I think I finally have dancer, or natarajasana down.
My yoga practice is not something I talk about. Not on the internet, not with friends or family, not even with Andrew. In fact, I go into my room and shut the door to practice alone. I practice in my office with the door closed on my lunch breaks. It all kinda feels like a big secret. I guess I don’t want people to think I’m some pretentious yoga nut. But my practice couldn’t be more integral to my life. It is the one thing I make sure I find time for every single day. The garden might not get watered, I might miss a little sleep, but I never forgo my yoga practice. I bring my mat on vacation and at least find the time for a forward fold and some moments of meditation.
We did it!
We ran the Cradle to the Grace 30K Trail Race and every part of my body aches including my head. Who cares, we did it, I wanted to prove to myself that I could, and I’m quite proud of the race and all that I’ve accomplished in the last four months.
That’s the thing. Compared to the four months of training, the race felt anticlimactic. I didn’t stick to my original training plan, but I did run faithfully 3-4 times per week despite all the life shit that hit me during these sixteen weeks: moving, building a garden from the ground up in three weeks, traveling twice for work, and driving back to Ohio for my grandma’s passing. Despite the sadness, anxiety, and depression, I laced up my shoes and hit the trails or pavement anyways. And every single time I felt better for it. I can honestly say the hardest part of every single run was walking out the door, and race day was no different.
Bad news first. I hurt my knee shortly after my halfway post on the trail run training. Boo. I had to scale back a bit, but I’m feeling better and running 6-10 miles with no pain. The minor injury was a great learning experience for me about my training plan. I’m a lifelong math-nerd, and I like neatness. Consistency in numbers. Structure. Naturally, when I wrote my training plan, it was very tidy and had me training most days, adding a mile or two per week in a nifty little pattern. I admit – there where days I pushed myself too hard because I wanted to meet my numbers and not “screw up” my training plan. I was SO worried about falling off the wagon and losing the endurance I was working so hard to build. Bad idea. Since I was hurt, I’ve been taking it easier and have noticed my endurance levels are exactly the same. My marker is 6 miles – I can still run 6 miles and not feel winded. My legs get tired way before my lungs, which is even further evidence that cross training to build strength is vitally important.
Good news next. Some of you may know that I have lost a considerable amount of weight over the last three years. I was formally overweight, and due to a chronic health condition completely shifted my mental and physically fitness routines. I think it’s safe to say that three years in, this is no longer a phase – I’ve made a lasting impact on my life. My health is so important to me now, it’s hard to imagine it any other way.
Last April, I had my first hydrostatic body fat test done. It was a pretty neat experience – you go underwater and you fat-to-lean body mass ratio is tested. This is a much better metric for determining healthy weight than BMI, which is based solely on weight and height. A bodybuilder could have a BMI indicating obese because she has so much muscle, which weighs more than fat. Anyways, I’m not a huge fan of measuring your body against numbers, because I believe the best indicator of health is how you feel in your body on a day to day basis. But since we don’t even own a scale, this once a year testing is a cool way for me to check my progress. The testing is offered for free through my job.
I’m roughly halfway through my training for the 30K trail run. I began slow training in late January, and official training in February, so I’m counting this first day of spring as the official halfway point. Like anything, there’s been a lot of ups and downs, and life getting in the way, but I’m amazed at how strong I feel and the level of endurance I’ve built up in eight short weeks. Case in point:
Last year, I trained for the 12K version of the same race, having never run more than 3 miles (at once) in my life. Our first long run was at a nearby park, and it was 4 miles. I mentally prepared for the run all week, psyching myself up. It was so brutal. Breathing hurt, my legs were heavy, and my mind was a mess. All I could do was whisper encouragement to myself every step and shuffle along. I made it all four miles without stopping, and afterwards I almost collapsed, half in pain, half in glory. I was so proud of myself – running 4 whole miles seemed like an unthinkable task, even for an experienced hiker like myself.
Today headed to the same nearby park for my long run – 12 miles. The first four miles blew by, as I glided through the forest, taking in all the plants and blue sky. My mind was clear as I called out the names of all my friends as I passed them by – painted buckeye, yucca, moss, lichen, christmas fern, sweet gum, loblolly, muscadine, elm, RIVER CANE! My thoughts were pleasant and breathing felt no different than when walking. I mused about how far away that first 4 mile run seems, yet it was less than one year ago.
I don’t think running is for everyone – truthfully, I don’t even think it’s for me. My knees ache all the time. After the race, I know I won’t run again until fall. And I’m ok with that. The training is about more than the running. It’s about how testing your limits can transform your mind. When I used to run, all I could think about was it being over, how much longer, how much it sucked. Now when I run my mind is open, curious. That’s the attitude I hope to carry through the rest of my training.
This time of year always leaves me feeling so blah – it’s cold and grey out, I won’t see my family again for months, and there’s not another paid holiday until May. More importantly, football is now sadly over and my Sundays feel empty and lost. Yoga Camp has been a great way to fill the void, but that will be ending next week. One of the Camp mantra’s the other day was “I believe.” That one hit me hard because I’m guilty of never believing in myself. I convince myself I will fail before I ever try something new, which is really prohibitive!
With the new year and mild temps here in the Southeastern US, I’ve been trying to get back into running. Running is a weird activity for me, because I wouldn’t say that I love it. I love the way it makes me feel afterwards, and I love the tangibility of measuring the endurance building in miles. Running on the road tends to depress me, but there’s something about running in the woods that gets me. It feels primal. Sun filtering through the trees, feet hitting the dirt, climbing up and over ridges, chasing nothing in particular, simply communing with nature – it makes me feel like a badass.
Last year I ran the very first race of my life – a 12K trail run in Pisgah National Forest. I had never run more than 3 miles before I trained for this race. All throughout training, I never truly believed I would be able to run the race. I ended up running a time I thought was unfathomable. Now, there’s also a 30K version of this race. I felt proud for running the 12K, but I couldn’t help and watch the 30K runners tricking in. That is so freaking awesome, I mused … immediately followed by the thought, I could never do that. Thinking of the “I believe” mantra the other day, I had to ask myself: Why the hell not?
So here’s to why the hell not. I’m going to try, no, I’m going to run that 30K this year. The race is called Cradle to the Grave and it benefits the Cradle of Forestry in America interpretive center in Pisgah National Forest, NC. I love this race for so many reasons. It benefits something I actually believe in and have experienced, not some vague idea like, “curing cancer,” sponsored by a mega-charity with questionable money management practices. It’s sponsored by Oskar Blues, one of my favorite breweries, and they hand out free beer after the race. The area is ridiculously gorgeous and the race traverses a variety of habitats. Also, you get to camp out the night before and meet other runners around the campfire.
30K = 18.6 miles, with about 2,000 feet of elevation change. Click through for my training plan!
Proof yoga works: I had not run for almost three months. Hell, I’d barely been hiking. No cardio. All I’ve been doing for the last three months is yoga every single day. Yesterday, I attended a 5K, hoping to be able to run half. I ran the entire thing with no muscle soreness, no compression, and no cramping. I felt amazing. Boom!
I don’t talk a whole lot about yoga on here, other than stating I practice it, because I don’t feel qualified. I sure can point you to someone who is not only qualified, but gentle, kind, funny, and inspiring – Miss Adriene Mischler. She runs an AWESOME Youtube channel called Yoga With Adriene (YWA), which I’ve mentioned many a time on this blog. Today I want to talk a little more about yoga, the channel, and share my personal experience.
You can read thousands of books and articles on, “what is yoga?” and still walk away knowing very little. I can tell you what yoga is to me though. Yoga is a practice. My practice involves meditation, reflection, self-care, and a physical “asana” practice which is the stretching and movement most of us in the Western world call yoga. As you can see though, that’s only one-forth of the equation. The good news is, for almost everyone, a yoga practice begins with the asana, and then leads into the more intellectual and spiritual aspects. So if you’ve never tried yoga, don’t sweat all the heady stuff! It’s normal to begin with the stretching and let the other aspects develop naturally.