I took up running again on January 3rd, 2009. My first run was 1.55 miles and it took me almost 22 minutes to finish it. When you do the math, that works out to an unimpressive 14:11 minute mile. I think I could have walked faster than I ran at that point.
A little over 3 years later on May 6th, 2012, I finished a half marathon (13.1 miles) in 2:18:40 – which is about a 10:35 mile pace! If you had asked me a year ago if I wanted to run a half marathon, I probably would have laughed at you – I had never run a race longer than a 10K, and a fairly slow one at that. But yoga helped make it possible in so many ways.
Yoga kept me injury-free. The deep stretch and yin classes were vital to maintaining flexibility and joint health. During my entire training, my only injury was a few days of shin splints after running too much on the sidewalk. No IT band issues, no hip or knee pain whatsoever. I also maintained a weekly Ashtanga practice throughout my training – yoga cikitsa, or therapy, for my entire body and mind. My long runs were on Sundays and it felt great to come to a yin or restorative class immediately afterwards, and then twist and bind and fold the next day to rejuvenate myself through the primary sequence.
Yoga helped build my core and leg strength, both vital to good running form. When you have to propel your body forward for over two hours, you’ll start to feel it in your abs! All of the Warrior poses and Navasanas and Planks were building the strength I needed to keep going.
A comfortable running pose for me feels a lot like Tadasana – tailbone tucked, shoulders back, head level. I learned to apply the yoga principles of suka and stira, strength and ease, to my running. When I’m powering up a hill my legs were the suka. But the rest of my body, in my arms, shoulders, face, were the stira – relaxed and comfortable. Too much tension in the wrong parts of the body can lead to injury. I learned to apply my controlled breath practice cultivated through many hours of yoga to running, as I built the aerobic capacity needed for a longer distance.
I went to a yin class a couple hours after the race, since I had spent the previous 24 hours with so much adrenaline and cortisol running through my body due to nerves and waking up early and the physical toll of actually running the whole half-marathon (including a very large hill at mile 12.5….) It was exactly what I needed – a reflective and meditative practice to quiet my mind, and breathe, and finally slow down after all that preparation.
Would I do it again? I’m not sure yet. The rest of my races for the year are focused on much shorter distances (5-10K), and I haven’t decided if running a half-marathon was a ‘bucket list’ sort of thing or something I want to continue doing. But I know if I get the distance bug again, yoga will be there to make my next half marathon even better than this one was.