Written by Katherine and Danny Dreyer
Most runners that I talk to would like to run faster. I don’t blame them. It’s fun to run fast. To some it’s a burning desire…to others it simply falls somewhere on their general wish list. But in order to get faster, we have traditionally been told by running experts that we need to train hard to build stronger muscles, improve our cardiovascular fitness and increase our aerobic capacity. Believe me, if I got up in the morning to go for a run and had these thoughts rolling around in my head, I’d go back to bed. Why would I want to put myself through quad-busting hill repeats and endless long miles to get faster. That doesn’t sound like fun to me.
How can I learn to run faster and enjoy it at the same time? …by learning how to run more efficiently, and by doing everything in my power to let the pull of gravity do most of the work so that my legs don’t have to. I want to run faster because my technique allows me to, not because I have stronger legs than the guy running next to me.
Many people who begin practicing the ChiRunning method experience a natural increase in their speed right away and are shocked because running faster feels easier now than it did before.
Running faster comes up often as a question in our workshops and forums. “I want to achieve a personal best time at my next marathon.” or “I want to qualify for Boston; how can I get faster?” Even runners without high aspirations want to see some continual improvement; we want to move past the inevitable plateaus in our development and see incremental gains. Speed is a measure of improvement that almost everyone can relate to, but we all know that as we try to get faster we run the risk of overworking our legs and getting injured instead.
In ChiRunning classes we de-emphasize speed as a goal. We believe that true mastery lies in the ability to set up the conditions for speed. That means leaning and relaxing more which means letting gravity do more of the work by holding your alignment even better while increasing the level of relaxation in your hips, legs, shoulders and arms. If you want to run faster, you need to get good at cooperating with the pull of gravity. In the ChiRunning method, success is measured in your ability to offer less and less resistance to the force pulling you forward.
Form first…then Distance…then Speed
The first and most important element of a well-thought-out running program is form. Form is the foundation of your ChiRunning program and is not only a means to attain speed, it is also an end unto itself. To run effortlessly with good form, whether fast, slow or in between is a goal we all share. As you apply your form focuses (posture, lean, mid-foot strike, cadence and stride length, etc.) over gradually increasing periods of time, you will develop greater core engagement while becoming looser and more relaxed. These components will allow you to run greater distances. As you become able to hold your form together for longer periods of time over greater distances, you will develop increased speed at a lower exertion rate as a by product of combining biomechanically efficient form with a gradually increasing distance base.
Speed is a product not only of good form over distance; it’s the product of alignment and relaxation. Having a stronger core will allow you to maintain good alignment while maintaining an increased forward lean. The more you lean, the more you need to level your pelvis and relax your hips and legs. Whatever amount of forward lean you run with must be balanced by the amount of relaxation in your hips and legs. This is what the principle of Cotton and Steel is all about: maintaining a forward leaning posture line (to engage the pull of gravity), a mid-foot strike (for a solid support base) and relaxed arms and legs (for fluidity of movement). If you do all the focuses it takes to run faster, you cannot help but run faster.
The way to determine when to increase your distance is by observing how long you can hold your form together. As you become able to hold your core engagement and, therefore, your form for longer and longer periods during the run, then it’s time to add a few minutes the next time you run. Anytime you add something to your running program, whether it is distance or time, new terrain such as hills or the number of runs per week is an upgrade. Upgrades are an important way of building your running program because each addition causes the body to adapt to the new load, which increases your level of conditioning. Be careful though. The same stresses that in moderation cause the body to adapt and grow stronger can cause injury if overdone. This can put you into an over-reached or over-trained state, where your body cannot keep up with the adaptations, and you stop improving, get overtired or even injured.
Using the principle of gradual progress you can build your program carefully by adding no more than two upgrades per week. Here are some additional guidelines for upgrading your program:
- Don’t add more than 15-30 seconds to an interval.
- Don’t add more than 15 minutes (or 10% additional mileage, whichever is less) to your long run each week.
- If you increase the number of intervals per session, run the first ones slightly slower.
- If you increase the speed of your intervals, decrease the number of intervals in your session, then gradually build back up to the original number while you maintain your new speed.
- If you happen to have a great day and end up running farther or faster than usual, don’t do anymore upgrades that week. Save them for next week.
Intervals, as defined in the ChiRunning method, are: a series of accelerations based on increased lean and increased relaxation (most importantly pelvic rotation) resulting in a longer stride, while maintaining a steady cadence.
The second title to the ChiRunning book says: “A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-free Running” which is a pretty big statement. But turning your running into a “practice” with the goal of becoming effortless means that every time you go out for a run, you’re working on what you can do to create better results by doing less. That’s the real work!
Next month we’ll discuss how to use intervals within a ChiRunning development program to get more speed out of your form and distance base.