I recently completed a marathon, the Mhor Marathon, https://www.runmhor.net/mhormarathon, which is held locally – it starts in Callander at the High School and finishes at Monachyle Mhor Hotel. I would highly recommend it – really well organised, loads of checkpoints, good communication, wonderful volunteers and stunning scenery – there are a ‘few’ hills involved! What made it a truly fantastic event was the fact that in the last mile you have to cross a river by boat and you are handed a PIMS for the ride, plus there’s a free Pint for every participant at the finish and loads of beautiful food options too. If you are looking for a serious marathon time, it’s probably not the best event to go for, but if like me, you are looking for an off-roadish run that’s quirky, local, and, if you don’t take it too serious marathon, then it could be for you!
It’s my first long distance run in 6 years, so it’s been a while and I had to really train for it, in saying that, my training regime was patchy and inconsistent, but having the goal sitting there, made me do some long runs in the hills and kept me focused to a degree. I’ve not had the confidence to enter a run in a long time due to my injuries, which were all brought about because of a decade of ‘ultra marathon running’ – I have no regrets, it was a fantastic 10 years of running in all terrains, but it left me with a lot of muscle imbalances and inflammation in my body. I took a break from running and concentrated on other things – hot yoga, trx, swimming, mountain biking, road biking, hill walking and anything that did not aggravate my injuries and I got to discover and enjoy other things.
So this year I thought I would give it a try and see what would happen. If my body fell apart during the training, I would pull out, but it would be good to test myself again.
What I did not realise was how much my last 6 years of yoga/meditation/breathing would help me in this run and how much the yoga would help me to recover.
I discovered hot yoga 8 years ago, as I knew I needed to stretch more – I was having a lot of fun doing loads of different sports but I was getting that stiffness and soreness that creeps in during your late 30’s. I had pushed my body, probably more than I should have with too little progressive training, too much overload, too little rest and too many challenges – there was always going to be issues ahead! My tightness benefitted me greatly, it’s your bodies way of protecting you, but over time, the tightening can lead to increased contraction which becomes restrictive and can cause long –term discomfort.
I began practicing hot yoga, 90 mins of Bikram, twice a week and for 3 years it kept me going and allowed me to continue doing what I loved. I never over-did the yoga side of things, it was purely there as a rehab: a stretch, an opportunity to work on my balance, increase my lung capacity, concentration and eventually after about a year, a wonderful 90 mins of complete ‘stillness’ offering probably more mental benefits, than physical. I never tried to achieve too much in the postures; I was certainly inspired and sometimes my ego took over, but the majority of the time it was about just opening, lengthening, strengthening and stabilising whilst getting a fantastic detox, via the sweat!
It was only later, once I stopped, or my body stopped me, doing so many ‘challenges’, that I became more immersed in my yoga practice and trained as a teacher. You can’t become a yoga teacher and practice yoga without looking at all aspects of yoga. It might be that the physical asana draws you into the practice, but there is a whole yogic world waiting for you to discover. At Heat we like to share some of this with our clients; a lot of what the Eastern world has been doing for hundreds of thousands of years can truly benefit our western lifestyles. So I developed my yoga practice and branched out and learnt more about Pranayama – breath-work, meditation, the Yamas and Niyamas – yoga’s ethical practices (simply put: the Do’s and Don’ts), the history and philosophy of yoga, meridians, nadas, chakras and more! Fascinating stuff. The whole ethos behind Savasana – corpse pose is extensive and you could spend a lot of time exploring this one pose and all its benefits.
Anyway, I digress, I just wanted to point out that in the last 6 years, I’ve probably tried a lot of ‘yogic experiences’ which benefitted me personally, but I had no idea how much they would benefit me when I was running for 26 miles.
I started the run feeling really nervous and apprehensive about what would happen, physically, over the next 26 miles; I still did not trust my body and I knew that I had to be conservative and not get too excited or the ‘wheels could come off’. I had not done any sprint training, hill sprints, fast tempo runs etc. – nada, prior to the marathon, all of which get your legs ‘bullet proof’ for the marathon. I had done 1 x long run a week and my yoga/TRX/hot core, so I had to work within my training limitations.
Off I went and the first six miles seemed to just glide by: I was running on nerves, excitement and adrenaline. It hit me at around 6 miles that I still had 20 miles to get through. The run is pretty rural with very little spectators, as it’s hard to reach the running areas, plus it’s a small entry size which kind of spreads everyone out; for a lot of the time, you are running on your own with a Loch on one side and surrounded by lovely trees. It was about this time as my mind was processing the fact that we had a big task ahead, that I remembered that I have this ‘toolbox’ of things that I could use and I should use them, so I started to ‘meditate between the miles’
Meditation, at my level anyhow, is hard: I never am that sure ‘if I’m getting it’, but I love the effort in trying to find some stillness & peace, to get away from the ‘story’ running in my head. I really need to be more consistent with my efforts! But, all the while being happy at my efforts so far – there’s always more, right? I often feel like one of those people who say, ‘i need to go to a yoga retreat to start my yoga practice’ – well, maybe, I need a meditation retreat!
Anyway, I try and I also see the time before, during and after my yoga practice as meditation – a time of quiet reflection with no outside distractions, just breath, mind and body working together to move or be still. My yoga has allowed me to be still when I need to; to lock into my breath; to become aware of my body and breath and nothing else; to be aware of one moment at a time.
So I used this technique and said to myself, ‘meditate to the next mile’. Of course you get distracted: you approach another runner and say hello; you see a drinks stop ahead; you approach a hill and your running stride changes or you start walking; you say ‘hello’ and ‘thank-you’ to everyone who cheers you on or gives you a ‘drink’. But there are so many moments between the miles that you can focus on one thing, your stride, your breath, the horizon ahead, the back of the runner ahead, the flat water, counting breathes or just being aware of each breath, each foot strike for as long as possible. And there in the distance is the next mile marker, another landmark and then time to set an intention for the next mile – meditate to the next mile – zone out and zone in or watch the road ahead, listen and feel each step, completely relax your body. Sounds weird to say ‘completely relax your body’ when you are doing a marathon, but I said that a lot to myself: ‘relax your shoulders, shake out your arms, relax your jaw, soften your face, feel loose, glide, run smooth’. It’s amazing how your body responds to your words and actually you don’t feel tight anymore, you feel loose and then it’s back to the breath and the next mile arrives. It was quite nice and for a while I felt I could do this forever – okay that stopped about mile 22, when I started feeling all of my inconsistent training sessions and knew my body wanted to stop and soon, but I felt so peaceful about everything (I was probably going too slow) and whatever pain or discomfort I was feeling, I was able to keep a lid on it and almost, sounds a bit weird, sit on top of it and experience the run from someplace else, a platform of softness, breath, calmness and no discomfort.
Occasionally I fell back into my body and felt the fatigue and the struggle, but I went back to that place (I can only call it a ‘place’ because I don’t know how else to describe it!) where I was in the zone, what has been known as a state of flow – it’s a blissful state, that I’ve achieved in yoga, not all the time, but enough times over the last 8 years, so my body remembers and the stressors which were facing me during my 26 miles were kept under wrap.
I can only think that I’ve trained my body, through yoga, breathing and meditation to go to the edge and clear my mind and connect with my inner stillness. I was out of my comfort zone for sure, but there was no panic, stress or tension in my body. I thought about it a lot over the next 24 hours and thought how amazing these tools are for any sports person, amateur athlete or weekend warrior and probably why so many people are doing yoga, meditation and breath-work to enhance their performance. In my small little world, I can see how these things are so complementary to everything you do, from a full IRONMAN to a 3 hour trip around IKEA with the kids!
The next day I did Katie’s hot flow class as recovery, firstly for the heat and secondly for the stretch. I did not try hard; my brain was in complete surrender because I was still fatigued from Sunday’s marathon, so it gave me permission to go easy on myself. How often do you get caught up trying to get the pose, rather than do what’s right for your body? It’s the ego ruling the way and making you push, when you should maybe stay and breathe. Well for this Monday, my ego was tucked away and I hung at the back and decided to be a watcher of my body and breath, whilst moving, just concentrating on each movement and stretch without ‘trying’. I could feel every muscle I’d used and I could feel how the warrior poses stretch your hips and open your shoulders and use all the muscles in your feet (more than 100 muscles in the feet!). Because my body was sore and tired, it felt it all, it felt every stretch, opening and extension, I never went close to the edges of my normal practice – I held back and stayed beyond any tipping points. I wanted to get rid of built up toxins/lactic acid in my muscles from the run; I wanted to stretch my muscles without strain; I wanted to sweat out the red wine I drank the night before (after the marathon, honest!); I wanted to thank my body for getting me through the 26 miles, I wanted to lie in savasana and soak up the rest. That yoga class was a gift to me.
Going through the marathon, a couple weeks ago now, and feeling what I did, has only made me even more excited and confident about taking on other things in the future. I doubt I’ll ever do ‘ultra marathons’ again or anything close, but never say never, hey?…. and whatever I do take on; indeed whatever hardships are awaiting; we all have this little ‘toolbox’ at our disposal to help us. My yoga journey though, will endure, and I’m grateful to all it has given me so far……