In preparing for Whistler’s Meet Your Maker 80 kilometre cross-country run this September, I’ve thought a lot about approaches to training. Not being 25 anymore means I can’t rely on brute force to bash my way to the finish line. I’ve spent an obscene amount of time researching speed training, the virtues of running long slow distances, as well as approaches to running technical cross-country trails. I’ve also been noodling plenty about what food goes into my body, how much rest I need, and accumulating lots of running gear along the way…
A few weeks back, while my son slept soundly in the next room, my friend Jason Robinson and I shot the shit over a bottle of sake. The usual topics came up: the challenges of a freelance lifestyle, relationships, and, finally, athletics. Jason isn’t an ordinary dude, by any means. He has a fire in the belly that has been getting him out the door to train for long jump — for over three decades. The journey took him to Stanford University on scholarship. Oh, and he has gone to Olympic trials 5 times. One word: dedication.
At 43, he has been thinking it may be time to hang up the cleats for good. Over the fall/winter, zonked from life’s stressors, Jason took off several months from training and ended up sitting (and downward-dogging) in front of the TV doing yoga. When he finally went back to the track, he was shocked to find he was stronger, faster, and more limber. It turns out that taking the mental and physical time out from training coupled with the yoga has helped release some tension that was perhaps actually getting in the way of his performances. With so many years of training stored in his muscles, it appears he’s able to train less and arrive at his potential faster (though, the price is that he can do fewer big efforts before he has to properly recover).
Recently, there has been a lot of talk in the running world about not stretching cold muscles. I get that, and I tend to do loosening movements before running rather than pulling and holding postures. Some runners even preach that keeping everything tight actually helps running alignment. I tend to believe in what Jason uncovered, which is that the body benefits from flexibility and increased range of motion (particularly in the hips and spine). In sports as dynamic as cross-country running and long jump, being stiff and inflexible will likely lead to more injuries.
Of course, I’m not the first one to recognize the value of yoga for runners. There are plenty of videos and even yoga classes tailored to runners, who perhaps want a more practical experience in the yoga room. Click here for my favourite runner’s yoga video online. I’ve also become a recent convert to the foam roller, which effectively lengthens the leg, back, and butt muscles (it’s like having a massage therapist on call in your closet).
Being relaxed is more than just loose muscles. It’s also a state of mind. Mindfulness practices allow us to pinpoint and then release tension – whether sitting at a desk or running in the woods. For the last 5 years I’ve been taking 20 minutes every few days to do audio-guided Yoga Nidra, a meditation and mindfulness practice. I keep it on my cell phone – so I can do it anywhere at any time. The practice helps quiet the chattering voice in my head that tends to narrate and blather 24/7. All this leads to a deeper peace and inner focus, which allows for more presence. When I do Yoga Nedra, I actually feel like a better, less reactive, parent. Sometimes, the opposite is true when I don’t. Mindfulness also helps the pre-visualization process in the days leading up to a race.
As Jason decides whether to compete for another year, I’m going to add some yoga sessions to my schedule in the hope that it helps my body recovery faster and perhaps brings a more relaxed flow to my running. After all, if I’m going to meet my maker, I might as well be limber.