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March 2019 Instructor of the Month: Jean Gillis

Jean Gillis, instructor

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

I live in rural Central Massachusetts with my husband on our mini farm. When I’m not busy caring for our menagerie of animals, dogs, chickens, horses, sheep, and more, I coach athletes in groups, and 1-1, for marathons and triathlons, and I teach group fitness.

How did you start running?
I had always been active in sports, playing soccer since a young age. Then when I was in college, a friend of mine inspired me to start running road races. Once I started, I never stopped.

When and how did ChiRunning come into your life?
I came across ChiRunning at an event expo, bought the book, and started practicing on my own for a few years. Then I decided that I wanted to get more serious about it, and really figure out if I was doing it correctly. So I participated in an all day workshop with Vince Vaccaro, one of the longest teaching instructors, in July of 2016. At this workshop it totally clicked for me and I was absolutely hooked.

In what ways has Chi changed your perception of and success in running?
Prior to practicing ChiRunning, I didn’t associate running with relaxation, and I used digging in and “muscling” to go faster. Now I’m able to go further, faster, with less effort. One of my ambitions for learning ChiRunning is to be able to run a 100 mile ultra and not suffer like I’ve seen some runners suffer. I think with ChiRunning it’s possible!

What do you think is the biggest misconception of ChiRunning?
I think the biggest misconception is that ChiRunning is slow running, or something alternative that’s not for serious runners.

What motivates you to run?
Being outside, being self powered, exploring by foot. Keeping my mind and body feeling good. Competing in races and blowing through my mental limits.

What achievements are you most proud of?
Coaching a 60 something year old client to run her first 5k, even though she joined the class expecting to only ChiWalk. As well as realizing my passion for endurance sports, and launching my own business. I worked in the corporate world for 15 years and got laid off. At that point I had been volunteer coaching a triathlon team for four years, and I decided to make the leap to making coaching my full time career. My business is Jean Gillis Wellness, endurance coaching.

What led you to become an Instructor?
Taking the all day workshop with Vince helped me to confirm what the technique should feel like in my body, and it felt awesome. At this time I was already coaching athletes, and I wanted to be able to share this with them, and runners everywhere!

Why do you enjoy being an Instructor, and how has it affected your life?
I know that running changes, and can even save lives. It has been shown to help people overcome things like depression, anxiety, addictions, low self esteem, and more. I feel honored to be able to introduce people to running in a way that will help them to enjoy it more and avoid injury, as well as to help injured runners come back to a sport that they love. ChiRunning started out as a way to improve my own running technique, but has now become a large part of my business, and a way that I get to connect with and support lots of cool people!

What does your average week look like, run-wise?
It depends on the time of year, but I typically run three times a week, two shorter runs, and a longer run. I enjoy mixing it up, from different technique focuses, to different surfaces, flat, hilly, trails.

What other forms of exercise do you practice to compliment ChiRunning?
In addition to ChiRunning, I swim, indoor and outdoor, and bike. I also do strength training, and yoga.

Advice for people new to Chi Running?
Instead of seeing it as something to get done or accomplish, come at it with an attitude of exploration. ChiRunning does take practice, but it’s so worth it; particularly if you want to run long in to your years! You can learn a lot about your body just by paying attention. Rather than running through pain or discomfort, you can learn how to make the right adjustments to move more in harmony.

Short answer! Okay, GO.

Favorite race you’ve run and why: Stone Cat 50 mile trail run because my husband and I ran it together. Running that distance is very challenging, and it was so special that we were able to support each other through it.

Most memorable race: Lake Placid Ironman. I appreciated every moment because I almost bailed on the race. We were moving to a new house the weekend before the race, and I felt very overwhelmed. I’m so glad I went!

Ideal weather for running: 50 degrees, sunny with scattered clouds.

Focus that currently dominates your running: I’m currently playing with cadence.
It’s helping to shorten my stride. I like alternating matching the arm swing or the ankle lift to the beat, and noticing the change in my heart rate.

Favorite place to run: In the woods

Go-to before race food: Warm quinoa with a drizzle of honey, nuts, and blueberries.

Celebratory food after: Recently, I’ve been really enjoying smoothies with banana, almond milk, cocoa powder, and peanut butter.

Upcoming race/goal: Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon

Run with or without phone/music: I run without music because I prefer to tune in to my body, breath, and surroundings.

If I didn’t run I would spend more time swimming and biking because I know that physical activity and being outside make me a happy camper!

I can’t run without first doing a little warmup of high knees, butt kicks, side shuffles.

My first marathon was Boston and I had an amazing time running in memory of my mom and raising money for Ovarian Cancer.

My current favorite shoe to run in is Altras

My most difficult run ever was the half marathon at the end of a half ironman triathlon and I had some tummy issues. 

I’ve ran 9 marathons/races.

The longest distance I’ve ran is 50 miles in Massachusetts.

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