In the UK, back in the halcyon days of the first lockdown, when the weather was warm and Spring was in full bloom and we were all amazed at how quiet it all felt without the cars and everybody who wasn’t harassed by having the kids at home tried a new hobby like baking or macrame, I did a little online course about Chi Running.
I’d heard of it as a thing, but I didn’t really know the nuts and bolts and I just assumed that it was some western attempt at applying eastern hippy dippy terms to running in order to make a load of money from people (okay, as much as I attempt to be non-judgemental and open, the snark does rear its ugly head from time to time).
So in the spirit of exploration and re-evaluation I signed up.
What is Chi?
According to Google, Chi is the 22nd letter of the Greek Alphabet and is pronounced ‘Khi’.
It is also, when I scrolled down further, ‘the circulating life force whose existence and properties are the basis of much Chinese philosophy and medicine’.
This second definition is, I suspect, closer to the purpose of this running method but it still felt a little bit ‘what?’.
So let’s just sack off the name for a minute and look at the things that I learnt. In succinct bullet point form they are:
- Nose Breathing
- 80/20 Rule
- Use Gravity
- Small Strides
The thinking behind this is that you get more oxygen through your nose, the air is cleaner as your nose filters it better and it builds up your respiratory strength.
This is something that I struggled with and have attempted on and off. Off at the moment because in the winter when I run my nose is a dripping tap and it just would not be pretty. I know that it requires patience and practice and apparently you can build up your speed and still keep your gob shut. But patience is not something I’m liberally endowed with.
However, when I was doing the course, I did have more of a go and found that when I went super slowly, as in a pace only slightly faster than walking, I could keep my gob shut for at least the first ten minutes. This did force me to slow right down and actually made the rest of the run more enjoyable, let me go further, and helped me stick to the 80/20 rule.
This is their recommended ratio of how to pace your runs. So 80% of your miles in a week should be at a slow, thoroughly comfortable pace, and only 20% should be juiced up. That doesn’t have to be sprinting all the time. It’s anywhere between breakneck and raising the heat so you can’t talk more than the odd word or phrase while you’re pumping the legs.
So if, for example, you did 10 miles a week you can either have one 2 miler at a gallop or tag on a fast bit at the end of each run. I preferred this second way as I felt fully warmed up to get cracking for a sprint finish.
The reason for generally keeping it slow is to build your muscles and other internal body bits up more gradually before you start tear-arsing it and causing yourself an injury. This rule suits me down to the ground because I am a slow plodder rather than a speed freak and I prefer to enjoy the scenery.
However, I have read that even short distance runners advocate doing the majority of runs at a really slow pace for that physical strength building and injury reduction. And apparently the great man Eliud Kipchoge runs most of his weekly miles at more than half of his race pace, which is still faster than my best. So if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me, I think.
This one sounds like ‘use the force Luke’ and it kind of is.
You know when a baby learns to walk they’re basically sussing getting that leg out in time will stop them leaning over and falling. This is what the ideal Chi runner does. Okay, hopefully we’re at a slightly more sophisticated level of bipedal locomotion but the essential idea is the same. From a tall standing position lean your whole body forward until one of your legs comes out to catch you. That lean, which is a straight line from your head to your ankles, is around the position you want to be in so that you’re tapping into gravity to help the momentum.
Which leads very neatly on to small strides because you want to land your feet beneath you. If you start doing a Penelope Pitstop you’re then having to pull your whole body forward to catch up and so you’re working against the force and the jedi master unhappy is. But if you keep it small then it feels like gravity is doing the pulling. It will also mean that you’re more likely to land on the middle of your foot instead of the heel which is loads better coz all the little bones in your toes help to dissipate the impact instead of it shooting up the leg and causing all kinds of dodgy stuff. My anatomical knowledge is very sparse and I may have made that last bit up but it totally makes sense to me so I’m sticking with it.
Chi Running reckons you should aim for about 180 strides per minute which on the metronome sounds like a clip.
I wouldn’t worry about counting really, if you have a running app it does a good guesstimate for you. But if you practise that short stride thingamabob then you’ll naturally be quite quick.
Well how do you get faster or slower if you’re always keeping the 180 tempo? It’s apparently to do with that ‘lean’ again. If you lean more your leg stride will be a bit longer and therefore you’ll go further, and conversely, the slower plodders like me will be a teeny bit more upright. I’m not talking horizontal like He-Man up above, just a gentle incline. We can see Eliud here, (coz who better to get running tips from, than the master), doing a little one step. Because his legs are in motion you see the lean from his back knee to his head and his front foot lands beneath him.
So that, basically, is Chi Running in a nutshell. Or, more specifically, the bits that I remembered from my course, which I actually really enjoyed. So if this is interesting, it may well be worth reading more on the subject, or taking one of their courses, as they did seem like nice people.