Editor’s Note: The following is an interview with famed ultra-marathoner Danny Dreyer, who is also the creator of the Chi Running system.
Kevin: What does eating right mean to you?
Danny: I am mostly on organic diet. We cook everything from scratch. We don’t eat out of boxes or cans. I only eat meat about once a month. I mean, I will have – – that’s like red meat. I don’t drink coffee. I do drink tea but not an over abundance of it. And —
Kevin: What about for training?
Danny: Oh, the training is really fun, you know on our break, we break part nutrition and diet as related to training so you know, what I do is that when I am going out for a really long run I want to have a lot of good carbohydrates in my system before I do that. It’s just like [pumping] for a race and not a run. And so usually I have beans and rice and peas —
Danny: the night before I run because it just burns really clean and even though it’s a complete protein and also a very good cover meal. And because I don’t eat pasta as a carbohydrate meal in fact I rarely eat pasta anyway. We have a law here. We don’t eat anything white.
Kevin: OK. [laughter]
Danny: Unless it’s yogurt.
Kevin: Got you.
Danny: So you want to eat a good carbohydrate before a long workout and you want to eat a really good protein meal afterwards along with the carbohydrate and sometimes during the week you always want to eat a really healthy salad like really leafy green lots of colors.
Danny: And other than that we eat a lot of green vegetable meals. I also eat most of my meals out of a bowl, and my bowl only holds two and a half cups and when it’s full it’s full, when I sit down and that’s what I eat.
Kevin: That’s interesting.
Danny: Yeah that way I don’t ever overeat and it doesn’t matter what’s in that bowl I just don’t eat more than that.
Kevin: So how big is it?
Danny: Two and a half cups might be two and three quarters.
Kevin: OK. When you pile it up?
Danny: Pile it up, OK salads a little lighter I might pile a little higher but you know for most meals I level to the top. And then I eat two meals a day, I don’t eat three. You know I learnt something for the Europeans. They just eat the right amount. A lot of people there have taken on some of our bad habits but a lot of people in Asia especially and also in Europe are just the right body size. Because they just eat, when they are done they’re done.
Danny: And a lot, the other thing that I do is, it’s a hotsy question what do I do to stay in shape? One is I run about every other day or walk and I am not afraid to stop my running and start walking at any point.
Kevin: I think that’s a fantastic point right there.
Danny: Yeah, I am not a fanatic. Yeah, I wrote the books on running or walking but I am not a fanatic of either one. Here’s one thing I do when I get across to people and what we’re trying to do is this whole thing about having to being mindful about when you’re walking and running,
Danny: Like always doing the right thing, is that we really are on a campaign to change running and walking from a fitness regiment to a practice and if you think of what you do as a practice, you know, there is Tai-chi is a practice, Yoga is a practice, Polaris is like a practice, Meditation is a practice. All those things are practice and nobody really thinks about approaching their running or walking as a practice. Because if you did then every time you went out to do it there would be something you’re working on to get just a little better, just a little looser, just a little most grounded or centered or relaxed or there is always something to work on to get just a little bit better. And you end up becoming a better person through your practice of walking and not just get stronger muscles and a great heart.
Danny: It’s more about a holistic approach to whatever fitness thing you are doing.
Kevin: It’s actually the value of it.
Danny: That’s the value of it. That’s why it’s so cool because it’s not just a fitness thing. So people go “how do you stay fit”, well I don’t just use my body. I use my mind.
Danny: You know, you just have to use both. Otherwise it’s not complete. You are imbalanced. So there’s a lot of jokes out there that really, you know, that’s why people get to mind over body. They don’t really listen to their body as well as they could. We have a principle called ‘body sensing’, its one of the Chi skills.
Danny: ‘Body sensing’ is just learning how to listen to your body, how to direct it with your mind but how to really sense when it needs something, when it doesn’t need something. When something is right, when it’s not right, when you’re imbalanced when you are balanced, and if people were much more in their bodies we wouldn’t be near the disease rate, cancer rate, obesity rate anything that’s going on in the society today if people just learned to listen what the body is trying to tell them.
Kevin: So how does somebody when they’re walking or running, how do they start to feel their body? Obviously sometimes they feel it, you know, but the body does not give them an option well – –
Danny: Yeah, you know if you are feeling, I will tell you this, it’s really simple. If you feel any discomfort in your body. Well, it starts with tension. If you feel tension then your body that’s not discomfortness there, it’s just tense.
Danny: So if you feel tension in your body, what I do is when you’re walking or running just do what I call a body sweep. When you start at the top of your head and just scan all the way down to your body top to bottom and if you feel just looking for any tension like you’re your own MRI, you just looking for tension anywhere head to toe, if you find any try to see if you can how to let go of that, how to just relax that part, how to breathe into it, give it a little more range of emotion to stretch it out or something, but listen to your body and just start the practice of just listening, just scanning. And then once you get good at scanning and listening then you want to know what you are listening for. And so first you are listening to tension, that’s the first, the lowest level.
Danny: And then listen for discomfort. If the tension goes on long enough your body is going to start talking a little louder if you don’t start doing something.
Danny: Right. And then discomfort turns to pain. Because if you don’t listen to discomfort it’s not going to get better, it’s going to get worse. And your body will start screaming, “Hey wake up, we’re hurting down here. What you going to do about it?” And then if you don’t listen to pain it’s usually either illness or injury. And it’s the people that you know just keep going no matter what the body is telling them; they end up with in the last two categories. So it’s really training to have a mindful practice that you’re always listening to your body and trying to co-operate with it and work with it, and say how can we do this better, you know how can we feel better, how can we eat better, how can we stop when we are supposed to. It’s a fabulous way to go through life listening to your body and instead of listening to what everybody else is trying to tell you what to do with your body.
Kevin: Absolutely. And you had a statistic that you told me once about runners and the average length that they run. Is that, do you recall what that was?
Danny: There’s a statistic that you know out of all runners, at least there’s a study done in the United States and that was couple of years ago when there was 22 million people that called themselves regular runners. There’s a 65 percent injury rate.
Danny: Every year 65 percent of 22 million people get injured long enough to disrupt their training program. That’s like you’re sure of two out of three chances of getting injured if you start running unless you are doing it right. So what we tell people, it is not running that hurts your body, it’s the way you run. Its not walking that hurts your body, its the way you walk. And so if you are constantly mindful of studying how you move your body, then you are much much less likely, completely reduce your chances of injury or even discomfort, and so you get to a point where you can do your fitness program and feel great the whole way, the whole day, the next time you do it. It always feels great. And there’s no downtime.
Kevin: Now is there one thing you recommend someone do, what is it?
Danny: Move your body.
Danny: Yeah. It’s got to be it. My Tai-chi says that when you stop moving your spine you start dying, that’s it. Period! You sitting on your couch watching TV, you are not moving your body you’re going to start dying. And so that’s why you got to get your Chi moving through your body. That means every time you move your body you’re activating your Chi moving through your body. The more relaxed you are, the easier it flows through your body. When you get outdoors there’s tons of Chi outdoors that your body can absorb through your eyes, through your skin, you know, and you’re gaining energy and you want to really be working at always gaining energy and it’s really your movement. And you know, unfortunately there is a large emphasis nowadays on the intellectual center. Anybody who wants to get ahead, you know, work hard and go to college and do all that and not forgetting that they have a body that also it’s the reason why you are in the planet. If you didn’t have it you wouldn’t be here. You got to take care of that as well as your mind. The mind isn’t everything. No. It tends to feed the brain too much I pod, the MP3 players, Videos, Computers, name it , it’s all brain stuff. So for as much as I am in front of the computer writing everyday whatever, I get outside move around, you know. You got to move your body. If I could say one thing, you know, and eat right.