My top tips for better running

Who doesn’t want to be a better runner? For me, becoming a better runner doesn’t just mean being faster and winning races. It’s about being healthy, injury-free and doing the right things to help you achieve and exceed your running goals. Here are some of my tips to help you be a better runner:

Continue reading “My top tips for better running”

Why I’m so passionate about Wholistic Running

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!

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An easier and lower impact running and walking technique

Damian Stoy is a professional runner, coach & founder of Wholistic Running. He offers personalized Online Coaching and Injury Prevention Plans. Find out more HERE.

When you run, do you feel like water flowing down a mountainside?  Is it effortless, easy and peaceful?  Are you rarely or never injured?  I ask because running can be all the above and pain-free.

Think of the last time you rode a non-motorized scooter. To propel yourself forward, you would place your foot flatly underneath you and kick back.  Of course you wouldn’t reach your foot out in front of you with a straight leg, heel strike and then kick back to propel yourself.  It doesn’t work because an extended leg acts more like a brake. But this is exactly what I see most runners do. And when I say most, this MOST likely means you.

This is what I see most runners doing with their feet and legs and the same is exactly true when I see people walk!  The jamming impacts your knees and back and you are running as if you are constantly applying a brake instead of letting gravity do the work for you.  The only way to create movement is to push off with the back leg which wastes energy and causes fatigue.

So what exactly are most runners and walkers doing (think you)?  With their legs, they are reaching out in front of them.  They may or may not heel strike and usually land with a pretty straight leg and sometimes with a locked out knee.  This results in a lot of excessive impact (think of the jamming of the scooter) and needless running related injuries.  What is important is where the foot lands in relation to your hips or center of mass.

This is how many people run.  Notice the foot landing in front of the hips and heel strike creating excessive impact especially on the knees and back.

A more efficient, less impactful and more natural way to run is to have the feet land mid-foot and underneath the hips.  The faster you go, the more they will actually land behind your hips, same as when riding a scooter.

Proper running technique.  Notice how the feet land underneath or behind the hips just like how children run.

Please don’t think you accomplish this by thrusting the hips forward when you run.  You accomplish this by leaning slightly from the ankles with proper posture allowing the legs to open behind you.

I teach a very effective way for runners to easily learn how to run in a way that is more natural, reduces impact and therefore, reduces injuries.  Because you are using gravity instead of your own energy, you’ll also run more efficiently, easier and have more fun!

So much attention is being made about heel striking and how it is ‘bad’.  It is, but what is more important is where the foot lands in relation to the hips.  It is almost impossible to heel strike if your feet are landing underneath your hips.

For a more efficient, low impact way of running, try these quick tips: 

Have your feet land more underneath the hips.  You can accomplish this by having a shorter stride or higher cadence (steps per minute). Think smaller, shorter steps.  You will not lose speed because you can open up your stride behind you and relax to increase your stride length therefore your speed.  Also, with good posture and long spine, think of leaning from the ankles and letting gravity pull you forward.  The key is not leaning from the hips or head.  You may not get it right away and feel the difference at first, but ideally you will progress gradually.

Poor technique resulting in fatigue and injuries.  Don’t lean from the hips or neck.  Proper alignment, an engaged core and good posture is key.

Barefoot running can accomplish some of these goals.  But still, many people run poorly and have poor posture resulting in fatigue and injuries while barefoot running.  Also, I have some runners who come to me saying they have practiced running technique and it has made running more difficult.  The problem is that they are doing the technique incorrectly without knowing it.  This is why it is important to learn from an experienced teacher and runner.

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Would you like running to be easier and more enjoyable?

I would like to share how you can transform your running so it is a more enjoyable and satisfying experience resulting in more benefits and greater happiness.  Running with a more efficient technique results in less effort and is the foundation to finding more joy in running.  Also, if you change how you approach running, it can be a more meditative, relaxing and effortless experience instead of just a workout or a way to stay in shape.  You still get the results you want but with more freedom, joy and energy gained.

Practicing a more natural and efficient technique has many benefits.  By bringing awareness to your physical body, you are more likely to be in the present moment.  And instead of thinking about your worries and stresses, you will be able to experience and find joy in this moment.  The present moment is truly a gift, for it is the only moment we have.  Also, running more efficiently is easier, obviously.  This alone makes running more enjoyable and fun.  I have found Wholistic Running to be the most effective way to run efficiently and naturally.

Why do you run?  Is it to stay in shape?  To get a workout?  I suggest letting go of those ideas.  Instead, run because you want to.  Because it is truly a gift to be able to use our physical bodies to move through space.  Run to get outside and see the beauty this world has to offer.  Run to say hello to other runners and smile because we are lucky to be able to do what we love.

Running can be a moving meditation with similar benefits to yoga and sitting meditation.  With mindful practice, remind yourself to bring your mind into the present moment.  You can do this by focusing on your form and the physical body as well as your breath.   I recommend just noticing the breath and not trying to control it.  If you are relaxed and efficient, your breath will be optimal.  Running can be more enjoyable by being aware of and appreciating the beauty of the places you run.  Appreciate the little things: seeing an old friend, the textures of trees, the smile of a child, the feel of the wind against your legs, the sound of your soft foot falls…

Remember, the choice is yours.  If you consciously allow running to be more enjoyable, you will open a door to allow running to be just that.  Focus on the physical body, technique and breath.  Allow your mind to find the present moment and give thanks for doing what you love.  Allow your spirit the freedom to enjoy this movement by giving up expectations, time, goals and just appreciate the movement and joy of what we are born to do.

Why a focus on running form?

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!

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