Making the most of the off season – a talk with Dr. Aleck Wong

‘Tis the season! This phrase is heard ringing throughout our lives day-in and day-out this time of year. And while everyone is bustling about with the busy-ness of juggling life and preparing for the holidays, runners and endurance athletes are also typically finding themselves in the midst of another kind of season – the off season. I think of it more as a “reboot season” – unplugging for a bit and starting back up again after sufficient rest. It’s a crucial time for a runner, truly. A rich opportunity to let go of the rigors of training and racing in order to reap the benefits of and learn from the prior cycle or to address issues that have lingered from it. It’s a time to recharge our batteries on all levels – physical, mental and emotional.

This season can be welcomed and embraced by any level of runner, but it also oftentimes leaves us feeling a little bit lost and anxious to get back to the rhythms of training and racing. I have been wondering lately – what is the BEST way to approach this in-between time, to prime our bodies and minds for goals we have ahead of us?

How do we make the most of our time off from training? As a coach and an athlete myself, I have a lot of ideas and opinions about this. But I wanted to ask someone whose expertise and opinions I have always valued, to get a little more insight into it and to pass that wisdom along to you.

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Chi Running Workshop

In early December I attended my first Chi Running workshop taught by the wonderfully refreshing and very knowledgeable Myriam Kane.  I’ve been wanting to write a post about this experience for a while now, but every time I sit down to do it I feel like I can’t possibly do it justice.  I learned so much and enjoyed it immensely.

I first heard about Chi Running a couple of years ago, when I saw it mentioned in Runner’s World.  I’ll be honest and tell you that I thought it sounded kind of “gimmicky” at the time.  I kept hearing about it though – I read articles and blog posts about it and I listened to people share about it in my RRCA certification course – so finally I decided to buy the book (written by Danny Dreyer) and check it out for myself.  Right from the first page I read, it made sense to me.

The principles of Chi Running go hand in hand with those of Pilates (and you all know how I feel about Pilates!) – postural alignment and a strong core combine together to promote efficient, relaxed and pain-free movement.  I loved reading the book, but I always learn better when I can see it in action and having a teacher to answer my questions and address my personal concerns makes it sink in ten million times more.  For me, where the book was good – the workshop was excellent.

In addition to being a Chi Running coach, Myriam has a great background as a Pilates instructor, a runner and a nature lover.  I seriously cannot say enough good things about this woman.  Her professionalism, her enthusiasm, her depth of knowledge, her compassion and her positive attitude all add up to making me think she is perhaps one of the coolest ladies I have ever had the privilege to meet.  I cannot think of a better person to teach this workshop.

Myriam packed an incredible amount of information into the four hour session.  We covered a tremendous array of topics all related to running efficiently, relaxed, pain-free and strong.  There was so much information that resonated with me or made me think – light bulbs were going off in my head with nearly everything Myriam said!  I was in my element and just wanted to be a sponge, soaking up every word, every insight and tip.  I couldn’t possibly apply every single lesson I learned after just one workshop, but I did come away from it with a few key takeaways and things that I am focusing on for myself.  I think even making just a few small changes and increasing my awareness is helping me to improve my running already.

Here are some of the things I learned that I am applying to my running now.  I think everyone who attended this workshop is probably focusing on different things at the moment, depending on their specific areas of weakness at the present time.  There were some things we talked about that I am already doing a lot of (myofascial release techniques and exercises to strengthen the core and increase flexibility, for example).  The below areas are what I am really focusing on, for now:

* Steps Per Minute: Research has shown that the most efficient runners take 180 steps per minute, no matter how fast they are moving.  I have tried counting my steps before and always come in closer to 165-170.  Myriam brought a metronome to our workshop and I was able to practice running at closer to 180 steps.  I enjoy listening to the beat in my head – for some reason it is relaxing for me.  It frees me to turn my brain off and I get into a nice rhythm. 

* Forward Lean: Leaning ever so slightly forward, with a strong and engaged core, proud and  relaxed shoulders, allows gravity to work for me.  If I keep my feet behind me at all times (shortening my stride out front, but lengthening it behind me like a wheel) and lean forward I will move much more efficiently.  My core and gravity will do the work for me – my legs will be along for the ride!

* Scanning My Body: Self awareness is extremely important while running (and always!).  During my run I make an effort to check in with myself periodically and notice if I am holding tension anywhere and see if I can release it.  I have a tendency to hold this in my shoulders when I run.  The simple act of bringing awareness to how I am carrying myself opens me up to letting go of it.  Then I am able to move so much more freely.

* Using My Arms:  Where my arms go, my legs will follow.  I want to focus on moving my arms forward (not pulling them back – always moving forward) from my shoulder to elbow as I move.  I relax my hands and my shoulders and keep my arms aligned properly (not crossing them over my body!) and I will be setting myself up for a much more efficient and free movement.

* Gradual Progression:  Changes are not going to happen overnight!  Becoming more self aware and strengthening your body is a gradual process.  It takes time and effort.  I love how Myriam talks about intentional movement – we have to be aware and accountable to how we carry our bodies, whether we are standing in line at the grocery store or running our fastest race.  Part of caring for our bodies is being aware of how we use them.  It takes conscious practice – daily – for all of us.

I really loved the Chi Running workshop and am so happy and grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in it.  I truly think anyone can benefit from a session like this – whether you are new to running or are a seasoned racer.  There seems to always be room for improvement and increased awareness.  I think Chi Running offers workshops throughout the country, so if you are interested I encourage you to check out their web site and see if you can find one near you!

Have you ever read the Chi Running book or attended a workshop?  Did you find it helpful?  Have any questions for me about my experience?  I will do my best to answer!