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?