Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Things That I Find Awesome: ChiRunning, Running with Friends, and High Incline Treadmills

3.16.2013 - At the Tri-Mania NYC ChiRunning Workshop!   From left to right: Me, Rob,  our instructor Vincent Vaccaro (http://tritekcamps.com/index.php), Karen Braswell, and Jim Coniglio.

Things that were awesome since my last post:

(1) Attending the ChiRunning workshop through Tri-Mania NYC and RunKino.  

ChiRunning is by no means a magic bullet, but I am a huge fan.  If you are interested in learning about my ChiRunning experience, scroll to the bottom of this post.

(2) Running in the Palisades with friends.  

3.9.2013: Running in the Palisades.  The photo is blurry because the lens had my sweat on it.  From left to right, Alex, Garth, Lesley, and Scott.

Although our initial plans were to run part of the Bear Mountain 50 mile course at Harriman State Park, Mother Nature decided to dump 15 inches of snow on the trails.  Since most of us wanted to spend our morning running and not fwomping around in the snow, we figured the Palisades would be a better bet.  And it was!  There was still snow, which made things interesting and pretty, but it wasn't so bad that we couldn't get a decent run in.  We started at the Palisades Interstate Park police station and ran the Long Path, the Shore Trail, as well as the trails that connected the two.  As I ran, I ate spam and drank Gatorade and it was glorious.  At some point, my neuroma began acting up, but since my feet were numb because of the snow, I barely felt it.

3.9.2013: Making our way down to the bottom of the cliffs.  You can see Lesley far below  - she  made the descents seem easy!

3.9.2013: Heading back up to the Long Path.

3.9.2013: Doing a mini hill repeat.

(3) Discovering that funny looking treadmill that no one uses in my gym is a super incline treadmill.  

Guess who has been doing climbs at >20% inclines the past week?  That being said, I am feeling a bit sheepish about the fact that I did not check out the treadmill until now, especially since I had an entire conversation with Garth about them a few weeks ago.  Oh well.  I still have 102 days left until Western States!  Plenty of opportunities to climb!

This treadmill can go up to 50%!  So neat!

(4) Running in the snow in Central Park.  

I despise and fear the cold, but I love running in the snow.  A two or three minute walk outside when it is below 50 degrees Fahrenheit turns me into a sad puddle, but I am totally cool with running in below freezing weather.  This is completely silly, I know.  :(

3.16.2013.  Running alongside the Central Park Reservoir.

3.16.2013 - Running in Central Park in the snow.

Things that were not awesome:

(1) The second cortisone shot for the Morton's Neuroma on my right foot is not working as well as I would like.  I received my second shot last Wednesday and things seemed great for a couple of days, but when I went out for a longish run in Central Park, I experienced flares of excruciating pain after an hour or so.  Each time it happened, I stopped and stretched my foot a bit and was able to run a few more miles before the neuroma flared up again.  While I think I can do this for at least fifty miles, I am not sure if this method will work for 100.  Guess we'll see what happens at Umstead 100 in a few weeks.  As for now, I am going to keep on eating the serrapeptase, going to physical therapy, and wearing boring shoes (supportive flats).  I still have one more cortisone shot left, but at this point, I am not expecting much.  I think I am going to move on to alcohol shot treatment next.

(2) I seem to be developing a Morton's Neuroma in my left foot.  As long as I am in sneakers or high heels, my foot feels completely normal.  But as soon as I go barefoot, I experience the familiar MN symptoms.  I still have not decided what I am going to do about this.  

My ChiRunning Ramble:

A couple of years ago, I purchased the book, ChiRunning: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-Free Running.  I read the first few chapters and found the ideas interesting enough that I attempted to put them into practice, but I never felt that I fully grasped the material.  Since I never experienced common running-related injuries, such as knee issues and shin splints, I was fine with this.  However, ever since my Morton's Neuroma reared its ugly head a few months back, I have become much more interested in seeking out ways to run as efficiently and painlessly as possible. 

As luck would have it, a high school and running buddy of mine, Hideki Kinoshita, was giving away one free registration to a ChiRunning workshop through his website and facebook page, RunKino.  All I had to do was to explain why I wanted to learn ChiRunning and be fortunate enough for Kino to select my entry.  After I won, I also registered my boyfriend for the class.  Rob is still relatively new at running and even though he is progressing quickly, he is still experiencing all the hurt that I somehow managed to skip when I began my running journey.  Since I still do not know how I managed that, (And to be perfectly frank, even if I did, I am terrible at teaching people I love how to do things.) I figured introducing Rob to a real coach would be best.  Also, I felt kind of bad taking a free class and wanted to pay for something, somehow.

Interestingly enough, I never attended a running workshop until now.  In fact, the last time I attended a sport-related class was years ago, when I was on the swim team in college.  And I wouldn't even count that because I was so completely mentally checked out - I went to practices and dutifully completed all the assigned workouts, but I was never instructed on improving my swim technique, nutrition, or . . . pretty much anything.  The main reason why I was on the swim team was because I found swimming meditative.  One time I was feeling so zen in the water, I did not realize that the pool that I was swimming in lost half its water until I tried doing a flip turn and I hit my head.  Oops.  In my defense, I was doing back stroke - so it's not like I could see the bottom of the pool until it was too late.

Anyway.  Back to ChiRunning.  My formal introduction to ChiRunning took place at the Tri-Mania NYC Expo this past Saturday.  Our class featured instructor Vincent Vaccaro, a certified ChiRunning and ChiWalking coach.  He has a website for his companyTri Tek, which provides more information on Vincent's extensive athletic background and his schedule of workshops.  Apparently, his training is geared towards triathletes, but ChiRunning is completely relevant to ultrarunners as well.  ChiRunning is all about maximizing your form to minimize fatigue.  And since triathlons and ultramarathons are both endurance sports that guarantee exhaustion, minimizing fatigue is a good thing.  

Vincent was a fantastic instructor.  He was clearly knowledgeable about his subject and very comfortable with teaching.  He had us engaged right away and I felt every minute of the workshop was time well-spent.  Vincent also had an assistant, Dave, whose last name I never learned, but he was great, too, especially towards the end when we did our running exercises.  The two hours flew, but I picked up a lot more in his workshop than I did by reading the ChiRunning book and articles and watching the Youtube videos.  That being said, I plan on rereading the ChiRunning book, because I think I will appreciate it more now that I have seen the techniques in action.  

Vincent started off his class by introducing the basic tenet of ChiRunning: Posture, posture, posture.  Which makes sense - when we are standing straight, our joints are all aligned and our skeleton is supporting our weight.  The best thing to do when we run is to make sure we maintain this alignment so that our skeleton continues to do the supporting.  Instead, we often make the mistake of slumping over or slightly bending at the waist when we are fatigued, which requires our leg and core muscles to support more body weight than they should.  If we focus on keeping good posture, we decrease the amount of work our muscles have to do, making us more efficient.  To keep our posture in alignment, we need to make sure we land our feet directly underneath or slightly behind the body, in line with our hips and shoulders.  To help with this, Vincent had us imagine three dots: one on our shoulder, hip, and foot.  He suggested that when Rob and I run together, we should check each other's alignment by making sure those dots are in a relatively straight line.  

Another essential tenet of ChiRunning is the idea of letting gravity work for us, instead of against us.  By adding a slight lean when we run, our bodies naturally fall forward and we end up using gravity to push us forward instead of our leg muscles.  The trick is to lean from the ankles, and not the waist.  We initially practiced this by standing about a sneaker's length away from the wall and while keeping our backs straight (Remember, posture!), we leaned forward until we practically fell into the wall.  Once we learned what it felt like to lean with our ankles, we did a few exercises where we experienced what it was like to lean in different amounts.  It was interesting - in leaning forward, my feet automatically had to land directly underneath me.  

Vincent also had us focus on cadence by having us run with a metronome.  Running cadence is the same thing as your foot turnover rate, or how many steps you take per minute.  When you take fewer steps per minute, your body is suspended in the air for a greater amount of time, causing a greater force to be applied when your feet hit the ground.  Since most running injuries are impact-related, this is kind of a big deal.  The most efficient stride/min is at least 180 strides per minute.  Although I have already downloaded a bunch of metronome apps on my iPhone since Saturday to practice my running cadence, I decided that it would be way more fun to run to music, so with a quick google search, I found a great dailymile thread discussing music that averages 180 beats per minute.  Rob, being awesome, is already compiling a playlist for me ;).

An important lesson that I took to heart was that I just don't move my arms enough when I run.  Instead of using my arms to propel my body forward, I keep them relatively stationary.  While I knew this on a theoretical level, I did not realize how bad my arm form was until Vincent had us perform a simple exercise where another runner stood behind me and placed her hands where my elbows should hit as I ran in place.  As I swung my arms the way I was supposed to, it felt really, really strange.  My main issue is that I constantly tense my shoulders, which doesn't allow me to swing my arms as easily as I should as I run.  Even as I type this, I feel the tell-tale twinges in the middle of my back, letting me know that my shoulders are unhappy.  I think I am going to start posting signs all over my office and house to remind me to relax.

In case you couldn't already tell, I am already a ChiRunning convert.  I can go on and on about all the things that Vincent taught in his introductory class, but if you are interested in learning more about ChiRunning, there are way better articles out there that you can find easily via Google.  I would also recommend purchasing the ChiRunning book, but I think the best thing would be to actually attend a workshop in your area.  Introductory ChiRunning classes are really not that expensive, especially if you consider the potential savings of hundreds of dollars and time spent at the doctor's by preventing injury from occurring in the first place.  

ChiRunning isn't a magic bullet.  I know that I have a ways to go before I even scratch the surface on becoming a more efficient runner, but as I plan on running ultras for a while, I look forward to the process.  Thanks so much again Vincent at Tri Tek and RunKino for giving me this great opportunity in starting my ChiRunning journey.  


  1. It doesn't take much running with the metronome before you can hear it without actually using it, which will make everyone you run with happier. Or so I found.

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    2. Hahaha, there was this guy at JFK50 who ran with a metronome. It didn't find it bothersome and actually ran with him for a good portion of the race because I thought it was useful, but everyone around him complained :(.

  2. Hey what a great article! Thanks so much for the great feedback and best of luck with your running. It was a great workshop at TriMania and I love teaching with Vince. My full name is David Wilburn and you may visit my webpage at www.type-ten.com to learn more about me or chirunning.com under instructors for NYC area and find me and many other great instructors. Thanks for the mention!-David Wilburn, Sr. ChiRunning Instructor, New York City.