Guest post by E. Denham
Truth be told I didn’t come to Yogafurie for the yoga… I signed up to a 30 day trail for 30 quid to get hot. After two years of training I was on my way to the desert to attempt The Marathon des Sables (MdS) – a 251km self-sufficient, multi-stage, ultra-marathon held over 6 days in the middle of the Sahara Desert. Hot yoga was the final pillar of my training, so that I could acclimate to physical activity in extreme heat. Did it, loved it, but trotted off to my race with no real intention of coming back.
On my return from completing the MdS, the ‘post-race-blues’ kicked in with bells on. If you race, you’ll understand that inevitable come down for a few days after an event. Despite the elation of succeeding in my challenge, after dedicating two years of my life to the training I was struggling to shift the flat feeling. My fella made a passing comment about how he observed I was “much more chilled when you were going to yoga”. I work in Bristol, but I live an hour away. The commitment when I was focused on the MdS was fine – but could I be arsed to invest the time and money in “real life”? I decided to sign up for another month and see how it went – it wasn’t just about getting hot this time.
To make the financial investment worthwhile I decided I needed to go three times a week. I’d also signed up for a couple more conventional running events, a half and a full marathon. Yoga just became part of my groove. It wasn’t an integral part of my training plan but it was a great active recovery. There were all the other benefits of regular practice, the methodical and mindful connection between body, mind and breath. Dedicated time to getting out of my head and into my body, my partner was right – I was more chilled.
Five months after my return from the desert I had my first road race. Cheltenham Half Marathon. It should be noted at this point that I am no athlete. I’m a middle aged, mother of two who came to running in my 30s and loved it. I can bosh out a decent sub 2 hour half marathon – an average mid-packer. For years I had hovered around 1h:55m for a half marathon.
So I rocked up to Cheltenham Half with no particular expectations, other than running it in less than two hours. Off I trot and settled into the run. To my absolute astonishment I finished in 1h:46m! That was a full 7 minutes off my previous half marathon personal best (PB)!
The only thing different in my training plan was the yoga. Could it really have made that much of an impact? I needed to pay more attention. Through the next few months and races, including my first ever sub 4 hour marathon I came to realise that my yoga practice was actually integral to my running performance and training.
I understand now that I was unconsciously applying the principles of yoga to my running. I was making the connection between my body, my mind and my breath. I was noticing where I was holding tension in my body when I was running and therefore actively released and relaxed into my body. I was aware of the space my body occupied and was able to breathe through it when I reached my ‘edge’ to keep the pace over a more prolonged distance.
I was also noticing that my recovery from longer training runs and races was greatly improved. The grumble in my right hip that I’d had ever since I’d started running any distance over 10 miles – wasn’t a thing anymore. But more than that I was infinitely more attuned to my body, so even mid-run I would become aware of a potential niggle, pull back, or relax and head off a problem before it really became one.
And now yoga is fundamental to my running. I hope I can keep chipping away at my performance and when I no longer run for speed; I hope keeping yoga as an integral part of my training will mean I can still knock out a marathon or two a year.