Maybe you're doing it wrong. What if all - or even most - of those running injuries you've sustained over the years were attributable to poor biomechanics? What if someone suggested a running technique that could forestall a recurrence of your Achilles tendonitis or plantar fasciitis, relieve your chronic knee and ankle pain and help prevent more muscle pulls?
The technique is ChiRunning, and Josh Miller believes it is the answer to many running afflictions. The 36-year-old massage therapist and father of three is a certified instructor for the method, which was developed by ultramarathoner Danny Dreyer and uses principles from t'ai chi to shift some of the running burden from the legs to the core muscles of the torso.
"Running has a bad reputation that it's hard on the body," Miller observes, "and I believe it's more our form a lot of times that's incorrect." He cites the tendency of many runners to overstride. By landing on their heels out in front of their center of gravity, he explains, they are in effect braking with each stride and magnifying the degree of impact transmitted up through their joints.
"ChiRunning combines the principles of relaxation with alignment," he notes. By using the abdominal muscles, introducing a slight forward lean and chopping the length of your stride, he says, "your running is coming from the core and your peripherals are relaxed."
These principles can sometimes be difficult to visualize in the abstract, but Miller does his best to convey a verbal description of the biomechanics involved. In the tradition of t'ai chi, "if punches come at me, I wouldn't meet that punch with a punch," he explains. "I would let that punch go by. And if you can envision the road as a force coming at you, I don't want to meet that force with my foot out in front of me, landing on my heel, like many runners do."
ChiRunning's emphasis on proper alignment, core-muscle involvement and leaning puts the practitioner in such a position that the point of impact falls under the runner's center of gravity. "We're meeting the road," Miller says, "and the road is going right out behind us."
A t'ai chi practitioner for about 12 years and a runner all his life, Miller notes that he had been puzzling out some of these concepts on his own in recent years. But the epiphany occurred during a visit to Borders.
"I saw the book ChiRunning," he remembers, "and it just jumped out at me and I grabbed it, and I just knew it would have an impact on my life."
Indeed. Learning that about 100 ChiRunning instructors had been certified since Dreyer established the philosophy about five years ago, but that none of those instructors were located in Wisconsin, Miller set out to gain accreditation and bring ChiRunning to the Madison area.
He took the intensive instructor training in Florida last March, and followed that up with additional workshops in San Francisco early this summer, and is now listed on the instructors page at www.chirunning.com.
Miller plans to impart his knowledge through both group and one-on-one sessions in Wisconsin and Iowa, starting later this summer. Four-hour workshops for up to 14 people will cost $125 per person, he says; two-hour one-on-one sessions will cost $120. He invites inquiries at 563-451-2540 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Miller has already seen the results of ChiRunning in his own marathon times, dropping his personal best from 3 hours, 17 minutes to about 2:55. But improved speed is not the focus of ChiRunning, he cautions. Rather, "it's a byproduct."
Nor is Miller himself driven by the pursuit of faster times. "At this stage of my life, I'm not a big racer," he says. His schedule includes one marathon in the spring and one in the fall.
For him, the big payoff of ChiRunning has been avoidance of injuries. Setting out to train for his first marathon about six years ago, he notes his right knee would get aggravated whenever he approached 12 or 13 miles. "Without the core being engaged," he observes, "there was a lot of lateral movement, so there was a lot of strain on the right IT [iliotibial] band, and I had to back away.
"Now I run 50, 60, 70 miles a week, and my knee gives me no trouble."
This is not empirical confirmation of ChiRunning's effectiveness. It's anecdotal. So is Miller's testimony regarding his improved ability to recover from longer runs on consecutive days. "I love to run," he says. "I was in Redwood National Park and I ran for five hours, turned around the next day and ran for a couple hours. Three days later I was in San Francisco and wanted to cover a lot of area and ran three hours."
ChiRunning has a bit of a learning curve, Miller acknowledges. "One of the things with ChiRunning is we take shorter strides at a cadence of around 170-180 strides a minute, which is an adjustment to get used to," he allows. "But when you do it's much more efficient - much more gliding over the surface instead of pounding, and it also prevents a lot of up and down movement," which exaggerates the impact of running.