How Yoga Improved My Running
Running has always been a part of my life since I was very young. My Dad would run road races with me until I was old enough to join the cross country and track teams. In high school, I decided to focus on basketball and soccer so competitive running fell off, and if I’m honest, I wasn’t mad about it. I never really enjoyed it’s so hard on my body, but I’ve never been able to get away from it! Running was part of my training for college soccer and after I blew my knee out playing indoor soccer, I turned back to running to quench my competitive spirit. No matter how much I say I don’t care about my time, I’m always in competition with myself - and my age category!
My running times have decreased as my age increases. Wait, what? How am I getting faster with age? Shouldn’t I be slowing down? A couple years ago, I was having dinner with my former college cross country runner cousin and telling him about these faster times. He knew I’d started yoga and quickly had my answer - core strength. Apparently, his best race times in college came when he was doing a lot of core work. It hit me - yoga!! My faster running times correlated with my consistent yoga practice and owning an SUP - both tremendous core workouts. I started researching all the reasons yoga can help runners and little did I know, this is not a new concept. This also explains why so many elite athletes incorporate yoga into their training.
Runners mistakenly think yoga is too slow or not challenging enough - I know I did! Another myth is you must be flexible to practice yoga and runners are not typically the most flexible people. Yoga is not about how flexible you can be, it’s about gaining flexibility - there’s a difference. The strength, balance and flexibility gained from a consistent yoga practice compliments running. Building strength and stability help with the repetitive nature of running. The hip stability I’ve gained through yoga has helped stabilize my knees and resulted in a more balanced stride. My upper body and core strength has improved dramatically with yoga, as well.
Running is a repetitive activity and if we have weak muscles and are compensating for this throughout our run, we end up with and injured and unbalanced body. This blog post from Human Kinetics summarizes this phenomenon perfectly. Yoga is all about balancing your body and mind. I love this article from Yoga Journal highlighting the benefits of yoga for runners. Yoga improves range of motion, flexibility, strength, and even breathing. The discipline of holding a yoga pose can build the mental toughness to break through the difficult parts of races. After a couple training runs, my body craves a yoga session to re-balance my body and stretch my muscles. Yoga is also great for identifying and strengthening weak muscles. Because yoga poses use several muscles, you quickly realize where you are weak and where your strength training should focus.
I’m not sure how my body survived without yoga. I see yoga as a restorative practice that allows my body to run, paddle, bike, and hike as much as I want without pain or injury. It’s a reality that you feel more aches and pains as you age, but my hope is that a consistent yoga practice will enable me to do everything I love well into the later stages of life. I’d love to be running until I’m 80 and I’ll rely on yoga to take me there.