My Running Story: the marriage of stretch & sprint

Many of you know my yoga story.  This is my running story.

In high school, I remember hyperventilating at every indoor track meet. Could I win? probably not. But if I worked hard enough, I probably could earn points for my team.  Would I earn enough points? I was scared to fail. And it felt terrible to come in 2nd or 3rd each time. I never won.  And, my high school’s track was in the center of the gymnasium.  If you watched the swim meet, the viewing deck opened out onto the track.  Watching wrestling, fencing or squash?  Just turn around and see us running. It seemed the 400, my better race, sometimes had a big crowd. But the 50m dash ALWAYS happened during the other sports’ halftime.

During the spring season, I could figure out how to use the blocks to my advantage. They slowed me down. But I still had to use them.  I pulled my groin once pushing off too hard. I remember I loved track workouts but the meets were dreadful.   I despised being the last one in during cross country but loved that out of body experiences where it felt as though my skin was trying to keep up. My mind was trying to keep up with legs that kept propelling me forward.  I remember the NCISWAA (or whatever) champions of the year trophy. I remember being written about with the star Ashley Brennan as a freshman phenom.  The reporters were just being nice about me.

I loved running. But in the evenings, after study hall and before going to bed, I would flip out and try yoga poses from a book I bought. It was an Iyengar book. Then I got an Astanga book without knowing the two traditions had a history.  My favorite pose was karnapidasana and janusirsasana. I loved hamstring stretches and eventually pulled my hamstrings only I didn’t know it.

I got injured running. I got injured stretching. But I never stopped doing either.

In college, I did sit ups over what I would now, in my new life, call a birthing ball.  The house thought I was athletic but because I’d never won anything, I didn’t believe them.  Housemates told me I should join the XC team. I thought I was too slow despite training 3x week with a winning team member.  One fall, I witnessed my only collegiate track meet in Ainsworth Gymnasium. And stayed away. I still did yoga in my room.

On most weekends after college I would drive up Rt. 2 to watch my sister and her team compete in field hockey. I would run the back roads in the happy valley and then sit in the car for 2 hours. If I missed my run, I would jog through Williamstown and into NY (that happened just once -thank goodness). At the old age of 25, I took home a trophy with my own name on it.  I’d only ever received a medal for placing.

I moved to Boston and a friend in Law School suggested that the only way we’d see each other now that she lived in Wisconsin was if we trained for a race and then saw our other friend in California. I ran 9 miles a few times and then ran my first ½ marathon with an awful hamstring injury and couldn’t walk for a week.

The following year, I enrolled in yoga teacher training and ran the Boston Marathon.

People who I run with don’t understand the allure of yoga: “slow and just stretching=boring.”The yogis “’ think running is unhealthy for the body. Too much stress. Cant’ be good for you”  Both ignore science that confirms stressing the body in long holds makes you more flexible. Stressing the body through strength work makes you stronger. Probably applies to breathing and VO2 max- something runners and yogis care alot about.

I’ve been injured running (1998 groin so bad I slid down the stairs in my dormitory, unable to hold myself up). I’ve been injured practicing yoga (hamstring attachment strain in 2007 that still haunts me). And still, both ways of being are essential to my knowledge of self.

I consider living in an average body. Apart from my chocolate addition, I take care of it, but I’m not a contortionist nor am I a world record holder. Sometimes my flexibility in yoga is curbed by a PR on the road. But, my flexibility has gotten me into trouble. Other times, when running, focused on breathing, I’ve gotten from mile 5 to 18 without knowing how because I’ve just been with myself and only myself for hours. Runners would call that being in the zone, yogis call being present. It is not autopilot, It is clarity that cannot be anticipated or forced.

For me, Running and Yoga augment one to the other. They are similar in that reflection is always relative to your personal best or what your body did last time. Sometimes tempo runs are on the agenda and sometimes holding back to maintain a steady cadence is key.

 

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