Yesterday was my 30th birthday and I kicked off the celebration by running a 5K at B.U.s indoor track. I had been feeling great leading up to the race, so the plan was to run a fast time.
In heindsight I did reasonably well, but failed to run a super fast time. I think my biggest mistake was letting the lead pack get too far in front early. Check out the highlight reel to see what I mean.
As you can see from the video, the lead pack get out really fast and I'm stuck in the middle. I had to work around a few people and then ended up leading the chase pack for a little bit.
From there it was pretty much back and forth, passing, getting passed...kind of a messy race.
I finished up in 15:47. Not as fast I hoped but still pretty solid. My key takeaways are that I need to solidify a better strategy before the race starts and I need to stay consistent with my long training runs.
I'm not sure what my next race is. I have some planning to do.
It was with great excitement that I made my way to Franklin Park in Boston, MA for the fourth half-marathon of this year/my life. Having run several high school and college cross country meets at Franklin Park I’ve developed a deep connection and resonance with the area, as I’m sure have many others.
Photo by Ted Tyler
Yesterday I made the short trip to Lowell, MA for the Jack Kerouac 5K
, which would serve as the 2012 New England 5K championships. Coming into the race I was feeling great. For training I have been doing the large majority of my running at very slow paces, around 10 minute per mile or so. I’ve increased the amount of core stability work and maintained a solid amount of yoga.
Over the weekend I ran in the always awesome GBTC cross country invitational
. This was the first year the race was held at Elm Bank, which is also the site of my high school cross country course. It was my first time back to the course in 13 years, and I thought it would be fun to go back to my high school racing tactics – specifically go out way over my head and figure the rest out from there.
Yesterday I had the pleasure of running in the New Bedford Half Marathon, one of New England’s premier races. This race was a lot of fun and a huge reminder of the BENEFITS of gradual progress. This was my second half marathon, and my first time doing a road half. My first half was the indoor track palooza I did in January.
Recently we’ve had a few days of beautiful weather. One day was what I would consider to be “perfect” weather. During this time of year it is important to remember a key Chi Running principle: GRADUAL PROGRESS.
Just because the weather all of a sudden got nice does not mean your fitness has improved (sorry).
Some thoughts about Gurus, Kripalu Yoga, Chi Running and my recent race recap at the end:
Last week I had a wonderful experience teaching a Chi Running and Kripalu Yoga retreat at the Kripalu center in western MA. The reason I love Kripalu yoga is the same reason I love Chi Running...
Both approaches are a non-dogmatic inquiry based approach led by a community of people seeking to grow their understanding through experiments and experience.
This is very different than traditional yoga and running methods which rely very heavily on gurus telling people what they should and shouldn’t do. People generally recognize yoga as being guru based, but are a bit confused when I tell them running is not much different. Allow me to explain.
Once a distance runner enters high school they can expect most of their runs to be completely planned by a coach. This coach is most likely following the plan of either Arthur Lydiard or Jack Daniels, both of whom are regarded as top running coaches, and rightfully so. You can go on message boards and read the debates on which guru system is better, Daniels or Lydiard. There is very little emphasis on running by feel. Everything is structured. Everything is planned often months or even years in advance. Yet, somehow the runners miss the fact that they are blindly following the guru without much room for personal experimentation.
The huge irony here is that the same community that worships Lydiard and/or Daniels as their guru will criticize Chi Running for being a guru based system when actually the opposite is true. There is a reason the author titled the book “Chi Running” and not “Danny Dreyer’s running method.” It’s because he is trying to remove the guru system and offer the option of a run by feel method. I’ve met at least 60 Chi Running instructors and all of them encourage personal experimentation, finding what works for the individual, and avoidance of cookie cutter training systems. This is in sharp contrast to the number of track coaches who have told me I *need* to do high mileage, or I *need* to do 400 meter repeats, or I *need* to do this, that and the other thing. Luckily, none of my own track coaches have had this approach, I’ve just had to hear it from other coaches in the community. I even hear it from other runners who have no credentials as a coach and have few, if any results to back up what they are saying.
Chi Running was not the first approach to talk about running by feel, but it has certainly had the largest impact. For many, running by feel is a scary concept.
Wait…you mean I should actually pay attention to the crazy stuff that’s happening in my body when I run? Forget that, just tell me how far and fast to go and I will throw on the headphones and grind my way through it.
The concept of a guru was once a huge subject at the Kripalu center. Kripalu started out as a guru based community, with Swami Kripalu as the guru, Amrit Desai as his main pupil, and a few dozen other students rounding out the close knit community. After Swami Kripalu passed on, Amrit Desai became the main guru. He was loved by the students and revered to the highest degree.
Then a scandal broke where the students found out that Amrit Desai had been having sexual relations with some of the students. It really rattled the Kripalu community pretty hard. So what did the community do? Sweep it under the rug? Find a new guru? Force Amrit to repent for his wicked ways? No. They asked Amrit Desai to leave and then took a long hard look at the community and how best to move forward. What they decided was to eliminate the guru system completely and have a community of yogis that are all viewed equally. The learning seemed to grow exponentially as the community shifted from 1 teacher/30 students to 30 student-teachers. This is why I love Kripalu yoga. Kripalu is one of the first yoga systems to completely do away with having a guru, and shift the focus towards personal experimentation and experience.
This doesn’t mean there aren’t experts and teachers. I’ve had the good fortune of learning from many of the long time Kripalu residents and it is very clear to me that I have a lot I could learn from them. I love learning from experts. I get turned off when a guru starts telling me I *need* X in order for Y to happen.
One of the phrases we use in both the Chi and Kripalu communities is “nobody knows your body better than yourself.” In my teaching I have found that this comes as a bit of a shocker to many. People have seen so many experts (gurus) and have been bombarded with so much technical jargon they think said guru must know their body better than them. It is my belief that you know your body better than anyone else. Chi Running and Kripalu yoga are both approaches that aim to help you gain greater understanding of your body in a format that makes it easy to share your experiences with the group so everyone can learn and grow together.
Recent Race Recap:
Christmas Weekend I was back at BU for another indoor track meet. I started off with the 3K and felt very good. I was in a faster heat this week and had some guys to work with. I ended up running 9:15 which is a 10 second improvement over the previous week. I then attempted to race the mile and this did not go so well. I was feeling good through 800 meters when someone decided to run right into my legs, trip me up and send me flying into the track. Not cool. I walked off the track shocked at what had just happened. I then walked over to one of the officials and asked if I could run the 800 just to get a second race in for the day. He graciously let me get into a heat of the 800 in which I ran a 2:10. I felt relaxed but definitely had to work a bit to run that speed. Overall it was a good day despite the fall in the mile.
New years eve I was again at BU for the last meet of the series. The 3K felt pretty similar to the previous week and I managed to cover the distance about 4 seconds faster than the week before. I was happy that I at least got faster but was a little surprised I was only 4 seconds faster. I then gave the mile another try and for whatever reason I just didn’t have it. I ran a 4:43 which felt easy, but I thought I could have run faster than that. I’m not sure exactly what went wrong but I think limited sleep due to a busy holiday schedule was the main culprit.
For my next event I’m stepping a bit outside the comfort zone and running a half marathon on an indoor track. I really do not know what to expect from this event and that’s a good thing! I’m entering the race totally open to whatever happens. At the very least it will be a nice opportunity to get in a solid run in a warm, dry climate in the middle of winter. At best it will be a great chance to run a fast time on the controlled setting of an indoor track. The track is about 300 meters, so bigger than a normal indoor track, smaller than an outdoor track. The race is limited to 60 participants, so it shouldn’t be *too* crowded, but I imagine it will be somewhat crowded. Honestly, I don’t know what to expect. Things could get very messy if people start lapping other runners. Luckily the race is chip timed and your name is displayed on a t.v. screen each time you complete a lap. This way, my lap and times are taken care so I don’t even have to calculate how many laps I have left. If the race gets really messy I am not planning on forcing anything and weaving around a bunch of runners to get a fast time. If it stays relatively clean I will attempt to open it up a bit and see how fast my fitness will allow me to cover the 13.1 mile distance.
Today I had the pleasure of competing at the Boston University Mini Meet. B.U. hosts three of these meets per year and they are a great opportunity to get some track races in on a fast track and low key environment. The races are especially cool because it is an all-comers meet, meaning there are kids, masters, high school, college and so on. Only a few events are offered, making the meets quick and efficient. Choosing from a menu of 3,000 meter, 1 mile, 800 meter, 400 meter, 200 meter and a 60 yard dash I decided I would run the 3,000 and 800.
The somewhat tricky thing about track meets are that you have to enter the time you expect to run so the officials can place everyone into heats of the same ability level. Not having run on a track in ages and not racing much recently made my seeding process more of a thought process than it usually is. In college my coach did all that stuff for me, which was great. I sent in my entry early in the week making it even tougher since I would have to not only guess what type of shape I'm in, but also guess how I would feel in five days. After a little bit of thinking I decided I would go with 9:20 for the 3K and 2:15 for the 8. My reasoning for the 3K was that I felt I was in shape to run 9:10 or possibly faster, but wanted to enter on the slower side so I didn't take up a spot in the fast heat to a more deserving runner. Having been to this meet multiple times, I knew that the second heat was where I wanted to be, since the first heat would likely go out a bit fast for me at this time. The 800 presented even more of a challenge since I don't even remember the last time I competed in the half mile event. I figured I should at least be able to manage a 2:15 so I went with that.
Unfortunately for me, there was a mix up with my seed and I was down for a 9:30 and wound up in the third heat, not the second. I realized this before the first heat started, and thought about asking to be switched but decided against it. I figured rather than spend energy trying to get switched at the last minute I would just run in the third heat. Even though it was their mistake that landed me in the third heat, I didn't want to bother the officials. They are doing their best to run an efficient meet and it just wasn't a big enough deal to me at the time.
Before my race I got to watch my teammate Adam Malek run in the first heat of the 3K. Adam has been running great lately and I was excited to see him run. Watching Adam run was truly inspiring and motivating. In college Adam ran for Worcester State, one of my school's rivals. The thing I remember about Adam was that he used to race hard. Adam's favorite sport is actually hockey and he pretty much used to run like a hockey player. And I don't mean one of those finesse players like Gretzky, I mean the big brutes who bash and thrash all over the ice. He had a good deal of success but also had some set backs with injuries.
Luckily, Adam improved his approach, studied training methods, kept a positive attitude and joined the Sisu Project. As we warmed up we had a great conversation about the role relaxation plays in running. I was so happy to hear and see how far he has come. I knew I was in for something special. Adam's previous best time in the 3K was 8:58 which he ran last week. Today I watched adam cruise to an 8:50 and it almost looked effortless. Today was by far and away the most relaxed I have ever seen Adam run. I have video proof:
Yet another example of someone relaxing more, not trying so hard and running massive PRs.
As the second heat was going around I did a few strides and some jumping to give my strings one final tuning. I didn't have much of a plan for the race and didn't have a clue how I would feel once I attempted to run fast, but it didn't matter. I was just happy to be racing on a track! I love track. Luckily my college coach Jamie Aubuchon was there to run the mile and he helped make sure I didn't let off the throttle. I got a bit of wisdom from Jamie once per lap and that was a huge help. As you can see from the video below, I ran in front the whole time, pretty much solo for the entire race. This is definately not my preferred style as I tend to like to hang back behind guys that are faster than me, but being outside my comfort zone was good for me and I think it helped give me a little confidence boost. Since I was running by myself the whole race I got a chance to focus even more internally than I usually do in a race. Normally I'm focused internally as well as keeping an eye on the runners in front, to the side and behind me. Today the competitors melted away and I was really able to focus on myself.
The coolest thing about this race was that I managed to get my face so relaxed that my eyelids would flicker and shut every time my foot hit the ground. Taking about 180 strides per minute, this makes for a very cool special effect. There were a couple times where I looked around and lost focus, but I quickly gained it back and once I was able to deeply relax again, my eyes would start the flickering.
I think this was the most relaxed I've ever been in a race. I had felt the eyelid flickering thing on a few training runs before, but getting there in a race was just awesome. I cruised my way in for a 9:25 finish and stepped off the track feeling fresh as a daisy. I think had I been in the second heat I could have run about 9:15. I felt like I had a lot more in me, and had there been some guys around me, I'm confident I could have easily run ten seconds faster. The good news is I will have two more cracks at the 3K on upcoming Saturdays.
After the 3K I had a couple hours before my next race, the 800. I watched my coach Jamie run a smooth 4:39 mile. Pretty good for a 44 year old father of 2! Unfortunately my camera stopped working seconds before Jamie's race and I could not obtain video footage. This is not surprising as Jamie Aubuchon is more like a myth or legend than an actual person.
After watching Jamie I sat down for a little while, drank some coconut water and ate an energy gel. About 30 minutes before my race I ran around the outside of the track for a little while in my socks and was just springing along feeling great. I was thinking through the 800 and playing out various scenarios in my head, preparing myself for just about anything. After about a mile I decided I would do some walking around the track. This felt really great for my hips and pelvis. I felt loose, relaxed and ready to go.
Once it was showtime I got on my spikes, did a few jumps and set my mind on running fast. There were only about 5 or so other guys in my heat, so it wasn't a crowded race at all. For the first two laps I was a little bit behind the first place runner, and had a good distance on the runners behind me. I tried my best to stay with the runner in front of me, but he ended up pulling away during the third (of 4) laps. Since I haven't run in an 800 in years and was never great at it in the first place, I did not run a very well paced race. I ran the first half in 62 seconds and the second half in 70 seconds, finishing with a 2:12. This was not a well run race by any means but I'm still happy about it. The reason I am happy about it is that I was willing to step outside of my current comfort zone today in order to improve for the future. Another positive was that once again I felt totally relaxed and at peace while racing. The race didn't feel as fast as I thought it would, but then again, I didn't really run that fast. I thought I would be winded heavy afterwards but I felt great after finishing, so that's promising. Since my camera stopped working right before the Legend Of Jamie Aubuchon crushed the mile, my camera crew (the lovely Fawn) had to film the 800 with my phone.
Next week I will return to BU for the second mini meet. I plan to run the 3K and one other event again, but probably something different than the 800. I might go with the mile, but I'm also contemplating doing a 200 just out of curiosity of what I could run in a sprint. Unfortunately, athletes are limited to two events per meet, or else I would just run all of the races.
When reading about running form I often see naysayers using the phrase "if it ain't broke don't fix it." I can somewhat understand hearing this phrase from someone who is just running for fitness, and doesn't want to be bothered by learning the fundamentals of the exercise they are partaking in.
Hearing this phrase come out of the mouth of athletes completely baffles and saddens me. It's even more upsetting when I see supposed mentors encouraging student-athletes to keep repeating the same things over and over while producing the same mediocre results. I understand that tinkering with a successful formula TOO MUCH is not wise, but the notion of not trying to improve at all is completely ridiculous and completely against the spirit of athletic competition.
The formula for success in athletics is pretty simple:
Great performances indicate that very little needs to change
Horrible performances indicate that a lot needs to change
Evaluate how you are doing, decide how you want to be doing, calculate the difference and fill the gaps.
Even if you're doing great, there is room to improve! There is ALWAYS more to learn, more to experience. Add in a few new drills, new exercises, small tweaks to your form and see how much better you can be. Never be fully satisfied until you are done competing. If you consider yourself an athlete, strive for the best.
If you are doing terrible, hate running, can't run without pain, then you may want to consider making some major changes to your routine.
For track and cross country runners, don't get tricked into running like a robot, especially if you run cross country. If you want to be a great cross country runner, you will need to run with your WHOLE BODY, not just your legs. Run like an ATHLETE not a RUNNER.
An Athlete acts and reacts from their body. An athlete thinks about form. An athlete has an understanding of the basic fundamentals of their sport because they were taught the fundamentals, probably at a young age.
Not runners. Runners just run. Runners act from their heads. They run by 100% thought/0% feel. Don't believe me? Go to any track meet and undoubtedly you will hear multiple people yelling various split times, and advising the runners to speed up or slow down based on their average pace. In this case the runner is not even running from their own head, they are running from their coaches head.
Could this be why a random soccer player decides to come out for track every year and ends up being faster than the majority of the cross country team? The soccer player runs like an athlete. Runners...we just run.
What makes an athlete great? Lots of things. But one thing they ALL have is a superior mind-body connection. Runners appear to be one of the few sets of athletes that purposely try to sabotage their mind-body connection by running themselves into the ground.
I think we've hung onto the insanity from the running boom but lost the essence. We forget that the good old boys from back in the day were having a blast as they crushed 160 mile weeks, week after week. It was FUN. Now all we care about is getting in the mileage. Actually, we prefer it NOT to be fun because we think if we hate it we will somehow get better results? No one has yet been able to explain to me how practicing suffering produces happiness. It seems to produce more suffering to me.
That's why I choose to practice happy.
In my world, having fun is what its all about. Not only because it's more fun, it also produces better results! Having fun is how you learn and get good at something in the first place.
Working on your running form is FUN if you have the right approach and right guidance.
And remember, just because something "ain't broke" doesn't mean it can't be improved.
Stride to be your best.
One of the more common questions I get asked is how Chi Running will affect speed. I’ve spoken with many competitive runners who have an interest in what Chi Running has to offer, but have some concerns they will not get any faster, or even get slower while practicing the technique. For these runners, running fast is a priority and they don’t want to do anything that might screw up their training. Fair enough.
I first read Chi Running in 2004, as a junior at Fitchburg State. Around the time I was reading the book, I was competing in outdoor track. My best time for the 10K was 33:30. The next outdoor track season my 10K pr was 31:15, taking off 2 minutes and 15 seconds from my previous best. So for me, reading Chi Running certainly did not make me any slower. There were other factors in addition to Chi Running that helped me improve, but the fact is, Chi Running was a huge part of my success in college. Of course, one person’s story tells us nothing about anyone other than that one person, so let’s take a look at two others.
In my experience, I’ve seen others implement Chi Running principles and run pretty fast. Take for example my friend Matt Germain. In 2004 Matt ran 3:59 for 1500 meters. Matt is the type of guy to put it all on the line, and after every race he would collapse down to one knee in agony. After a 3:59 (4:16 mile equivalent) this is understandable. Fast forward to 2007. I had just returned from the Chi Running instructor weekend and needed someone to practice teach in order to get officially certified. Matt, being the good friend that he is, happily obliged me, not because he was really interested in Chi Running, but because he was being a good friend and wanted to help me out. Well a couple months after that first session with me, Matt went on to break his 1500 PR running a 3:58. This time Matt did not collapse down onto one knee, he sort of just bounced off the track, smiling, eyes beaming with joy.
The other interesting thing about Matt is that he has a really fast metabolism. A couple years ago we would go to a burger joint for lunch and Matt would easily put down a 1 pound cheeseburger, side dish, and milkshake. Yes, you read that right…a 1 POUND burger…like it was nothing. Keep in mind Matt is a skinny distance runner. Because of his ravenous appetite, Matt used to really struggle on long runs. He couldn’t really get past 14 or 15 miles before bonking. Well, a couple years of Chi Running and Matt has now run 2:35 for a marathon and breezes through a long run at least once a week. Chi Running allowed Matt to run far more efficiently, reducing his need to consume tons of calories during long runs, allowing him to run longer, which got him faster.
Matt and I both got faster with Chi Running, but even more interesting than our stories is the story of our friend Caitlyn Clark. For one year, Caitlyn lived with Matt and I. Since Caitlyn was living with a Chi Running instructor, she figured she would give it a shot. She had battled some pretty nasty injuries in college and still had a competitive mindset, so anything she could do to run with less pain was a good thing. To make a long story short, Caitlyn had the best year of running in her life when practicing Chi Running. She ran 17:00 for 5K that year.
The interesting part is that Caitlyn got a new job and had to move out of the house. In her new job, she wasn’t really practicing Chi as much. Without me there as a reminder she would just head out the door and go for her run, not really thinking much about loosening up, her form, body sensing, her breath and so on. Her job and living area was stressful and she probably needed the Chi Running even more in that environment, but amidst all the chaos she let the Chi Running focuses slip away and ended up having a really tough year running wise. The reason I find Caitlyn’s story so interesting is because she implemented Chi Running and got faster, then stopped practicing Chi and got hurt and slower.
For whatever reason Chi Running has become popular amongst marathon and ultra-marathon runners. The track and cross country world has been less receptive. Even some of my close friends who are hurt don't want to give it a try. I don’t know the reasons for this and will save that for another post. The important thing for track athletes to remember is this: FOLLOW GRADUAL PROGRESS. As long as you implement things slowly into your routine, you should be able to keep your current momentum and use Chi Running principles to improve even more. If you read the book and then try to do EVERYTHING the book says, then yes, you will likely get confused, sore, and frustrated.
Remember, Chi Running is not a wholesale change to your technique. It is implementing little cues and tricks to run more efficiently and injury free. You should not feel overwhelmed. You should not feel like there is too much “stuff” to think about it. If that is the case, you are caught in the details and missing the message.
The four Chi skills mentioned in the book are:
Think about your last race for a moment. Close your eyes and run through the race in your head. I’ll wait….
Now think about your next race. Picture yourself more focused and more relaxed. Feel a better overall sense of your body. Imagine your breath is more relaxed. Now you tell me, if you could be more focused, more relaxed, more in tune with your body, and breathing more efficiently – do you think you’d be faster or slower?