I went into this year’s North Face 50 miler in Park City, Utah wanting to improve on my performance from last year where I finished 3rd in 7:45:46. I felt fitter, stronger and faster this year. The day turned out to be very interesting to say the least. Continue reading “North Face 50 miler race report”
As a professional ultra marathon runner and coach, I often get asked what I eat. It’s a great question because nutrition is one of the most important choices runners and non-runners have for health, energy and performance.
Fueling during ultramarathons is very important and can make or break a race. I have raced in over 35 ultras and my fueling is dialed in very well. Continue reading “What I eat daily and during 50 & 100 mile races”
Running the Bridger Ridge barefoot has been a goal of mine for a few years. This 20 mile run traverses the Bridger Mountains in Bozeman, Montana and is considered “possibly the most rugged and most technical 20 mile trail race in existence”. To do the run unsupported and barefoot would be a challenge to say the least.
Why I would want to do this is a question I’ve been asked many times. There is no easy answer but a few things come to mind. 1. No one has done it before 2. It would be harder than anything I’ve done before including several 100 mile runs 3. People have said it is impossible 4. I had to find out if I could do it.
I pushed back the start date for my attempt of The Ridge because of my decision to run two races this Fall. The first was the Wasatch 100 in early September and the Yellowstone-Teton 50 which I completed and won a week before my barefoot Ridge Run attempt. This later start meant colder conditions and more snow and mud than ideal.
With the help of friends, I reached the trailhead around 11 am. I decided on a mid-morning start to allow the air, soil and rocks to “warm up”. Temperatures at the start were in the 40’s and it was windy and mostly cloudy. I hesitantly took off my shoes and began my ascent up Sacajawea Peak at a decent clip. This almost 2,000 ft. climb had a mixture of thin snow and cold rocks. I kept going back and forth whether it was easier and more comfortable to run barefoot in the snow or on the rocks. I’m still conflicted on that one. The ascent up Sacajawea proved to be tricky. Over half way up was a dangerously steep slope with considerable snow and ice. I had to kick ‘boot’ steps into the snow for traction…barefoot. I was constantly slipping down slope but determined to keep moving up. I passed about 10 people on the ascent and a few of them had comments such as “maybe barefoot is easier” or “that looks easier” and “wow, he’s flying”. Maybe I made it look easy and I was flying but it…kinda sucked. I reached the summit probably 15 minutes slower than when I’ve ‘raced’ The Ridge. Shit, I was cold. The amazing views on top of Sacajawea kept me determined to keep moving. My feet were a strange combination of incredibly cold, sore, sensitive and numb. Pretty typical for a barefoot run but I still had 17 miles to go on very rocky terrain. Going down Sacajawea was a challenge because of its sharp, loose rocks. This wasn’t much of a problem for me because I was prepared for this (unlike the snow and cold mud). I’ve been running barefoot for the past 8 years or so. I’ve had several runs over 30 miles barefoot, mostly in the desert Southwest. I’ve also run 10+ miles barefoot in the Bridgers before but never this far or on top of The Ridge for so long.
I knew the run down to Ross Pass would be one of the ‘easier’ parts of the day. I wanted to make up time here so I cruised this section as fast as I could barefoot. This equates to probably 5 mph versus in shoes I’d be running it at about 9 mph. My feet were holding up very well and I was pretty confident about the day. The only thing I was nervous about was the snow and mud as I made my way towards Saddle and Bridger Peaks. I continued my barefoot run on The Ridge moving very slowly. Some parts I was averaging about 2 mph. To call this a run may sound comical but I was truly running much of the traverse albeit very slow. Also, much of the run was climbing and tip-toeing over sharp rocks at less than 1 mph. It was a very painful, slow going forward progress. I was grateful to have my experience as an ultramarathon runner knowing all I had to do was put one step in front of the other and eventually I would finish my goal.I continued to make my way south towards the M. Running The Ridge barefoot was proving to be possible, painful and enjoyable. The benefits of running barefoot are hard to describe but it forces you to slow down and really appreciate the beauty this world has to offer. You have to be in the present moment and your mind cannot wander. It turns running into a moving meditation which is a truly sublime and wonderful experience. The challenge for today was complete concentrating, determination and focus for 8 hours. I continued my traverse of The Ridge staying around 8500 ft with many ups and downs both literally and figuratively. I continued to ask myself why I was doing this. But my experience as a runner and yogi motivated me to keep moving. At the time, I didn’t know why I was doing this but eventually I would find that answer. Running barefoot not only increases my connection and love for Nature but also teaches me about my greater Self and about life and its wonderful mysteries.
I continued to experience longer and longer stretches of mud and snow. I was beginning to doubt if running The Ridge barefoot today was possible and if it was smart. My feet and toes were beginning to get frost bite and I just didn’t know if this goal was worth long term injury. About 11 miles into my barefoot attempt, I decided to put on shoes. It actually wasn’t a difficult choice, I had to or risk long term damage to my feet. Just the thought of that now makes me shudder. How important our feet are. Sure, for 11 miles my feet were incredibly cold, sensitive and the rocks were unimaginably painful. But frost bite is not something I like to mess around with. I put on my shoes and continued on my way with not a single regret.
The rest of run was just as spectacular as the rest, just a little faster. Going from barefoot to wearing shoes made me feel like I was wearing balloons on my feet they were so soft and cushiony. I spent the last 9 miles enjoying the beautiful Fall day and grateful I get to do what I love to do. How glorious it is to be moving in the mountains, in the wilderness.
I reached the finish over 7 hours after I began. Compare this to when I raced The Ridge in 2011 at 3:40 and to my 50 miler the week before which took me 7:11. Running barefoot in the mountains is very slow. It is also incredibly rewarding.
Something I realized today is that running The Ridge barefoot is possible and will happen. I will attempt it again with better conditions, probably the Summer of 2013. I expect it to take me 10-12 hours to complete, at least. For now, I found the answer to some of my questions even if they aren’t the answers I wanted: no one has completely run The Ridge barefoot including me, it was harder than my previous 100 mile races and it is possible, just not by me today. I now know it is possible, anything is possible. Everest and the Grand Teton were attempted dozens of times before successfully summiting them. Is running The Ridge barefoot comparable? No, but it’s the concept. Just like anything else in life. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
You can see the rest of my pictures here
Wholistic Running has greatly enhanced my running and has helped countless other runners around the world. Being free of injuries, running with more joy, using less effort and performing better are just some of the many benefits of what I teach here at Wholistic Running.
Let me share my story how Wholistic Running has helped me overcome chronic running injuries and stay injury-free for the past 9 years even as an accomplished ultra marathon runner (see my race results). I absolutely love running and I have Wholistic Running to thank for this!
In the past I have suffered from many chronic running injuries including runners knee, shin splints and IT band issues. The worst of it began 10 years ago when I developed severe patellar tendonitis in both of my knees from running. I was in pain 24 hours a day and many days I could barely walk, laying in bed much of the time. This lasted for over two years! I saw some of the best physical therapists, doctors and alternative therapists in New England. Nothing helped.
I was even told by several doctors and physical therapists that I would never be able to run again.
Since finding Wholistic Running, I’ve run over twenty mountainous 50 mile races, a few 100 milers and all of this staying injury-free for the past 8 years. How? Wholistic Running!
I found out about efficient running technique and quickly set out to try this technique which sounded too good to be true. Skeptical, I went for my fourth run in 2.5 years because of being injured. Those few previous runs were only 15 minutes and left me in excruciating pain and hobbling for days. But this run was different. I was focusing on my technique so intensely that when I got home, I realized I ran for over 45 minutes. And I wasn’t in excruciating pain. In fact, I had very little pain.
I started ‘Wholistic Running’ 3-4 days a week focusing on my running technique and I slowly healed. Yoga helped speed up the healing process and Wholistic Running allowed me to run with less impact. Now 8 years later, I teach the technique which helped me rediscover my passion for running and has allowed me to stay injury free since my days of chronic injuries and being told that running causes injuries and to “never run again”.
I’m also passionate about Wholistic Running because of how it greatly benefits performance. I’m an accomplished ultrarunner because of the Wholistic Running technique and mental focuses. Some runners tell me that the only way to run faster is to train harder. They also say you have to train faster, go to the track and do complex workouts and that is the only way to get better. What if this wasn’t true? For me, it’s all about running smarter not harder. I run 3-4 days a week (about 40 miles) with no ‘speed work’ but can still run far and fast because I have a very efficient technique. To run faster, I relax more. Every other sport focuses on technique, why would running be any different?
Some say I’m just naturally gifted. Well, if being a runner with chronic injuries is naturally gifted, then there are many naturally gifted runners. Also, in my opinion, most humans are in fact naturally gifted runners, for we are born to run. We ‘forget’ how to run correctly. Fortunately we can relearn how to run the way we were designed with Wholistic Running. I’m also told “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Well, all I can say to that is over 70% of all runners are injured every year.
I’ve been injury free for over 9 years, overcoming many chronic injuries with the help of Wholistic Running.
Finally, I owe much of my joy, love and passion for running to Wholistic Running. Because of Wholistic Running, I get a ‘runners high’ just about every run I go on. Running is a moving meditation that benefits my whole life and I am a deeply happy and successful person because of this. I hope you get to experience the benefits of Wholistic Running as well. Please practice with no expectations, a curious mind and an open heart. It takes lots of practice, patience and determination but the benefits are well worth it!
What can yoga do for you? Give you more energy. Reduce injuries and recovery time. Increase patience, courage, and clarity. Increase endurance, lung capacity, performance, speed and mental determination. Reduce dis-ease including aches and pains, digestive issues, arthritis, tendonitis, sleep issues, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, skin issues and more. Yoga will help bring you more into the present moment and give you abundant peace of mind bringing more happiness and joy. Now who doesn’t want that?
For runners, yoga can be an incredible asset and complement to your training. I have experienced many benefits in my running because of yoga. I often say,
“yoga keeps me in better running shape than running does.”
And it isn’t a joke. As an elite ultramarathon runner, I don’t run as much as you may think. Yoga and Wholistic Running allow me to run far and fast. Some benefits I have experienced from yoga include reduced injuries, faster recovery time, increased performance, more speed and endurance, and less effort and more joy while running. This all sounds too good to be true? Let me share how yoga may benefit you.
How does yoga reduce injuries? Yoga is all about balance. Contrary to what many people may believe, yoga isn’t just about stretching. Yoga brings the body, mind and spirit into balance bringing overall health and well being. Hatha yoga (physical yoga) increases flexibility and range of motion, strength, and balance. In order to prevent injuries, the body must have a balance of flexibility and strength. Too much or little of one and you are more susceptible to injury. Yoga challenges the entire body bringing strength to every muscle and encourages your body to move correctly and efficiently. By practicing balancing postures, we teach the body to move with strength and fluidity. Increasing flexibility promotes a more graceful and light running pattern which reduces impact and effort.
How does yoga increase performance? Yoga increases lung capacity, efficiency, mental strength and reduces recovery time allowing you to train harder and more often. Breathing exercises in yoga expand your lungs allowing you to run faster and harder while more efficiently bringing oxygen to your muscles. Breathing with your entire lungs, especially the lower lungs where more oxygen exchange occurs, is a more efficient way to breathe requiring less effort and producing more energy. You will run more efficiently because of increased range of motion and flexibility.
By ‘opening’ up the body, you will run more like when you did as a kid.
With ‘open’ hips, your stride will be more graceful and fluid. Yoga promotes spinal twisting which will allow your body to move effortlessly and efficiently. Yoga reduces recovery time by detoxifying metabolic wastes produced by the body when running and increasing the healing potential of your body. This is done by ‘squeezing’ and releasing body parts which flushes the body of wastes and opens the body bringing healthy, healing oxygenated blood to your whole body. Yoga greatly increases mental strength and determination allowing you to train and race harder and faster. You will develop patience and acceptance while practicing yoga which will help you accept the increased effort and sensations of running harder.
Yoga helps reduce dis-ease. Everyone experiences dis-ease of some sort whether physical, mental, emotional or spiritual. Yoga benefits your entire physical body including your organs promoting overall health and well being. Yoga treats your entire body, it is a wholistic practice. Many times, we suffer physically and the cause is mental or emotional. Yoga brings your whole life into balance encouraging health on all levels. With yoga, you learn and experience Self awareness and therefore you can treat the real cause of your symptoms whatever they may be.
Experience an increase of joy and happiness by practicing yoga.
This will help you be a happier, healthier runner as well. Yoga teaches you to be in the present moment. By being in the present moment, you will be released of unnecessary suffering and on your path to happiness and health. Acceptance, love, gratitude and patience are experienced while practicing yoga. How does yoga do this? I’m not exactly sure to be honest. But from my experience as well as many other practitioners, it just ‘happens’.
Wholistic Running has many similar benefits to yoga. They are both a great complement to each other and will enhance your running as well as your entire life. Just like yoga, Wholistic Running is a practice. I highly recommend finding a yoga practice that best suits you. In my opinion, it usually isn’t the easiest practice. Find a studio, teachers, and community you connect with. I personally connect most with Bikram Yoga and it is the most physically healing practice I have tried.
Most importantly, practice. Reading about it and wondering if it may help won’t get you anywhere. Experience the benefits of yoga for your Self by practicing.
I love running for the beauty, simplicity, community, love, pain, courage, struggle, and patience it brings into my life. I hope to inspire you to love what you do and do what you love.
“The music of a marathon is a powerful strain, one of those tunes of glory. It asks us to forsake pleasures, to discipline the body, to find courage, to renew faith and to become one’s own person, utterly and completely.” -George Sheehan
I love watching other runners. The simplicity, grace, beauty, efficiency and joy. I love seeing them smile, struggle, laugh, and cry all in one race. I love running with other runners. The community and compassion that builds between runners. The friendships that form and the encouragement and struggles we share. I love running alone. The peace, tranquility, and quietness becomes a journey into my self. The smile across my face when I find my self a part of nature. The vastness of being in the mountains and the realization of how lucky I am.
I love running because it teaches me about my self and life. The simplicity of running is a beautiful thing. The more I can learn to live simply, the happier and more joyful I am. Running has taught me the value of patience and determination. An ultra running quote is “If you feel good, just wait”. The beauty of the quote is the truth it reveals. If you feel miserable all you have to do is wait. And the same is true in life. Things change whether they are ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Running has taught me to accept either and enjoy the beauty of both, the ‘good’ as well as the ‘bad’.
One of the greatest lessons I have learned from running is that pain is part of life. It is suffering that is an option. Suffering is truly a choice. It is how we react to pain which determines if we suffer. Because of running, I have learned that anything in life is possible. Sure, it may take a lot of work. It may take a lot of time, effort, sweat, tears, stress, and many ups and downs. But with patience, courage, determination, anything truly is possible. We have no boundaries!
Running has become a moving meditation for myself. I dwell within my self and ponder what else life has to bring. Because I treat running as a practice the benefits are more intense, the positive feelings are more rewarding, and I experience more joy, clarity and peace. Better doesn’t mean faster. Most of the time for me, it means slowing down. ‘Better’ at running to me means being able to go deeper within my body, mind and spirit. I accomplish that by enjoying nature, focusing on my technique and by loving the activity and people I share it with.
I love running for how it makes me feel, the lessons I learn, and the people whom I share it with. I hope you find this as well in whatever it is you love to do!
“There will never be a day when we won’t need dedication, discipline, energy, and the feeling that we can change things for the better.” -George Sheehan
There is a lot of interest in more efficient and low impact running form these days. The reason being that many runners are finding fantastic results (less injuries, less effort, more joy, more speed) when they adjust their running technique for maximum efficiency. There are several popular running methods (Pose, Evolution) out there and I have tried several. For myself, I have found ChiRunning to be the most effective and the one I connect with the most. ChiRunning is all about alignment and relaxation and allowing the body to flow in its own rhythm. Proper alignment and relaxation both lead to efficiency and injury prevention. Efficiency and injury prevention lead to less injuries, less impact, increased speed and distance as well as increased joy and fulfillment.
Example of common poor running technique. Notice the heel strike, foot landing in front of hips, and a lack of lean resulting in more impact and wasted energy.
I found my passion for running in college but a severe knee injury in 2002 kept me from running for over two years. I tried everything! A few doctors and physical therapists even told me I would never be able to run again! I knew it wasn’t running that caused the injury but how I ran that did. After over two years, Bikram Yoga and specific nutrition finally helped heal my knees but running was still painful. After researching and trying several running methods, ChiRunning changed my life. Finding ChiRunning was truly a gift. Not only did ChiRunning change the way I ran, it has allowed me to run injury free and enter the world of ultramarathon running. Even running up to 100 miles a week, ChiRunning has allowed me to be injury free for over 6 years while running faster and with less effort.
Another common poor running technique. Notice the lack of core strength resulting in excess fatigue and tension.
There were a few reasons that ChiRunning really connected with me. I believe that it isn’t running that causes injury but how we run that does (again, read that sentence a few times). Children can run for what seems like forever and not get tired. Native peoples including some in Africa and the Tarahumara in Mexico seem to be able to run forever without many injuries at all. But why as Americans do runners get injured so often. We have found it acceptable to get injured as a runner. It just happens. Runners expect it. For me, it is unacceptable! An injury is our body telling us that something isn’t correct. When we watch many (not all!) elite athletes, native peoples, and especially children run, they run with very similar form. And that is what ChiRunning is all about. Teaching us to run the way we were born to run. The way we did as kids.
Proper ChiRunning technique leading to a very efficient way to run and less impact.
Why don’t we run like children anymore? There are many reasons but I will address what I believe are the major factors. Our lifestyles promote poor posture. We sit most of the day. We drive a lot. We carry old injuries which produce ‘bad’ habits and improper ways of moving. What happens then is the body adapts and changes in ways that aren’t normal. The body is designed to move a certain way. Our lifestyle has taught us to hunch over and have poor posture which causes muscles to become ‘tight’ and ‘weak’. Strong, reselient muscles that are meant to support us become weak. Our core muscles become weak and aren’t used when we run. Smaller, weaker muscles need to compensate and perform work that they were not meant to do. Then, when we run, we run less efficiently and with poor biomechanics which causes injuries and can make running less efficient and just plain not fun. Notice that runners with poor form look like they aren’t having fun. Or are they not having fun because they have poor form?
Children running naturally with great ChiRunning technique.
Another major reason we run with poor form is that we learn quickly from the people we surround ourselves with and watch, whether it is concious or subconciously. And most people in America have poor posture and run with poor technique. A great story I like to tell is about when I was flying from Pennsylvania to Denver one day. Next to me was a blind lady, about 50 years old. The whole flight she sat with ‘perfect’ posture. Very upright, not even using the backseat for support. To some people, maybe she looked stiff. But I could tell she was very relaxed during the whole 4+ hour flight. I finally asked her if she knew that she sat with good posture. She said “I do?”. I replied, “you didn’t know, you don’t try to”. She responded “Everyone doesn’t sit like me? Hm, I never knew, I just sit the way I was meant to sit”. Not being able to see the way most people sit, she sat naturally. She never ‘learned’ to sit poorly. When I watched her walk, perfect ChiWalking technique.
Another reason we don’t run like children anymore is because we are taught not to. Many runners I know are taught to ‘power run’. Power running encourages pushing off with the legs to propel ourselves and over stride to increase stride length. ChiRunning believes (and science confirms) this is a very inefficient way to run. And it shows! With all the injuries runners suffer from as well as all the people who believe that running is bad for us. ChiRunning teaches us to run the way we were designed to run. Instead of using the legs to propel us, we lean from the ankles and allow gravity to propel us. Much more efficient. We also don’t over stride which acts like a brake on the body. Power running is like driving with one foot on the gas pedal and one on the brake. Who would do that? Most likely, you! Instead, with ChiRunning we use gravity to our advantage and we cooperate with it to propel us. Our legs naturally open up to the back cooperating with the force of the road/trail which dramatically reduces impact and injuries. Less muscular energy used, less impact. Not only does science back this up, it makes sense. And the results are out. Thousands of runners are finding that ChiRunning dramatically improves their running experience.
As a certified Chi Running instructor I would like to address as well as correct quite a few misconceptions about ChiRunning. And I only speak for ChiRunning. I have tried other methods out there and found Chi Running to be the one that works for me. Also, as a scientist, it just makes sense. ChiRunning is not ‘very similiar’ to the Pose and Evolution methods of running (which isn’t to say they aren’t good!). That would be like saying apples and oranges are very similar. Sure they are tasty fruit, not very similar in my opinion. I would not like to get into too many details about how ChiRunning is different. The technique is different and ChiRunning gets into the ‘spiritual’ element of running if desired by the runner. It also brings in the concept of body awareness and being in the present moment which can result in a running meditation. This is not taught, it happens. A runners high, the zone. Focusing on technique when running is like yoga. It gets you into these happy states easier and quicker.
Should runners worry about their form? Of course not! Would becoming more efficient allow you to have a more positive experience and to possibly run faster and with less effort? For some people sure. It is silly to think that working on technique does not have a beneficial affect on speed and efficiency. A simple refinement of changing a runners arms to swing back and forth versus side to side can significantly decrease energy expenditure. Many runners do not realize they are running inefficiently. That is one reason I video tape. And most importantely, many runners do not know how to change their running form to become more efficient. ChiRunning has found the most effective way to do it with easy to learn lessons.
Some folks believe ChiRunning would only benefit ultrarunners or runners who appreciate ‘eastern’ wisdom. It is true that ChiRunning is not for competitive sprinters who run 800 meter events or less. They want to maximize power by pushing off with the legs and that is fine. But how many runners actually run sprint events? ChiRunning will benefit beginner runners, recreational runners, injured runners, and competitive athletes. Also, runners looking to do 5K races as well as runners doing long events such marathons and ultras greatly benefit from ChiRunning.
A major misconception I would like to address is that ChiRunning is all about ‘minimalist’ footwear and getting rid of heel striking. We teach runners to run in whatever shoe they are comfortable in and appropriate for the terrain they are doing. Does running barefoot once in a while improve running technique (therefore speed and efficiency)? Yes. Does it help teach you to run lighter and reduce injuries. Yep. ChiRunning teaches you to run as if you were barefoot while wearing the shoes you want to wear. Lighter, more efficient, less impact. A holistic running approach.
In ChiRunning we teach the idea of ‘Gradual Progress’. Results do not and should not happen over night. ChiRunning is a practice and is not goal oriented. It is process oriented which results in a much deeper sense of joy from running then if it was stricly an exercise or work out. Also, every aspect of ChiRunning is not for every runner or person out there. And that is great, we are all unique. Science backs up that ChiRunning is more efficient. In ChiRunning, we cooperate with forces and use gravity instead of working against it. Sounds simple to me even though I know it isn’t. But ultimately, it needs to work for the runner. We introduce many concepts and hopefully the runner will connect with some of them. For many runners, they connect and love the whole concept.
There are literally thousands of runners who have benefited from ChiRunning. If readers are interested in how Damian and Chi Running has helped many runners check out some testimonials. https://wholisticrunning.com/damian-stoy/wholistic-running-testimonials/
I would like to emphasize that readers try these different running methods (Truly give them a shot, ideally from a certified instructor) and make your own opinions. There are studies out there showing how low impact methods do help with efficiency and speed. But who cares, try it and determine for yourself!