To Danny Dreyer, 26.2 miles is nothing. The 62-year-old has raced (and placed) in 40 ultra-marathons, often taking on distances of 50 to 100 miles. He credits his success to the practice of ChiRunning, a system of movement he developed incorporating the principles of tai chi to improve efficiency. He’s been passing on his techniques that promise to make running injury-free since 1999. With his new book, “Chi Marathon” ($16, Touchstone), available next week, Dreyer tackles endurance race training.
What are people doing wrong when they train for marathons?
The injury rate in regular runners is 65 percent. In marathon runners, it’s closer to 90 percent. What most people do incorrectly is technique. That’s a repetitive stress, so the more you run, the more likely you are to get injured. Somebody might be a great 10K runner and not notice they have slight heel strike. But take 35,000 steps in a marathon and you’ll find out.
Your marathon program is 24 weeks. Why is it so long?
People don’t give themselves enough time. Team in Training set a bad precedent by saying you can get ready in four and a half months. Participants get invested in it financially, and then they force themselves to do it in four and a half months. Then they have a lousy time, and they never do it again. The best way is to train yourself to run well, not far. You need to learn how to feel your body and do the right things.
Can you explain why slowing down can speed you up?
What most people think is they have to run at a seven-minute mile pace or they won’t make it in the marathon. But you’re setting up the body to burn the wrong fuel. When you’re doing a long, slow-distance run, it’s to burn fat for fuel, not glycogen. In a 5K or 10K, you can push the whole way. But you only have 90 minutes of glycogen. Running slowly helps you become efficient.
Any other misconceptions?
People run way too fast up hills, and then they’re tired for the downhill. I slow down when I’m running up hills, but nobody passes me on the downhill. I more than make up whatever time I lost.
How different will results be for people on your program?
We’re using running as a mindful practice, not just a sport. With most training programs, you might get healthier. That’s not a guarantee. After your race, you’ve walked away with a medal but nothing else. Our program teaches you to breathe better and listen to your body. You have all of these skills as well. This approach is process-oriented. The others are goal-oriented, so you can end up injured and disappointed.
Danny Dreyer’s two workshops this weekend in Chevy Chase are sold out, but Washingtonians have more upcoming opportunities to learn about ChiRunning techniques. Instructor Lloyd Henry is holding a half-day event March 18 at Fleet Feet (1841 Columbia Road NW). Get more information at Chirunning.com and Onpointfitness.com.