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April 2021 Instructor of the Month: Laurel Flax

Laurel Flax with her husky

Tell us a little about you. Where you live, what your background is. What (if) you do in addition to being a Certified Instructor.

I was born in Buffalo, NY, grew up in Washington, DC & MD, went to college in NH and stayed there.  I live in a small town in Southern NH with my rescued Alaskan Malamute, B-Bear.  I have a BS in Animal Science with Pre-Vet Option & a Minor in Microbiology, I also completed all coursework for an MS in Civil/Environmental Engineering.  I worked for Water Utilities for 6 Years and in Computer Tech for 16 Years. I have been a Lab Technician, Manager, Support Engineer, Sales Engineer, Technical Trainer and a QA Engineer.  I trained & rode horses for Dressage and Eventing for most of my younger years and now train my dogs in Agility, Rally Obedience & Freestyle.  I also play Guitar & Ukulele – sometimes for others, but mostly for myself.  My father took me hiking on the Appalachian Trail when I was little, but I don’t think he had ever done that before – in college, I joined the Outing Club and did a lot of hiking & rock climbing – I still like to hike when I get the chance with B-Bear!!

How did you start running? 

I used to run the Cross-Country courses I was going to ride my horse on and I ran some in grade school on the Field Hockey Team, but it was not until I graduated from College that I really started running – my boss & a good friend & I were all starting running at the same time – we would challenge each other to go ever farther – when we got up to 7 miles, we started doing 5K races which then led to 5 Mile, 10K & ½ Marathons – I always liked to double the race distance in training – this had to stop when I got to Marathons (although I did do a 27 mile long run before my 1st Marathon) – I studied a little Tai Chi and I also did some short & middle distance Triathlons – the bike was always the hard part for me – my first “race bike” was a Mountain Bike with slick tires & Aero bars!!  Those were the days of being injured often, going home from races with ice packs on my knees and spending a lot of time in PT!!!

When and how did ChiRunning come into your life? 

After many injuries where I had to take months off, I was working on a slow comeback and happened to read the ChiRunning book – I thought it sounded  good, but I was not committed to learning it at that time.  A few years later, I saw that Vince Vaccaro was doing a workshop outside Boston and I signed up – it was fantastic and I saw all kinds of possibilities, but I had a lot going on in my life and did not take the time to really apply everything I had learned – a year later, I went for a run with Danny before the Boston Marathon Expo & I went to a workshop with Danny & Vince in Dedham, MA  and everything started to come together – my form improved and I was not getting hurt.  I was still afraid of being injured and did not really try to go very far.  In 2015  I went to  one of Danny’s workshops in Bethesda, MD – this time, I was reinforcing what I had learned and had been working on – I also met Betty Smith who is an 80 year old UltraRunner who has been ChRunning for many years – she inspired me and I started running & doing Tai Chi with her – before I knew it, my “couple of miles” turned into a 50K and then 24-Hours, then 30-Hours – Betty would like me to go to Icarus in Florida with her to do 6-days!!!   I enrolled in  the ChiRunning/ChiWalking Instructor Course with Danny Dreyer in 2019 and then took an additional ChiWalking Instructor Course with Katherine Dreyer. I can now run (& run/walk) for 60+ miles without any injuries – my challenge for the longer stuff is sleep deprivation 🙂

In what ways has Chi changed your perception of and success in running?

I was never really fast and I am 30+ years older than when I started running, but ChiRunning has made running an enjoyable practice that I plan to do for the rest of my life – I challenge myself more to distance than speed  and love to hear the feedback from my body as I run.  I love that I can easily keep going & going & going…

What do you think is the biggest misconception of ChiRunning?

I think a lot of runners feel that they know how to run and therefore don’t need ChiRunning or could not improve by studying it and a lot of beginners are afraid to try it.

What motivates you to run?

I love the feeling of movement when all my body parts are working together in harmony and I love being outside on trails, just keepin’ on going!!!

What achievements are you most proud of?

I am proud of the fact that I am doing Ultra’s easily without injuries and increasing distances every year.  I am proud of my Midnight Sun Marathon race that I ran a negative split on & in the same time as my first Marathon 10 years earlier – finished top ½ of Women & of Age group

What led you to become an instructor?

I took a buyout from my corporate tech job and created a small tech company but my heart wasn’t  in it.  I saw the opportunity to become a ChiRunning/ChiWalking Instructor and thought that would be a GREAT thing to do that I would LOVE – I have done a lot of training of people & animals over the years and I see people walking & running all the time who could benefit from learning these skills . I see a real need for most people to move more – our world has become too sedentary and attached to screens – I want to be able to help people love to get out there and walk or run, feel good doing it and not get hurt

Why do you enjoy being an instructor, and how has it affected your life?  

I love being able to share the technique and see the changes in how people are able to move when they go with gravity & the road rather than against them and when they learn to relax and let it be easy!!! There is no greater payback than the smile when someone feels the difference.  I want to be able to walk & run forever and I want to be able to share it with as many others as possible!!  ChiRunning & ChiWalking have changed my life for the better by giving me a practice that feels good & engages my mind & my body

What does your average week look like, run-wise?

I run or at least run/walk every day because my dog needs exercise – I do longer runs once or twice a week and seldom work on speed -average weekly mileage is around 40-50 miles, more if I am getting ready for an Ultra – will often go out twice a day – one with Bear and one alone or even 3x -I also  became fat adapted so that I can do the long distances with minimal need for food on the run  –  it is important for me to be able to run at any time of the day or night.  When I am doing overnight & multi-day races I need my body & mind to think that 2 or 3 AM is a perfect time to go for a run 🙂

What other forms of exercise do you practice to compliment ChiRunning?

ChiWalking, bodyweight & core exercises, hiking, swimming, deep water running, x-c skiing

Advice for people new to Chi Running?

Embrace Gradual Progress and take your time to practice – it’s all about doing some practice every day and enjoying the process – remember that you can practice anytime, not just when you are running!!!

Short answer! Okay, GO.

Favorite race: The Hamsterwheel – 24 or 30 Hour Ultra- Great People, good food, nice course and a good place to challenge myself not far from home

Most memorable race: Midnight Sun Marathon in Anchorage, AK – The only race I’ve done where the briefing includes what to do if you encounter a Bear or a Moose on the trail – the bus to the start had to stop for Moose playing in the road 🙂

Ideal weather for running: 50-60 degrees & overcast

Focus that currently dominates your running: Working on my wheels (lifting my ankles)

Favorite place to run: Trails in C & O Canal Park in MD (after Pandemic is over)

Go-to before race food: Veggie Omelet

Celebratory food after a race: Anything!!

Upcoming race/goal: 100 miler

Run with or without phone/music: Without, although I did set up a boombox when I ran overnight Ultra’s in the backyard at night – 36 laps to the mile!! Public Radio, Bluegrass & Folk music

Fill in the blank.

If I didn’t… I would probably still walk a lot.

My first race was…a 5K in Exeter, NH a LONG time ago and I was happy just to finish!!

My current favorite shoe to run in is… Xero Mesa Trail or HFS.

My most difficult run ever was…the Mt Washington Road Race “Only One Hill – 6288’“.

I’ve run…8 Ultra Marathons, 7 Virtual Ultramarathons, 3 Marathons, and 100’s of shorter races.

The longest distance I’ve ran…. Where? A 64-mile race – The HamsterWheel -30-hours in New Boston, NH in 2020 (the only live race I did in 2020).

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