Running is something many of us do with very little thought. It is generally not taught, unless you are an athlete, in the way that tennis is, for instance. But after attending Steve Mackel’s ChiRunning® workshop, I am thinking maybe that shouldn’t be so.
The workshop is part of the Sole Runner’s Club, whose purpose is to train for half and full marathons. With a degree in psychology and a strong background in the science of running (and every fitness certification you can think of), Steve Mackel, head coach and program director of the training program, believes running requires thinking; not zoning out, but zoning in.)
Patch: What is your background?
Steve Mackel: I started at 39 and decided I needed to do a marathon before 40. I had done a lot of backpacking with heavy packs and thought a marathon would be easy. I did a half marathon five weeks before doing a marathon and couldn’t walk for days so I had to take a step back and learn how to run a marathon.
Patch: What inspired you to start the running club?
SM: I started group marathon training in 2005 and started with Beach Runners, which was the official club of the Long Beach Marathon at the time. I started my own club because I wanted to do all of the seasons (not only train for the Long Beach Marathon).
During my first year (of Sole Runners), we had 200 runners in the club and have maintained that number ever since. My No. 1 purpose for the club is to create a community of runners; encouraging runners and safety is always a first priority. I want to teach people how to run, the biomechanics and also to relax when running.
The club focus is on beginner and intermediate runners (rather than advanced). I want to see people cross the finish line. It is life-changing sometimes. We have people that never thought they could do it. I’ve had someone lose 100 pounds. Others are just doing it to maintain. The group touches people. I want my group to be the example of sportsmanship; all running groups have good attitudes in general, that’s why I like running so much.
We are also now interested in destination marathons. We went to Athens, Greece and just got back from Vancouver. We are looking at Asia or Europe for the next marathon.
Patch: So the club is only for those who want to run a marathon or a half marathon?
SM: You don’t have to sign up for one, some people just come for the workouts. The group creates accountability and when you’re running with people you get faster and can challenge yourself better. We have workshops before runs on some Saturdays (the past two were metronome training and Chi Running training) after every Saturday run we do a 30- 45 minute yoga class. Either I teach the class or we have 6 other runners who are certified in yoga. In the yoga class, we work on flexibility, power and breathing. It is better to stretch afterwards (than before the run) and relieves soreness.
Patch: I am always concerned about over-training. Don’t a lot of people run through pain? Is this good for most people?
SM: I am a big fan of cross training. Since a lot of us don’t have perfect form and running is high impact, we encourage cross training. Mixing it up helps prevent injuries. We have people start training with three days and maybe swim or do strength training (on the other days). If they can build in another day or two they do it for up to five or six days a week mixed up with cross training. We do try to run softer but we are running on concrete and pavement. It does help prevent Osteoporosis so it’s not all bad (the pounding).
Patch: I heard you say that one of the groups was running 60 minutes and the other was doing 1 hour, 20 minutes. What is the longest time you do?
SM: The longest run is three hours for the half marathon group and five hours for the full marathon. The current training program is lined up with the Long Beach Marathon or any October or November race. I always say the training is 21 weeks or five months, but I understand that a lot happens in life. The program is based around understanding life comes first. It is not too late for the Long Beach Marathon. The cutoff is July 4th. After that it gets too late.
We always use time rather than miles when we meet. We have an entire schedule on the website of what the suggested training is. The thing I like about using time is that you meet a lot more people. If you use miles, there tends to be cliques of the faster or slower runners. Depending on how your week is (you may be up late with a baby or out to a party) you may want to run slower or faster on a particular day. We like to use body sensing not a timed run. Walk when you need to walk and run when you start to feel guilty. Don’t be a slave to your watch, be a slave to your body.
However, we do try to get people to run at their safest, fastest pace. I always say the party begins when you cross the finish line.
Patch: Do you have social events with your club?
SM: There are monthly social events but we also have member-led group runs Monday - Friday. Some people go over and run in Palos Verdes.
I was able to experience one of the ChiRunning® sessions before his last Saturday run. Participants can choose to do the session or just go and stretch and can take sessions as often as they want to practice the concepts.
ChiRunning® (based on the principles of Tai Chi) was created Danny Dryer in 2004. One year later, Steve was one of the first to be certified to teach it.
The following principles don’t have to be learned in a particular order but are based on running with good posture and being in tune with your body:
1) Lengthen the spine. Don’t slouch.
2) Gradual progress. All things take time. It takes time to become a runner, some have more natural ability than others.
3) Body sensing. Pay attention to the body rather than pushing through pain. Pain is a signal. Most people finish (the marathons), but we teach people to recognize pain and sometimes they need to stop.
The Chi running posture tries to take the old runner and try a new way. Some of the postural cues are:
a) Feet and shoes loose and feet straight.
b) Lengthen back of the neck; chin is level (not up or down).
c) Level pelvis—not too far back or forward.
d) Imagine sitting in a chair; shoulders are in line with hips.
These give you an idea of the concepts, but hearing it from Steve definitely adds volumes because he is a very motivational person and speaker. He is a full-time running and triathlon coach and has a passion for training people. Steve said his best day is race day; when he gets to see the beginners who ask “are you sure I can do this?” And then he watches them cross the finish line.