better way.

My knowledge of running was rudimentary. Shoes: check. Matching outfit: check. $20 bill for emergency cab fare to the hospital: check. What else was there?

Enter ChiRunning. I had seen this form of running covered briefly in a CBC Television mini story and had always wondered what it was all about. A combination of the mindful- ness found in practices such as yoga and the action of running, it’s a new way of position- ing your body when running that has been hailed as the only, injury-free long-distance running technique.

Anything that makes running less painful seemed like a good idea to me, so when
I heard a ChiRunning class was coming to Halifax, I signed up. Taught by Eric Collard, the class was hosted by Kinesio Sport Lab, Atlantic Canada’s only endurance sport physiology lab, CompuTrainer MultiRider cycling centre and strength and mobility studio.

Where the more commonly known running technique had long focusing on front-leg extension and heal-strike to increase cadence and performance, ChiRunning relies on centre of gravity and balance centred on the mid-foot.

From beginning to end, the course focused on proper posture stemming from a mid-foot stance and the alignment of the body—draw- ing a straight line from your shoulder to your knees, hips and ankles. This posture, in a slight lean, is the base for ChiRunning. It is respon- sible for both the speed and injury-free running the technique is known for.

After we practiced our lean, we graduated to a slow walk, focusing on our feet—peeling them off the floor instead of kicking them off in front of us (old habits die hard). Elbows back and keeping a constant rhythm from our shoulders that seem to magically connect to the cadence of our feet, we jogged around the parking lot.

Abs tight, gaze up, hips forward—it’s a lot to take in all at once. But as our teacher Eric Collard told us, just practice one piece of ChiRunning at a time. When you’ve mastered that, move on to the next piece. Skeptical as to whether or not this day-long course will right all the wrongs of my still blooming running career, I have noticed a difference in late-run pain: My knees don’t ache during that last kilometre. For someone with chronic lower back pain, the mid-foot, slight lean gets credit for keeping me off the physiotherapist’s table. Now, if I could just find a pair of running pants to match my ChiRunning-approved, minimalist shoes, I’ll be all set.