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A runner's chi.

Running With Finesse

To help shift to this new style, says Dreyer, imagine a bungee cord hooked to the middle of your chest. Hook the other end to a big tree, say, in the distance, and imagine the cord pulling you forward as you run. Let your feet follow, lightly, in smooth, flowing movements. That keeps you in an optimum posture -- with your center of gravity out in front of your feet -- and it seems to have a psychological effect, too.

"When I think about doing a 30-mile race," Dreyer says, "I realize that all I have to do is lean forward for 30 miles."

Dreyer admits that adding tai chi to running is a hard concept to explain. "It takes a lot of focus and practice," says Dreyer, "but then that's what tai chi is all about -- creating positive changes through focused attention." The rocket scientists he often coaches don't go in for ethereal explanations, though, so he talks about efficiency. "It all checks out in terms of basic physics," says Dreyer.

Trying New Steps

The day after my session with Dreyer, I took my new moves out for a run. At first it seemed a lot to remember: Check your posture, lean forward, use your upper body to pull you ahead; keep your lower legs loose, lift your lower legs rather than pushing off with your feet. Move rhythmically, making it feel as easy as possible. Oh, and don't forget to swing your arms from the elbows, gently. Don't push ahead and make an effort so much as lean forward and let your feet take you where you want to go.

When my running began to feel rough and I reached that old plodding, heavy, too-tired-to-go-on-feeling, instead of stopping, I did what Dreyer suggested: I checked my posture, leaned forward, lightened up the load on my feet. Then, I attached my imaginary bungee cord to a big old tree a few hundred yards ahead and let my new moves pull me toward it.

Soon I noticed an unfamiliar feeling, as if -- dare I say it? -- I was gliding along. Maybe I wasn't quite cheetah-like, but I was sure lighter on my feet than before. I kept running, farther than I had in recent memory, and I came home smiling. Not only that, I found myself looking forward to the next day's run.

Note: Chi running classes are available so far only in the San Francisco Bay Area -- though Dreyer is working on a book and videotape -- but other low-impact approaches can help runners who are experiencing difficulty or injuries. To find a coach, check out a local running club, says Richard Cotton, a spokesman for the American Council on Fitness.

Karin Evans is the author of The Lost Daughters of China: Abandoned Girls, Their Journey to America, and the Search for a Missing Past (Penguin/Putnam 2000) and a former editor at WebMD.

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