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June 2021 Instructor of the Month: Emer O’Brien

Emer O'Brien with two women exercising

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 am a running coach and Pilates instructor based in South Kilkenny, in the sunny South East of Ireland. Originally a Maths and French teacher, I took a career break from teaching while I stayed home with our three kids. I then took the plunge and put my teaching experience to good use to train as a fitness and Pilates Instructor rather than returning to the classroom. I was certified as a Chi Running technique coach in 2017. During lockdown, I completed courses on the Functional Biomechanics of Running and Running Technique Coaching Level 1 and 2 with the Running School, London. I am currently in the final stages of training to be an Oxygen Advantage Advanced Instructor. I also set up my own website last year and started online running programs and Pilates classes to keep me busy while my local coaching, workshops, and classes were put on hold. Thankfully we are getting back to meeting up gradually this Summer..I can’t wait!!

How did you start running? 

In my early teens, I ran with my local athletics club. My favorite distance was 800 meters. I loved cross country racing too. I have many memories of running through muck and grass in the lashing rain, elbowing my way through the field full of runners hoping not to get spiked in the process!! Back in those days, I ran many races barefoot too without giving it a second thought. Unfortunately, I stopped running in my late teens when I went to college in Cork. But luckily I came full circle back to running in my late thirties. My love of running came back with a BANG and I haven’t looked back since!

When and how did ChiRunning come into your life? 

I remember reading about Chi Running in a few magazine and newspaper articles 15 years ago or so. I bought Danny’s book and just loved it! A couple of years later I went to one of Catherina McKiernan’s workshops with my athletic club about 10 years ago. I remember thinking ‘everyone should learn to run this way!’ The idea of being told to run relaxed just blew my mind..who knew eh!?! I came away from the workshop full of the joys of running.

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

I think coming from an athletic club background the main focus is often on running hard and getting good times at any cost, pushing the body to the point of over training and recurring injury. I never considered you could run fast, aim for PBs AND be good to your body. ChiRunning has shown me that you CAN have it both ways..aim high AND learn to run efficiently and with ease.

What do you think is the biggest misconception of ChiRunning?

I think lots of runners believe they don’t need to make any changes to their running form, you know? How can you actually change the way you run..sure we are born to walk and to run? I truly believe absolutely every runner benefits from looking at their running technique. We all (including me) pick up bad habits over the years. As adults, we rarely run like we did as children (sad but true!!). Our posture changes, it can be affected by our jobs, our lifestyle, our health.. so many factors influence how we move as adults and then we expect to just run. We take swimming, golf, tennis lessons, we hire personal trainers to teach us proper technique in the gym, we get coached in team sports, horse riding etc? So if running is your sport it makes TOTAL sense you should learn how to run well.

What motivates you to run?

My running buddies, my athletic club, my health, my age!! I turned 50 recently ( racing age-category!) and I am still motivated by goal races, goal times, goal distances and I have no plans on stopping now!

What achievements are you most proud of?

I know it’s probably a bit of a cliche but I’ll say it anyway.. running a sub-4 hour marathon in 2019 in Dublin. In 2018 I ran it in 4:06 so I just couldn’t believe I did it… I still can’t!!

I am also so proud of all the runners I have coached to reach their goals over the last few years, especially that first 5k goal run, it’s hard to beat being part of that achievement..what a buzz!!!

What led you to become an instructor?

 I noticed running and breathing techniques weren’t part of most running programs out there. It’s all about the plan, the race goal, the strength, and conditioning, nutrition, the fitness.. all very important of course, but the absolutely vital element of good running form wasn’t there for runners. I love to run, I love to teach and I wanted to learn how to teach good running form and show runners how to run well and how to reduce the risk of injury when following a running plan.

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

I really enjoy the whole process of breaking down running technique, going from head to toe, the little details that can transform how you move. I love when I can see the progress in a client’s movement and their reaction to this progress. Everyone is different so it never gets boring and I sometimes can’t believe I actually do this for a living.

I could talk about running all day spare a thought for my family and non-running friends!! Lucky for them I do what I do so I have an outlet for my obsession! In this day and age, I don’t think many people can say they love their job but I can and I know how lucky I am to be able to say that!

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

Ireland has essentially been in lockdown since March 2020 so I’ve had plenty of time to focus on my own running. I’ve been running four to five times per week lately, varying from 3 miles to 13 miles. I had to run solo in lockdown but I’m now back with my running buddies so that’s brilliant! We motivate each other to meet up and run together. Also of course I am back to coaching my 0-5k groups so I run then too, it’s just fantastic!

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

I am a Pilates instructor so I practice Pilates regularly. Pilates shares many of the Chi Running principles…posture, alignment, balance, power of the core so it’s a perfect combination. I also walk and I hope to get back swimming over the summer too.

Advice for people new to ChiRunning?

Gradual progress..take one and only one focus at a time (cadence, posture, arm swing, mid foot landing and so on) Remind yourself to enjoy the process of learning to run with ease. Don’t get overwhelmed, remember you are in control at all times so breathe, relax and go easy on yourself..and SMILE!!!

Short answer! Okay, GO.

Most memorable race: Dublin City Marathon 2019

Ideal weather for running: Cool, crisp, blue skies!

Focus that currently dominates your running: Focus on rhythm and balance..arms, legs, breath in sync

Favorite place to run: The Kilkenny countryside

Go-to before race food: Banana and toast

Celebratory food after a race: Oooh definitely the selection of cakes afterward…I miss it so much since lockdown!

Upcoming race/goal: Virtual Waterford Viking half marathon.

Run with or without phone/music: Without music usually, these days unless I want to work on my cadence and listen to a metronome or music to the beat of 170-180spm

Repeat on your playlist: Avicii

Fill in the blank.

If I didn’t… run I would drive my poor family and friends crazy!!

I can’t run without…my running sunglasses and lip balm

My first race was… in my adult life the Iniscarra 4 mile in Cork and I…nearly collapsed as the course was so hilly!!

My current favorite shoe to run in is… Altra escalante racers and saucony type A9 racers

My most difficult run ever was… my 2nd attempt at the Waterford AC half marathon, started out waaaaaay too fast following a pacer who was banking the time I think which didn’t suit me AT ALL. The final 3 miles were horrendous, it felt like running in treacle!!!!

I’ve run… marathons/races. 4 marathons, at least 20 half marathons, can not count 10ks, 5miles, 4miles, 5ks!!!

The longest distance I’ve ran…. 26.2 miles…. Where?  Dublin city marathon 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019!!! #runthistown

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