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March 2021 Instructor of the Month: Hazel Wood


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’m originally from Bradford in the north of England. I lived in France for one year and Switzerland for two years, but San Anselmo (just north of San Francisco), California has been my home for the last few decades.  I had a corporate career as a sales manager for a major software company, Autodesk, for many years.  There was a bike path by the office so I would go for a run at lunchtime and running and exercise became a passion. In addition to teaching ChiRunning and ChiWalking I have taught a fitness class for older adults for many years at my local Community Education department. 

How did you start running? 

Apart from playing field hockey and being on the athletics team at the Bradford Girls Grammar School I didn’t start running recreationally until I arrived in California.  It started as a bet with a friend –she said she could beat me in a race around the Marina Green in San Francisco.  I won and had so much fun I started training the next day.  Within a year I ran my first marathon. I was hooked.

When and how did ChiRunning come into your life? 

I met Danny Dreyer through my running club, Tamalpa Runners, when he lived in San Rafael, California.  At the time my running was stuck on a plateau.  It was feeling like a lot of effort and my energy and enthusiasm for running had started to wane.  Also, I was tired of getting sidelined with Achilles tendonitis.  I took some private lessons from Danny in April and May 2002 and the rest is history.  To this day I can still hear Danny’s voice in my head “run tall, just fall, let your heels float up, relax your shoulders, use your arms, increase your cadence”.  It was a long list.  

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

Where do I start?  First, by learning and practicing Chi Running I discovered it was the way I was running that was draining my energy (not hormonal change as I had suspected) and causing my injuries.  For me personally the biggest Chi nuggets or “ah ha” moments have been to (1) not solely rely on my legs but instead to move from my center (dantien); (2) focus on alignment and relaxation–who would have thought that running is easier when you’re relaxed! (3) use my arms efficiently–before Chi Running I didn’t think about my arms –I just took them along for the ride!  

It was through Chi Running that I rediscovered my love of running ad felt revitalized and confident that I will be able to run for as long as my body will allow.  I credit Chi Running for helping me avoid over-use or misuse injuries all these years. It has given me a toolkit of focuses and body adjustments I can use to adapt to any situation—for cruising on easy runs, racing and avoiding injury as well as applying the principles to daily life.

What do you think is the biggest misconception of ChiRunning?

That it’s a quick fix to running faster or avoiding injury.  Many people think they need to “do” certain things with their body, rather than listen to their body and just “allow” their body to move in subtle ways

What motivates you to run?

Fortunately, there are several factors that motivate me.  While the “exercise high” doesn’t happen every day it does feels good to get out, to move and enjoy my surroundings.  The self awareness, self-development and sense of achievement feel wonderful.  I’m also motivated by the social aspects of the sport— the camaraderie of having wonderful conversations with friends, meeting new people, fun carpool outings to races and of course the post-race or post run celebrations.

What achievements are you most proud of?

To have been in the inaugural ChiRunning Instructors training with Danny in October 2003 and the fact that I am the only one of that group still teaching.  I am also extremely proud of having been a Master Instructor for several years and for having had the opportunity to help well countless runners improve their running or discover their joy and passion for running and their innate ability to run.

For running achievements, there are a few that come to mind.  In my first marathon, I placed 3rd in my age group with a 3:25 finish and eventually improved to run my best marathon time of 3:06 at the California International Marathon.  Way back in 2005 (after Chi Running for 3 years) I was first in my age group at the PAUSATF National Trail Championship at the Marin Headlands 50K. My other fond and proud achievement memory is when I won my third black shirt in the Dipsea (numbered black shirts go to the top 35 finishers in this handicapped race).

What led you to become an instructor?

I remember the exact moment when I decided to become an instructor.  I had just finished one of my private lessons with Danny when he told me he planned to start an instructor program.  I could already feel the benefits of ChiRunning and wanted to share it with others so I immediately told him “count me in!”.  It was over a year before the program actually launched, but I was still hooked and committed.  

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

I love everything about being an instructor.  I enjoy being part of a fabulous group of like-minded instructors who are dedicated to helping each other as well as all our students.  I love to witness students’ reactions as they tune-in and learn from their own bodies and experience their “ah ha” moments.  I don’t just look at my students and classes as a teaching experience, but rather as an opportunity to create a fun experience in a learning environment.  People relax more when they are having fun and—as we all know— relaxation is a huge component of ChiRunning. Finally, I’ll throw modesty to the wind by admitting that I love to receive students’ positive feedback and expressions of appreciation.  Knowing that I have helped some part of their life puts a big smile on my face and makes me feel good.

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

Although there was a time I could easily run 6 or even 7 days a week I now need recovery time so I usually run 4 days a week now and perhaps an additional run/walk with my dog which of course involves lots of stops. My run courses include hills of varying effort at least two days a week and I enjoy long, easy runs.  I plan to train for a half-marathon as races come back so I will reduce the hills and do some tempo runs.

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

ChiWalking – with and without my dog.  I also do some yoga, pilates and strength training. 

Advice for people new to Chi Running?

Be patient, be committed to practice, practice, practice and be content with gradual progress.  Enjoy the process of listening to your body–be in the moment so that you can feel how change happens in the moment. Most runners’ stride length is too long so as a starting point I always advise my students to keep a short arm swing as they start their run to help them control their stride length.

Short answer! Okay, GO.

Most memorable race: The Boston Marathon

Ideal weather for running: Moderate temperature, sunny … hmm, that’s what I have most of the year in California.

Focus that currently dominates your running: Cadence

Favorite place to run: Mt Tamalpais, Marin County

Go-to before race food: Small coffee, a bit of yogurt and a few bites of an energy bar or some almond butter

Celebratory food after a race: Bagels with cream cheese, lox and capers, chocolate chip cookies

Upcoming race/goal: The Dipsea.  If it is allowed to be held this year it will be my 39th Dipsea Race. 

Run with or without phone/music: Run without music so I can focus on my body and my running buddies or my surroundings.  I take my phone as a safety net.

Fill in the blank.

If I didn’t… I would be cranky and antsy

I can’t run without…a watch.  Not because I’m addicted to the data, but to be conscious of how long I’ve been out running

My first race was…a cross country race on the Bradford Girls Grammar School team and I…threw up all over the games mistress’ car.  (A bit of trivia … a games mistress is a British term originating in the late 17th century meaning a woman who teaches games and sports in a school.  We didn’t have coaches at my school.) 

My current favorite shoe to run in is… Inov-8 Rocklite (trail)

My most difficult run ever was…when I was running alone and over-estimated the length and difficulty of a training run in the middle of a hot day.  All stupid mistakes.  I called my husband to come and pick me up.

I’ve run…46 ultras – including one 50 miler, 10 marathons, over 20 half marathons, 38 Dipsea races and many 5Ks, 10Ks and cross country races.

The longest distance I’ve ran…. Where? A 50 mile race – the American River 50 in California.

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