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Running form

October 7, 2009

I’ve been reading Danny Dreyer’s book ChiRunning (Pocket Books), which has made me in turns angry and think about – and improve – my own running posture. Dreyer’s approach to running blends new-age philosophy, proprietary posturing and common sense. Here I pick out the key points for me.

For the first few chapters, I wondered if I would be able to stick with the book. These opening chapters are full of validation of the technique without describing the technique beyond a bit of background. I found myself skipping past the explanations of chi simply because it doesn’t conform to my rather rationalist belief system. To me, it smacked a little of presenting some common-sense guidance and feeling the need to support it with some level of mysticism.

I also took issue with the claims that you don’t run with your muscles, instead you need to engage your ‘column’ to let your chi pull you forward. The book at times felt contradictory, by asserting that the ChiRunning technique would engage different muscles – despite not using muscles. Cotton and steel, a concept liberated from tai chi, again was completely lost on me. In places it reads like the kind of thing you might read about on the (wonderful) Bad Science blog.

Cut through the dubious explanations, though, and the basic advice is to use your centre of gravity. Rather than running bolt upright, as people tend to, and stretching your legs out in front of you, you lean from your ankles and stretch your legs behind you.

This gives you a slightly stumbling technique, but it makes it easier to speed up your footfall and encourages you to take longer strides. This all contributes to a more efficient gait, although I wouldn’t say it cuts out any fatigue from running (as Dreyer claims).

The other point on which I disagree with the principles is in the setting of goals. Dreyer advises that the route to the goal should be the goal itself, so a running might set themselves a goal of running more efficiently, which they would achieve by working on their posture. He dislikes the idea of setting specific goals, they’re always kept loose and ambiguous to avoid failure. The problem with this is that it leaves you lacking in specific targets. I prefer the rather more business-like setting of SMART targets. For example, my objective for the Bath Half Marathon will be to run a sub-1:30 race. This is specific and achievable (after all, my first half marathon time on a hilly course was 1:35:11). Ultimately, I would like to hit around the 1:20 mark, but you improve your performance in realistic steps, and setting too ambitious a target can be demotivating.

Running regularly increases the efficiency of your running technique naturally, but I’ve been paying more attention to how I run since reading the book. I’ve noticed that running on a treadmill, for example, tends to encourage a poor technique. At the gym today, I felt I needed to run more upright to avoid accidentally hitting the emergency stop button, and there isn’t the room to stretch out your legs. Interestingly, looking back at race photos, my technique towards the end of the race seems to be holding together a bit better.

Having mostly worked my way through the 7km tiredness in a 10km, I’m now in a better position to maintain a decent running posture through a race. However, the Frieth Hilly 10k (race number received just the other day) will challenge this as it obviously takes a whole lot more effort to hold it together up hill and down dale.

So, in conclusion, ChiRunning is worth reading, includes some good advice, but really needs to be taken with a pinch of salt – and could probably be about half its already modest size if push came to shove.

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