EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 24, 2013

Chi and the fine art of a more efficient way of running

Popularity of chi running growing rapidly as benefits become apparent

On Running
Dave Dyer

---- — Perhaps curiosity just got the better of Andover’s Ryan Miller.

As a former runner of distinction at Natick High and Fitchburg State, and then as an employee at New Balance in Lawrence, Miller has been around plenty of runners.

More and more, the 26-year-old Miller was struck by the varying experiences of runners, not so much in performance but in health and enjoyment.

“Working at New Balance particularly, I saw people who were still running great after a lot of years of running. I saw what it had done for them, but I also saw others who were in great pain or couldn’t run at all.”

Why was this?

This brought Miller back to a book he first picked up as a student and read in 2004 written by Dan Dreyer. He talks about proper running style, which includes better posture, using your core muscles, running more on the middle of your foot than landing heel first, relaxation and proper mental focus.

These are the basic elements that make up chi running, which combines T’ai Chi with a more efficient, enjoyable form of running.

Miller took many of the elements stressed in Dreyer’s book and applied them to his own running. He responded with better performances and more enjoyable workouts and races. He also avoided the soreness and injuries that had bothered him in the past.

Later, while working at New Balance, he noticed the disparity of running experiences and realized that the more positive experiences were often from runners who applied chi principles.

“Then I went to a meeting. I met Dan Dreyer and told him about how his book had helped me,” said Miller. “He was excited. He saw how I added some credibility.

“I took one of his classes and then I took an instructor certification class so I can teach it.”

Miller now is one of a handful of instructors of chi running in New England and one of about 200 in the country. Soon, there may be a need for more because the running technique is catching on.

There are 40,000 runners on a chi running mailing list and classes on it are sprouting throughout the country. Locally, it’s spreading quickly.

A recent class taught by Miller at Whirlaway Sports in Methuen attracted a packed room of more than 30, despite little publicity, and about 75 percent of the members of the SISU Project running club adhere to at least some of the principles.

One of those members, Haverhill’s Matt Germain, is a firm believer in the benefits. A former teammate of Miller’s at Fitchburg State, he’s been using chi principles since Miller got certified to teach chi back in 2007.

“I used to always have Achilles’ injuries, every year,” said Germain. “But I haven’t had one since I started with chi. In fact, in the last 10 years, I’ve only had two minor injuries.

“Learning to run from the center of my body, using my core muscles and relaxing more has done so much and made my stride more powerful. I used to rely too much on the lower part of my body.

“I always had trouble during long runs — I couldn’t do them — but it became a lot easier (with chi running). I don’t think I could have run a marathon without it.”

A 2011 survey illustrated the benefit level among subscribers to the chi philosophy.

For example:

— 92 percent feel chi running played a role in preventing injuries

— 74 percent felt their speed improved

— 69 percent felt they were a heel striker before practicing chi running and 84 percent felt they weren’t after practicing chi running

— 91 percent said they would recommend it to other runners

A visit to chirunning.com provides a multitude of testimonials. One, from a 72-year-old doctor from Maryland who had just completed a 100-mile race, particularly struck me.

“Unlike all of the others in the race (most 30-50 years my junior), I had (because of chi running) no muscle fatigue, no soreness, no blisters, no form breakdown, no hallucinations, no visits to the medical tent and no need for recovery immediately or days after the race,” wrote a Dr. B. Smith. “I not only floated like a butterfly but landed each stride like one as well.”

There really can be no doubt. Chi running is growing rapidly. Its followers are becoming more vocal and its numbers are growing. It may take awhile, but it appears to be well on its way toward revolutionizing the sport.

Chi running basics Run Tall. When you're standing straight, your joints are in alignment and your skeleton is supporting your weight. When you run, you want to keep this alignment. Lean forward. By adding a slight forward lean when you run, your body falls forward and you use gravity for propulsion instead of your legs. Land on the mid-foot. To keep your body in alignment -- which helps reduce injuries -- with a mid-foot strike instead of on your heel. Run from your core. Your pelvis must be kept level to prevent hip and other problems and make for easier running. Relax. Runners tend to tighten up their shoulders and other areas, making them stiff and less efficient. Stay loose and relaxed.