Go the Distance: Power Yoga for Distance Runners

All sports take an incredible amount of mind control.  Countless athletes—the best linebackers, golfers, hockey players, sprinters, figure skaters (the list goes on)—attribute a large portion of their athletic success to their mental training.  Long distance runners are certainly not an exception. 

Retired marathon runner Joan Benoit Samuelson famously said, “running is 80% mental.”  Samuelson took home the gold medal in the marathon race in 1984, the year the women’s marathon was introduced.  Another retired long distance runner, Lynn Jennings, once said, "Mental will is a muscle that needs exercise, just like muscles of the body."  Jennings failed to qualify for the 1984 Olympics only to come back in 1992 and win the bronze medal in the 10,000 meters.  In 1999, at age 38, she ran officially in the Boston Marathon in 2:38.

Whether you have your sights on setting a new marathon world-record or simply aim to complete your first 10k, committing to a mental training program will help you reach peak performance.  Because you probably do not have much extra time in your busy schedules, I designed the following yoga routine to help you, as a distance runner, to build a stronger connection between what is going on in your body and in your mind and simultaneously increase your physical aptitude for the sport. 

Practicing this sequence regularly will not only help you to effectively train mentally, but also to increase lung capacity and flexibility in your hips, lengthen your quads and hamstrings, stabilize your ankles, and strengthen your core to help decrease lower back pain.  PR, here you come!

YOGA SEQUENCE FOR DISTANCE RUNNERS

Throughout the following sequence, it is important to breathe deeply and evenly (unless otherwise noted) in and out through your nose.  In each posture and the transition between postures, continue to focus on your breath, observe how your body feels, and notice how you react if your body feels tense or tight.  Build mental endurance by continuing to tell yourself to relax your muscles.  Make sure to move through each posture mindfully.  If you simply feel a little tight or uncomfortable, breathe through the posture and remind yourself to relax.  If moving into a posture makes you feel like you may cause injury to yourself, simply skip the posture, modify it in a way that feels good to you,  and/or spend more time in another posture.

Seated Meditation

  • Posture: First thing is first.  Come to a comfortable cross-legged seated position.  If you are feeling particularly tight in your hips, you can roll up a blanket or towel and place it underneath you for support.  Place your hands gently on your knees.  Sit up tall through your spine and soften your shoulder blades down your back.
  • Breath:  Slow, even inhales and exhales for 3-5 minutes
  • Benefits: A number of studies, including ones conducted by Harvard University researchers, show that meditation, even for only a few minutes a day, reduces stress and helps you to focus.  In an endurance sport where every second counts, the ability to hone in on your blind spots while continuing to push forward is invaluable. 

Kundalini Goalpost Twist

  • Transition: Raise your elbows up to shoulder height and stack your hands over your elbows.
  • Posture: Keep your arms up and twist through your torso to the right and left.  Continue to sit up tall.  Allow your head to come over the shoulder of the direction you are twisting.  Notice if it is easier to twist to one side or the other.  
  • Breath:  Quick exhales out through the nose every time you twist.  3-5 minutes.
  • Benefits: Increase lung capacity. Promotes body awareness; as you move through this exercises, notice if one side feels tighter than the other or if you feel “stuck” in the movement or in your breath.  Builds core strength.

Ankle Roles 1.0

  • Transition: Release down onto your back and hug your knees into your chest.
  • Posture: Keeping the back of your head and shoulders down on the mat, aim to cross your forearms across your shins and grab your ankles.  Roll your ankles clockwise 25 times. Repeat, rolling your ankles counterclockwise 25 times. 
  • Breath:  Even inhales and exhales through the nose.
  • Benefits: Neutralizes your spine.  Builds strength and flexibility in your ankles.

 Lying Psoas Stretch

  • Transition: Plant your left foot on the floor. Extend your right leg toward the sky or as high as you can without compensating by bending the right leg.  Extend your left leg straight along the ground.
  • Posture: Keeping the back of your head and shoulders down on the mat interlace your fingers around your right leg, anywhere that feels good for you and where you can keep your right leg straight.  Simultaneously, press your left thigh down and pull your left toes back toward your left knee cap.  Reach the ball of your right foot away from you.
  • Breath:  Even inhales and exhales through the nose.
  • Benefits:  Increases flexibility in your hamstrings.  Increase range of motion.  Reduce strain on lower back.

Rag Doll

  • Transition: Hug both knees back into your chest.  Roll back and forth along the length of your mat until you build some momentum.  Plant your feet on the mat and lift your hips to the sky, coming into a forward fold.
  • Posture: Place feet hips-width distance apart.  Cross your forearms and grab opposite elbows with your hands.  If you feel any tension in your hamstrings or lower back, bend your knees. Shift your weight forward into the balls of your feet to open up your hamstrings a bit more.
  • Option: Take this to a wall.  Bring the backs of your legs to the wall and hold for 3-5 minutes for a DEEP stretch in your hammies.
  • Breath:  5-10 slow, even breaths.
  • Benefits: Increases flexibility in your hamstrings.

Runners Lunge

  • Transition: Bend your knees.  Plant your hands on the mat.  Keeping your hands at the front of the mat, walk your feet to the back of the mat.  Lift your right foot and place it to the outside of your right hand.  
  • Posture: Place both hands to the inside of your right foot.  Stack your right knee over your right ankle.  Sink your hips down toward the mat as you simultaneously send your chest forward, your left heel back, and your left quad muscles up toward the sky.  Keep your neck long by looping down and slightly in front of your fingertips.  Activate your core.  Move to next posture, side lunge, before switching sides.
  • Breath:  5-10 slow, even breaths each side.
  • Note:  If your hamstrings are feeling particularly tight, consider skipping this stretch and spending more time in “rag doll” and the “lying psoas stretch” as alternatives.
  • Benefits: Deep hamstring stretch.  If done consistently, increases stride.

Side Lunge

  • Transition: From a runners lunge with the right leg forward, slowly pivot your torso and left foot to the left and sink your hips down as you lift your chest up.
  • Posture: If you are open enough, both hands to your heart; press your right elbow into your right knee to send the knee toward your right baby toe.  If you need extra support, release your hands to the ground. Come back through a runners lunge and then back to a plank position before switching sides.
  • Breath:  5-10 slow, even breaths each side.
  • Benefits: Deep inner thigh and groin stretch.  Also stretches the Achilles tendon, calves, and hips. Great posture to do before or after a long run.

 Lying Psoas Stretch with Ankle Rolls 2.0

  • Transition:  From a plank position, release to your knees.  Swing your legs out in front of you and roll down to your back.  Extend your right leg toward the sky or as high as you can without compensating by bending it.  This time, lengthen your left leg along your mat or, to modify, keep the left knee bent. 
  • Posture: Keeping the back of your head and shoulders down on the mat interlace your fingers around your right leg.  If your left leg is straight, press your left thigh and shin down into the mat.  Flex your left foot, pulling your left toes up toward your face.  Roll your right ankle clockwise 25 times. Repeat, rolling your ankle counterclockwise 25 times.   Repeat on other leg.
  • Breath:  Even inhales and exhales through the nose.
  • Benefits: Mental endurance.  Open hamstrings.  Increase range of motion in hips.  Increase ankle strength and flexibility.    

Corpse Pose

  • Transition: Hug both knees into your chest.  Then extend your legs along the floor board.  Flop your feet open.  Lengthen your arms along the side of your body.  Turn the palms of your hands up.  Look straight up at the ceiling or sky and then close your eyes. 
  • Posture: Do nothing.  Let all of your muscular energy go.  If thoughts start to come up or you find yourself fidgeting, take a deep breath out through your mouth and do your best to come back to stillness.
  • Breath:  Stop controlling your breath.  Set a timer for 5 minutes and let your body and mind be still for the entire time.
  • Benefits:  Reduces stress and anxiety.  Relaxes the body.

 

Meatless Monday: Red Quinoa + Apple Salad [Lunch or Dinner]

After my recent trip to San Diego ComicCon, I was feeling a little under the weather.  Go figure, that is what sleepless nights, air conditioned rooms, gelato and a bacon cheeseburger (on a gluten-free bun, of course) would do to me.  Packed with fiber and protein, this superfood salad turned my frown upsidedown and inspired me to go meatless on Mondays and re-cut out the dairy for a bit too.  BALANCE! 

Red Quinoa + Apple Salad

[Gluten Free; Vegan]

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups red quinoa, cooked per package directions
  • 2 apples, cored and chopped
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened raisins and cranberries or a combo of both
  • 3 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • To taste:  Olive Oil, Balsamic Vinegar, Pink Sea Salt, Pepper 

Directions:

  • Put all of the ingredients in a large bowl and mix them up (so not like in this photo).  Refrigerate until time to serve.