Most people feel uncomfortable watching a video of themselves. Last Saturday afternoon, as I saw myself on screen, the feeling was made worse by the fact that I was watching myself doing something that looked uncomfortable too.
Filmed while running, paused mid-stride, my left foot was contorted in all sorts of ways yet still poised to strike the ground with full but misguided force.
A few frames earlier, the right foot had been at it too. If my feet had been the hands of a clock, the time would have been around seven minutes to one.
This is how I run.
And yet I’ve run four marathons like this, the fastest in a respectable 3 hours 27 minutes 58 seconds. But I remember another video of my running style – last summer when I went for gait analysis in a sports shop, and saw my legs almost buckling on impact.
Also, I remember a photo of me finishing the 20 Kilometres de Paris in 2006, where my lower left leg was cocked out the side like a rower’s oar. No wonder I’ve had pains and niggles in my right leg, to the extent that I had to see a physio in Dublin during the Christmas holidays.
Also during the holidays, I read a book on Chi Running that I had found in the library. The gist of Chi Running is to base your running on your core body strength and a forward centre of gravity. Rather than reaching out before you with your legs (which causes you to strike the ground with your heels), you keep your feet under your body when you land and put them behind you when you stride. It promises more efficient running, less strain on the legs, and less injury.
I was tempted to put some of the ideas into practice straight from the book, but self-medication is the worst poison. So, last Saturday I went to a Chi Running workshop to learn from a qualified instructor. And the instructor was Irish running legend Catherina McKiernan, another attraction of the course.
(I actually raced against Catherina McKiernan once – in a ten-miler in the Phoenix Park in Dublin in 2004. By ‘raced’ I mean that we were in the same race along with around 4,999 others. And I didn’t actually see her. All I’ll say is: she won, but she had to beat me to win it. I thought it wise not to bring this up in her workshop.)
Anyway, besides the video, it was an enjoyable and useful day. Instead of being all spiritual and conceptual about Chi, the workshop focused on the practical and mechanical. In fact, I don’t remember the word ‘Chi’ being used once in the whole day. (If the franchise owners are reading this, I may simply have a memory as faulty as my running action.) And how often do you get to ask a world-class athlete for tips on diet, training and running shoes?
Now, back in Paris and my training routine, I’ve been practising. While I cross the bridge to the metro station every morning I walk with my feet parallel and pointing forward. Out running, I focus on the core elements – leaning forward from the ankles, keeping good posture, feet under the body, legs relaxed. So far, so good… though it’ll take time and consistent application before I can reap any rewards.
But already I can feel a difference. Running past the front of an office building tonight, I caught the reflection of my stride, version Chi Running. And I looked good.
For more information on Catherina McKiernan’s Chi Running workshops, visit her website: www.catherinamckiernan.com