Eat & Run, the 2012 book from ultrarunner Scott Jurek had me hooked from page one, as he takes the reader straight to the woozy lows of Death Valley and the Badwater Ultra Run: 135 miles of over heating, black tarmac and dehydration.
But as I kept reading what really caught my attention was the mention of yoga, and not just on one occasion. Jurek discusses in depth the importance of two aspects of yoga: core strength and breathing. But most significantly Jurek admits that he struggled with yoga: “…until I understood it was a practice, not a competition.”
It is difficult for runners to switch off that competitive drive (it took me years to figure it out), and when to turn it on – but Jurek has it down – and with seven Western State 100mile titles to his name I think we can say he is doing something right?! Yoga exists as a practice that for runners can allow us to relax, really focus on our breathing and find out which areas of the body are tight and need stretching. The ‘added extras’ are increased focus and concentration – but let’s focus for now on the areas that Jurek mentions.
Starting with the core, Jurek makes two statements that stand out:
“Any yoga position will be of tremendous value to the runner if you make sure to focus on and engage your core…. If you practice yoga, concentrate on backbend moves like the locust, the bridge and the boat.”
Doing core work two or three times a week (for the front and the back of the body) will pay dividends in the long run. With a strong core we are better equipped to move ourselves forward – in a sense pushing ourselves forward rather than pulling. Jurek also recommends Pilates, conditioning work that integrates planks, and if you go to the gym: pull downs and rows. Additionally finding a yoga class to take once (or twice if you have time) a week will help with leg and hip strength, and the stretching may even help to ease issues such as IT band complications down the road.
When it comes to yogic breathing, Jurek dedicates a short instructional section to the practice in the book on page 120. The form of yogic breathing that Jurek has found most beneficial is diaphragm breathing using only the nose – where an inhale expands the abdomen and allows a deeper breath to be drawn in. Jurek goes on to suggest that eventually runners might be able to breathe only through the nose into the abdomen on easy runs. In a short exert Jurek describes how he practiced breathing only through his nose on a run:
“I experimented… I didn’t worry about speed or form… I focused only on breathing in and out through my nose. It was like when I was a kid, teaching myself to relax… I trained myself to breathe from my diaphragm, to ‘belly breathe,’ rather than breathe from my chest.”
Armed with insights from Eat & Run, personally I feel more informed going into the next few months of training as I prepare for a 55k ultra run through a canyon. Ultra running is not just about the miles – that’s a given – it’s also about the ‘little things’: core strengthening, how to breathe, what to consider eating and drinking and how to be ready mentally. And at the end of the book Jurek talks about one of the most important aspects of running that we all sometimes forget:
“We strive toward a goal, and whether we achieve it or not is important, but it’s not what’s most important. What matters is how we move toward that goal.”
In an effort to move towards my goal of running strongly in Arizona I am currently including a variety of cross training in an average week to build an aerobic base fitness – which includes swimming and cycling. As an extension of that last weekend I took part in my first open water sea swim in Hawaii. The 1.5 mile Popoia Swim organised by the Kailua Masters Club had a record number of entrants, and was a blast from start to finish. The course took swimmers into the swell to start with, out towards Popoia/ Flat Island (site of a former Hawaiian fishing shrine, now home to wedge-tailed shearwaters). As we swam around the island the incoming surf kept it ‘real’. I smiled at the waves and tried to stay relaxed. We then headed back towards the beach with the swell now pushing us home, over grazing turtles and the cruising fish. After the race pancakes, presentations and a raffle kept everyone chatting, and one lady generously donated her prize to me: a free body piercing?! I haven’t quite decided which part of my body to pierce – watch the instagram space for an update…
Overall – if we just keep practicing, whether it be yoga or running, whatever you choose, the competing part of it will just become an added way for us to hone our chosen exercise – to do what we do with integrity and passion, just like Scott Jurek.
To end this post, I’d like to direct you to the pages of a Welsh clothing company called howies, and a lovely post on their blog that I think Scott Jurek would give a nod to: READ HERE.
P.s. Talking of Badwater… read more about Hawaii ultra runner Hannah Roberts and her trip to the ultra this year on her blog: Run Sea Legs Run.