“I’m a runner.”  You will not find me on the back page of Runner’s World magazine, because you have to be famous (for something besides running) to get there, and despite the blogospheric titan that is Left at the Altar ;-), I mostly labor in obscurity.

Nonetheless, I’m a runner and have been since I was a teenager.  I ran the mile on the high school track team, the 1500 and 3000 in college, a few 10Ks and 12Ks in earlier adulthood.  And finally, this year, a half marathon. The problem is that I never had the knees to be a distance runner.  A physical therapist I worked with after my second arthroscopy told me I have what she called “SCT – shitty connective tissue.”  So in actuality, I’ve spent almost as many years not running as I have running.

But mentally, I’m still and always a runner: when I pass interesting landscapes, I think about running them; I dream about running – crazy dreams where I literally “run” errands, or run from town to town, as effortlessly as the Tarahumara.  Running is meditative for me.  While some claim they do their best thinking when they’re running, I completely empty my brain.  It’s probably the only time in my waking life when I attend entirely to the most basic elements of the here and now: breathing, the path directly ahead of me, and as much of the immediate landscape as I can scan before looking down at the trail again.

I just run. I run in a void. Or maybe I should put it the other way: I run in order to acquire a void… The thoughts that occur to me while I’m running are like clouds in the sky. Clouds of all different sizes. They come and they go, while the sky remains the same sky as always. —Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

Last year, after a nearly decade-long break from running (I gave it up after the second arthroscopy), I began to ease back into it.  I tried to stick to trails as much as possible, and allowed myself just a couple of runs a week.  Then I found a little godsend.  Killing time in a bookstore, I browsed the sports and fitness section and found a book called Chi Running by Danny Dreyer.  I was instantly intrigued.  Good friend and occasional guest blogger Cristina White has tried (not entirely in vain, but probably in considerable frustration!) to teach me tai chi, and while I’m a terrible student, I appreciate the practice in theory.  A book that combines the principles of tai chi with the sport of running?  Perfect.

Read the book, or watch some videos, and visit the Chi Running web site.  I won’t try to impart much wisdom here, because my form and practice are both so far from ideal.  But I can always tell when I’m doing it right (and trust me, those moments are still fleeting), because it feels almost effortless when everything is lined up and I’m paying attention.

Time to pay better attention.  I was supposed to be running the Long Beach Half Marathon this weekend, but I pulled my hamstring (whoever heard of a distance runner pulling a hamstring?!), and then mishandled my training efforts the first couple of weeks afterward.  As a result, I have to sit out the race.  (But our fundraising page, raising money for Maitri Compassionate Care in SF, is still open and we’re pointing it to 13.1 Los Angeles in January, instead!)  I haven’t run for nearly two weeks, and I’m getting antsy for a test drive.  Now is the perfect time to really focus on my chi running form and practice, because I’ll have to go slow.

Meanwhile, here’s some inspiration to hit the trails.  I love watching these runners; every one of them looks so light on their feet.

(Wish I could remember where I first saw this clip; there’s a good chance it was via Dax at Dirty Running.)

Update: There must be something in the air. I just read a new entry over at No Meat Athlete giving a thumbs-up review of a chi running workshop.

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