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The Art of Marathon Running

Danny Dreyer takes an entirely new approach to marathon running in his book 'Chi Marathon'.

Danny DreyerYou have a training plan in the book; what’s it like?

It’s really designed so someone can start from scratch and be able to work up to a half marathon within four months. It’s a very holistic approach, broken it down into phases. The first phase is getting your brain around it: Why am I doing this? It’s important to start with a vision. The next phase is dedicated to working on your technique. You can’t do a marathon on training alone; it has to be based on really good movement patterns. No other training programs have this focus on technique. So then you move into the conditioning phase, where you build up mileage. And the next phase is mastery—in which you find the specifics of that course, like hills and flat sections, and mimic them in your training. So you’ll go into race day knowing exactly what to expect.

You talk a lot about aiming to take 170 to 180 steps per minute? Why is that important?

It’s the most efficient cadence. If your cadence drops below 170, it generally means you’re spending too much time on the ground and are burning too much energy just supporting your body weight. And if your cadence is too high, it usually means you’re using your leg muscles too much to propel yourself.

So even though the legs should just be supporting you, not powering your run, is it still important to do some weight-training exercises to strengthen your leg muscles?

No, not necessary. The only time it’s necessary is if you know you have a weakness, like weak ankles; then you need to strengthen the area. But you don’t need stronger leg muscles to run faster. I do, however, encourage people to stretch after their runs—that will help you gain a little range of motion.

Do you think weight-training could be detrimental to running?

Sometimes it can shorten your muscles and reduce your range of motion. Weight lifters don’t have any range of motion. For running long distances, you need to have more relaxed, sinewy muscle.

Strengthening your core must be a big focus with ChiRunning, though. Any moves you recommend?

Planks, bridges, and I love light crunches—rather than doing sit-ups, you just pull up the upper body and hold it; this is great because it’s an isometic exercise and leaning forward is isometric as well. You could also just stand next a couch, rest your quads against the highest point, then lean forward and hold it.

You say that a speed interval “is not about trying to run faster. It’s about creating the conditions for speed to happen.” Will you explain what you mean by that?

There’s a number of things when you do a speed workout, you’re not doing it necessarily with the goal of getting faster but the goal of increasing my range of motion, by teaching your legs to kick back farther. You don’t want to reach forward with your legs; that’s overstriding. That’s a danger. The feet should land as close to under your center mass as possible. You want to relax your hips so your legs can swing farther while working on your balance, so you can lean forward more.

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