How Yoga Changed the Way I Run and Train

- Marcy Freed

We have all heard that yoga is the perfect compliment to running. It can help  develop muscular strength, flexibility, and balance, which can reduce the risk of injury. It also helps you improve your mental focus and breathing efficiency. 

I have run for most of my life. I started as a child when my dad was a track coach. He would pick me up and take me to the track where he coached and the track was my babysitter. So, I ran. And, I have kept running. When I started practicing yoga, I knew it would be good for my body and a great way to balance the strain and stress of endurance training. What I didn’t realize was how Yoga would change the way I approached running. 

Yoga is a practice. I step on my mat and become an observer. I listen to my body and what it is telling me. I listen without judgement. Some days when I get on the mat I find ease in my body and room to move into poses that I am practicing. Other days, I meet the same poses with resistance. There are other poses that I work towards and within that my body isn’t ready for - it is those poses where I find opportunity. My muscles will lengthen with practice. The range of motion in my joints will increase overtime. I’ve seen it happen. 

Before I started practicing yoga, my mental chatter during a run sounded a bit like this: “Wow. I am really feeling tired today. My body feels like it weighs a ton. I’m not fast enough. If I don’t pick it up I’m not going to reach my goal time.”

If I was having a good run, I didn’t think much about it. I just enjoyed the run. I DO RECOMMEND just enjoying a run. As much and as often as possible. But, for me, this isn’t as frequent as I would like it to be. 

Practicing yoga allowed me to approach my runs differently. Each run is a “practice” or a data gathering excursion. If I feel tired, I observe my bio-mechanical alignment and my breath. Can I make adjustments that can help my run today? if so, I do. Did I get enough rest? How has my nutrition been? That extra five pounds of weight on my frame actually does impact how I feel running. What do I do about that? I loose it; or, I adjust my performance expectations.

In sum,  an observer has emerged where judgmental chatter once lived. Most endurance runners are very good at enduring pain and discomfort. We are good at not listen to our bodies. One of the biggest benefits of practicing yoga for a runner is gaining the ability to tune into your body and to respond to what you find there. The other major benefit is learning to care for and nourish the body that you are asking to accomplish a major feat. The class I teach at Front Runner on Sundays at 10 a.m. is active recovery. It is designed to help you listen to and take care of the body you are training and pushing. I was recently interviewed for an “running and yoga” article for Trail Runner Magazine. I was asked, “What is the biggest hurdle you think that runners face in the yoga classroom?” My answer was: Themselves. 

I find that runners often think they are not flexible and therefore do not belong in a yoga class. Runners are often accustomed to pushing themselves to extremes and the concept of active recovery through yoga is foreign to them. We don’t listen to our bodies we push outside of it. The biggest hurdle for most runners is getting them in the classroom and getting them to a place of accepting the need to nourish the body through yoga in order to be a better competitor.  

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