Hooked on Chi Worked for Me by Alyssa Dunlap

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Alyssa Dunlap is currently a Residence Life Coordinator at the University of South Florida.  She is originally from Wyoming and earned her B.A. in Psychology from Boise State University, and completed her M.Ed. at Kent State University.  Alyssa started practicing Chi Running in February 2013 and has run four 5ks and one virtual 15k since then, with the goal of running a half marathon in the future.  She has also been active in Krav Maga, and also enjoys playing sports and hiking outdoors.  

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If you would have asked me to go running a year ago, I would have laughed.  Up until February of last year, I dreaded the very thought of running, especially long distances – that is anything more than one mile (it’s okay, you can laugh).   You see, I have never considered myself to have the physique of a runner, and I never really learned the correct way to run.  Running was something that I knew I should do for the sake of a good cardio workout, but it always seemed pointless, exhausting, and painful.  I never understood my friends when they said they got a “runner’s high,” or got their “second wind” while running.

But now, I enjoy running more than ever and look forward to running with my colleagues every week.  In fact, whenever I hear someone say they are not a runner or don’t like running but know they should, I am the first person to speak up and share my story.

So what changed it all?  Well, it started when I tagged along to support some of my colleagues to one of their 5k races (I would like to emphasize the support part).  Before I knew it, my colleagues invited me to go running with them.  I hesitated but agreed, and then of course warned them that I may need several breaks.  One of my colleagues offered to coach me on a style of running she practices called Chi Running.  Much to my surprise and for the first time in my life, we ended up running a whole two miles that day, and we only took one break.  I wasn’t winded, exhausted, or in pain!  I actually felt like I could keep running.  I now call these “Forest Gump” moments.

So what exactly is Chi Running?  Chi Running was developed from a Chinese exercise called Tai Chi which focuses on slow, controlled movements of the body through meditation and mindfulness.  Before I explain, let me preface this with the fact that I am not an expert on the subject, nor am I a certified trainer.  In fact, here is a great article that covers some basics on Chi Running (Click on Chi Running) to get you started.  If you are more of a visual learner, here is a video (Click on the word video) that I watched to help me break down and practice each component.  And for those of you who are more experienced runners, possibly looking to try something new or trying to find a way to run and prevent injuries, this is another great video that compares Chi Running ( Again, click on Chi Running)with how we tend to learn how to run so you can see some of the science that goes behind it.

So now that you have a couple of resources at your finger tips to get started, here are a couple of tips that I have found helpful along the way that may also help you.

One of the most important things I have found for myself is to take your time implementing each component of Chi Running into your running technique.  Be patient with yourself and focus on form first rather than speed or distance.  It will take you and your body time to adjust.  If you take the time to focus on your form, even if it’s just one aspect each time, everything will eventually fall into place, you will be more likely to avoid injury, and it becomes more enjoyable.

Also, take breaks and listen to your body.  I struggled with this concept because I am the type of person who insists on pushing through, well anything, until I am done.  Take the time to catch your breath, enjoy what is around you and who you may be running with.  If you start to feel pain that is your body telling you it needs a break.  Listen to it.  Breaks are also a great way to re-evaluate your form and make any necessary adjustments.

And one of my last tips is to find a running buddy or buddies.  The person or people you run with can be the best motivation and accountability.  By running with other people, you can gain insight on how you’re running and new techniques, and it is always helpful to have a support system that can keep you moving towards your goals.

Ever since I said yes to running, I have not stopped and do not intend to.  I ran my first 5k race in April and have made it a goal to, one day, run a half marathon.  I often tell people that Chi Running changed my life because it completely changed my perspective on running.  In turn, it has become a great outlet, has helped me connect with both my colleagues and students, and has taught me a lot about myself as well.  Maybe it can work for you too.  The biggest lesson I learned the first day I tried Chi Running was that it doesn’t hurt to try because you may surprise yourself with what you are truly capable of.  That’s all for now, gotta run!

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