Training & Racing

Chi Running Hills & Trails

Chi Running Hills & Trails

Five years ago I checked out a Chi Running book from my local library, started to read it, scoffed at the concept, sat it aside until I received an overdue notice with a fine, then took it back. Chi anything is not my style, I’m an aikido kind of guy, you know…Steven Seagal…kicking ten big ugly guys butts in a bar using only his bare hands, bodies flying through the air, furniture crashing, that kind of stuff. Chi to me is old Asian men trying to hypnotize someone in a park with slow methodical, non-threatening fluid motions. That’s not my style. So for the next five years I continued on down the trail trying my hardest to over power every technical rocky descent, every obstacle and every mountainous climb I encountered. The trails could never beat me if I didn’t let them, I would just run more miles, lift more weights and continue to get stronger until it was easy for me.

The realization

Then a funny thing happened, actually it wasn’t funny at all, it was maddening! I began to notice other runners on the trail who passed me and finished ahead of me in races didn’t have my chiseled physique, they weren’t stronger than I was, they didn’t look like their running effort felt as difficult to them as mine did to me. I began to notice friends who could run at a two minute per mile faster pace during tempo runs made it look easy. Did they learn some secret in high school track while I was pounding a basketball around on the court trying to be the next Pistol Pete Maravich?

Mogollon Monster 100 heel striker

Heel Striker! (Photo by Deron Ruse)

Then I started to notice pictures from the races I ran in, no matter how much I tried to smile, no matter how much I tried to “look” fast, no matter what I did every picture came out the same…front leg straight out in front ready for a major heel strike, shoulders hunched, head down looking at my shoes. My form didn’t look like the form of the runners who finished ahead of me. I began to slowly realize it wasn’t the number of miles I ran each week or the amount of weight I could lift in the gym that was holding me back from becoming a better runner, it was my form and posture.

In my quest to have better running form and the correct posture I attended a free clinic on good form. I also checked out a book and watched videos to learn how to run naturally. They made sense to me but it was TMI (too much information), too fast. I would remember one or two things, not fully understand them and within a week I was back to the same form I was born with. Then one morning recently while running with a relatively new trail runner he mentioned “Chi Running”. I only half listened with feigned interest to his excitement about watching a video the night prior and how much he liked it. But after listening to him a few more times on the trails it dawned on me what he was describing was very similar to what I had learned and remembered from the natural good form clinics and books. Out of curiosity I secretly started digging deeper into the Chi Running technique online.

Getting past the Chi

What I discovered once I got past the “Chi”, the running form and posture were very much the same and looking at the pictures I realized that’s what my fast friends and the people who beat me in races looked like when they ran. But to me Chi Running still meant road 5k’s, 10k’s and 1/2 marathons. I’m a trail ultra runner, what good is it to me? And then I had that enlightening moment, that one small piece of information that opened my mind and allowed me to accept Chi Running…Danny Dreyer, Founder & President of ChiLiving, Inc., parent company of Chi Running, is a trail runner. Seriously? How did I not already know that? The dude knows trails and not just the groomed path around his local city park. Danny Dreyer has been running trails for over 40 years, two race results I found tell me he was pretty darn good at it too:

  1. 2nd Place Overall. 1996 Sunmart Texas Trail Endurance Run (50 miles) with a time of 6:32:43
  2. 8th Place Overall. 1997 Leadville Trail 100 Run with a time of 22:23:43

Now Danny officially has my attention! Not only did I find the person behind Chi Running was a trail runner I also found something I didn’t expect…Chi Running Hills & Trails Jump Start Package.

Chi Running Hills & Trail Jump Start Package

After reading quickly through the book, watching my friends DVD (based on the book but without near the detail) and watching the Hills & Trails DVD I’m excited again to immerse myself in Chi Running. Because this is not a crash course that fixes all running issues in a 1-2 hour session. Here are my initial comments;

  1. Take it slow! As simple as each individual part of posture and form appears to be it takes time to meld all of them together into one good running form. Read Chapter 5 and make a chart. Follow each Stage and Lesson as instructed by the book, don’t think you can skip Stages or Lessons, or do drills for 8 different Lessons on one night and it will work (I already tried that 3 times with Chi and other running techniques, it didn’t work).
  2. Chi Running is like bathing. It’s nice to do it once but to really get the best benefits from it you need to do it daily. 15-20 minutes each day spent on Chi Running is much better than a 4 hour session on Sunday night then not doing it again until the next weekend.
  3. The metronome is music for your form. Chi Running recommends an optimal cadence of 85-90 strides per minute (90 per foot) regardless of your speed. It took me a little time the first day but I started to feel like I was getting it. By the second day I had my cadence in sync with the metronome without issues regardless of how fast I was running. What I noticed (and the book and DVD told me I would) is several of my form and posture flaws fixed themselves simply by increasing my cadence. Everything wasn’t perfect and I don’t know how close I got to perfect, 50%, 65%, 80%? I don’t know but what I do know is it gave me hope that this will be time well spent.
  4. Videos are a big help. Yes, I know how to read. And yes, I like to read. But honestly I don’t learn that well from reading. I’m a “hands on” and “visual” learner. I find I understand the concepts best if I read through a particular part of the book, then watch the video to get the visual confirmation I have the right image in my mind, then read the book again to pick up any details I missed. Sounds time consuming but it’s really not. It’s simply an investment in my future running pleasure.
  5. Over come your trail fear. If you haven’t run trails but want to or your very new to trails watching the Hills & Trail DVD will give you confidence to venture out of your comfort zone and hit the trails. Watching Danny run on the trails in such a fluid graceful motion is mesmerizing and will make you realize you can do it too.
  6. If you’re going to run trails you better like running hills. And that’s a good thing. My greatest joy isn’t cruising along a flat trail, it’s reaching the summit of a tough climb and taking a minute to enjoy the view. If you’re a trail running novice or if you’re like me and feel like you work too hard for the results you get Chi Running Hills & Trail will give you the proper technique to make those hilly trail climbs more fun.

So what’s the next step?

For me the next step is to do just what I told you to do. I’m going to create a chart for each Stage and Lesson outlined in Chapter 5 of the Chi Running book. I’m going to follow the program completely and will report back periodically on my progress, lack of progress, achievements and frustrations. Keep and eye on the Trail Running Club website and our Facebook group for announcements on those updates.

For you the next step is to decide if you want to improve your form and start running faster and longer with less effort. You might be perfect now and not need it, but if you’re like the majority of runners out there I really believe Chi Running and Chi Running Hills & Trails will better help you enjoy your running efforts for years to come.

To get more information on Chi Running, other Chi Running Training Programs and to purchase Chi Running products visit the Chi Running website at

Chi Running

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This post was written by:

- who has written 22 posts on Trail Running Club.

John is a former VP of Operations for Go Daddy Group, Inc. The largest domain name seller and hosting provider in the world. John currently consults with clients on their internet marketing strategies and manages client website projects from conception to completion.

Born and raised in a small eastern Iowa town John received his BBA from the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa before escaping the cold winters for Arizona over 17 years ago.

John has completed several trail races and runs including:
• Black Canyon Trail 100K Endurance Run
• Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Mile Endurance Run
• Adrenaline 65K Night Run
• Rim to Rim to Rim - Grand Canyon 48 mile
• Javelina Jundred 100K
• Zane Grey 50 Mile Endurance Run
• Javelina Jundred 100 mile
• Man Against Horse 50 mile
• Flagstaff Trail Marathon
• Mesquite Canyon 50K
• Old Pueblo 50 Mile Endurance Run
• Just Another Mad Dog 50K

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