Class crashers: chi running
My instructions for a session with chi running instructor, Gray Caws, read like a good spy movie: ‘Meet me at 6.45pm in Finsbury Park outside the café, by the large duck pond.’ I half wondered if he’d turn up wearing a red carnation (sadly not). Chi running – a kind of tai chi meets jogging – promises to make the experience easier and more enjoyable, using movement principles to increase your energy efficiency, cut your risk of injury and boost performance; I’ll take it! As a former triathlete and coastal trail runner, I’d given up after being plagued by IT band problems and shin splints. Gray reassures me he has the answer.
The class is mainly theory, with a few drills peppered across it to make sure everything we’ve been told has sunk in. Taking a Q&A teaching approach, Gray gets us to say how we think we should run (me: chest up, driving from the glutes, pushing off my toes, big strides, pumping arms) and I’m not surprised when it turns out that my running technique is completely wrong. Apparently I’ve been making life very hard for myself.
Gray explains we need to use our centre of gravity, located in our core, to help us run more easily by tilting our whole body slightly forward. We practise on a downhill slope to make this more pronounced. He then demonstrates how we should be pulling our arms back and, while relaxed, letting them swing forward (a more natural movement), taking shorter steps (easier on the thighs), and pushing off from the back leg (for increased stability). ‘Running should feel comfortable, not exhausting,’ he tells us. ‘If you’re starting to feel tired, just slow it down.’ After 45 minutes of instruction and practice, we’re all trotting along like gazelles, practically floating along the ground – I feel like I’ve found running Nirvana: natural, effortless, and peaceful. Oh, and while we’re at it, it turns out I’ve been breathing wrong too – I rarely feel as if I can get enough oxygen in when I work out, so I breathe through my mouth. Another slap on the wrist, as it’s not maximising my body’s ability to deal with its CO2. Gray excitedly suggests I tape my mouth up at night to train my body to breathe through my nose… (Sorry, it’s not going to happen!)
Finally, we do some ‘shake down’ stretching and tai chi moves to anchor ourselves. The course had plenty of ‘lightbulb moments’ (although be prepared for a lot of new age chat vs getting sweaty), and I’m looking forward to hitting the road to see if this new approach means I’m limbering up for my next 10k.
Photographs: Juan Trujillo Andrades