DAVID BERGELAND/Durango Herald
Like the beautician who notes an unbecoming hairdo or the carpenter who spots a badly shingled roof, Ed Cotgageorge notices people’s ungainly posture when they run.
“When I see a runner struggling, I think, ‘It doesn’t have to be that hard,’” said Cotgageorge, a certified instructor of chi running.
Chi running combines the biomechanics of tai chi – correct posture, using gravity instead of muscles for propulsion, and relaxing for less pain and heightened mental clarity.
The runner’s ankle, hip, shoulder and a point just behind the ear should be in a straight line when a full-foot landing is made. The runner, arms making short strokes instead of pumping, doesn’t land on toes or heels.
The body should be relaxed so gravity pulls the runner forward instead of the runner pushing off against a surface.
“This is the way we all learned to walk,” Cotgageorge said. “Then we start wearing shoes and we’re told ‘this is how you run.’”
Cotgageorge, a clinical neuropsychologist, took up chi running three years ago.
“I was a climber and a biker, but as I got older I had spine surgery,” Cotgageorge said. “I was told I shouldn’t run because of my back.”
He said 70 percent of runners perform while injured or recovering from an injury. Since his introduction to chi running, Cotgageorge said, he has run without pain.
Many runners have turned to a more minimalist style of running and to simpler footwear in the last several years. This style has been popularized by the 2009 book Born to Run, about the Tarahumara Indians of Copper Canyon, Mexico.
Local runner and race promoter Matt Kelly is among those who run in a form-fitting shoe – the Vibram Fivefingers – that covers the foot with a thin layer, simulating a bare foot.
“The popularity of chi running was among the styles of running developed to run injury-free,” said Kelly, director of the Durango Double and the Narrow Gauge 10-mile and 5K runs. Both events are sponsored by Animas Surgical Hospital.
The Durango Double, returning after a six-year hiatus, includes 25K and 50K trail runs on Oct. 6 and a marathon and a half-marathon on Oct. 7. The Double was held from 2002 to 2006.
Chi running was developed by Danny Dreyer, an ultra-marathon runner and a student of tai chi. Cotgageorge became a certified instructor in October 2010 after what he describes as rigorous training. Recertification is required every two years.
He coaches individuals and groups, gives workshops and works with a youth Nordic team and hopes to train a group for the Durango Double.
No-shows at a recent clinic given by Cotgageorge resulted in a lot of attention for those who were there:
Judi Williams, 46, a registered nurse, who has run marathons, ultra 24-hour races and triathlons and who is trying to come back from auto accidents in 2000 and 2005 that left her with debilitating neck pain.
“Those accidents halted running as I knew it,” Williams said. “I still telemark ski and hike, but my love of distance running was a lifestyle that has never been replaced.”
Numerous failed attempts to run again when physical therapy, acupuncture and massage proved no relief, required her to make a leap of faith to try chi running, Williams said.
But she’s glad she did.
Williams characterized what she learned as amazing. Chi techniques require subtle changes but produce huge results, she said.
Amber Doughty, 23, a physical therapy technician, runs to stay in shape to play basketball with several teams.
“I didn’t know about chi running but I liked what I learned,” Doughty said. “I want to see if I get better over time.”
She’s not sure if she can apply chi techniques to basketball.
“There’s a lot to concentrate on, both in basketball and in chi running.”
Lindsay Nyquist, 31, who ran track in high school – sprints and hurdles – but took up distance running three years ago.
She since has criss-crossed the Southwest to compete in about 15 half-marathons.
Nyquist ran 12 miles the day after the clinic to test chi running techniques.
“There’s a lot to think about while you’re running,” Nyquist said. “It (chi running) is definitely a work in progress. It will take time to get all the techniques into my muscle memory.”
In conversation, Cotgageorge talks about running, but the same techniques apply to walking, he said.
A chi walking or running posture can become so routine that it’s assumed automatically, Cotageorge said. But it requires practice.
“It’s like golf or yoga,” he said. “There are certain basics, but beyond that they’re evolving processes that you refine.”
There are definite similarities between chi principles and the techniques used by the Ethopians and Kenyans, who tend to dominate marathons, and the Tarahumara Indians, Cotgageorge said.
“If we’re going to beat them we have to run like them,” he said.
Colorado has five of the 170 certified chi running instructors in the United States and abroad.