Running the Chi Way

Grace Allen
Waxman during the 2016 NYC Marathon, on his way to finish in the top 1% of the world’s largest marathon.
Issue Date: 
April, 2018
Article Body: 

What if you could run faster, with less effort, no matter how old you are? What if you could run like that and stay injury-free, too? According to a Wrentham man, it’s possible to do just that.
Marc Waxman was a three-sport high school athlete and captain of the crew team in college. Running was a way to stay in shape for the sports he loved. After graduating from college, he was motivated to run a few marathons with his father, including the 100th Boston Marathon, but eventually the demands of life caught up with him. Running fell to the wayside as he focused on his career and family.
“Running even a few miles just didn’t feel good to me,” said Waxman.
At the time, Waxman was living in Colorado, suffering from Achilles tendonitis, and could barely walk when he got of bed in the morning. He decided to enter a local 5K, but recalls struggling to finish and feeling terrible during and after the race.
“I realized I’d reached a point where I couldn’t even move my body the way I used to,” he said.
He was now in his mid-30s, and decided it was time to make some changes. He recalled hearing his father talk about Chi running, a technique that incorporates the principles of Tai Chi into running. Tai Chi practitioners believe a centered and calm body leads to efficient and powerful movement. Waxman realized he had a book and video about Chi running sitting on his shelf, gifted from his father, but neither had been opened.
He immersed himself in the book and video, and taught himself how to run using the Chi method. The results, he said, were amazing.
“Within weeks, the Achilles tendonitis disappeared and I found that I could run farther and faster and it just felt good,” said Waxman.
He started training for a marathon, and broke his PR by ten minutes, the PR he had set when he was 24 years old. It felt, he said, almost effortless.
Chi running is a technique created by Danny Dreyer, an ultra-marathoner living in Asheville, N.C. Dreyer’s “intelligent movement” philosophy blends the principles of Tai Chi with running. Chi running emphasizes using the body’s core muscles instead of leg muscles when moving, letting gravity do the work of propelling the body forward.
“It basically turns running into a series of controlled falls,” explained Waxman. “You’re leaning, lifting your feet, falling, catching yourself, and lifting your feet again. But you’re doing it in a way that’s using your bones, tendons, and ligaments to support your body weight instead of your muscles. The leaning becomes your gas pedal. The more you lean, the faster you go.”
According to Waxman, Chi running is a natural way to move. Very small children instinctively run in a Chi way, as do cultures or people that have run their entire lives, often barefoot.
It’s not necessary to know Tai Chi to benefit from Chi running either, stressed Waxman. “I don’t know any Tai Chi at all,” he said.
Chi running emphasizes how to keep peripheral muscles relaxed and core muscles strong, which helps reduce overuse injuries. The movement forces the runner to land in a mid-foot strike, not a heel strike, which can help prevent injuries, too.
Runners are taught how to train for races, but not how to move, believes Waxman.
“I’ve met high school runners, college runners, elite runners, and their running mechanics are a mess,” he said. “They run, get injured, rest, and repeat the cycle. If you train to seriously run and don’t work on your technique, you’re going to get hurt, ultimately.”
Waxman now runs 50 to 60 miles a week, and has completed several ultra-marathons himself. Last year, at age 44, he was the top Wrentham finisher in the Boston Marathon, clocking in at 2:51:50, a new PR that put him in the top 3% of all runners.
“Running is no longer hard,” he said. “I’m getting older and I’m getting faster and I’m not getting hurt. My body feels good. I look forward to every run, and I’m no superman.”
Waxman, a Worcester native, moved to Wrentham almost two years ago after leaving Colorado. He is the executive director of the Society for Organizational Learning North America (SoL NA). He has spent the last 22 years working in public education, starting and running urban charter schools with his wife.
As both an educator and a runner, it was a logical progression for Waxman to become a certified instructor in Chi running. He is one of only 7 certified Chi running instructors in New England.
Almost anyone can benefit from learning how to run the Chi way, said Waxman. He has taught Chi running to children as young as 5, and older runners in their 70s.
“For me, Chi running and running in general has been a gift,” said Waxman. “I’m an educator at heart. I like teaching people. My mantra has always been to help people become their best selves, and teaching Chi running is one way to do that.”
Waxman, who will run in the Boston Marathon on April 16, is part of the Wampanoag Road Runners running club. He says running has helped him feel at home in Wrentham.
“Running is this great way to build and support community,” he said. “It cuts across all divides, especially now, in this time we live in. We need things that pull us together, not separate us. Running is one of those things. Every different group runs. You don’t need to care about anything else. You can just run together.”
And if you’re running together the Chi way, you might find yourself enjoying the journey a little bit more.