October 7, 2013 on 10:57 am | In Community, Random Musings, Sponsorship, Training | No Comments
This blog brought to you by TriSports Champion Monica Pagels, who wrote this much earlier this season and who has, now, completed that first Ironman she mentions. As the off-season begins for many, we thought this a fitting blog to get you strong during the winter months.
Ommmm….. yes, we’ve all heard it, the ever popular meditation sounds that so often accompany a just as stimulating yoga class. Runners and triathletes alike have heard it for years, “try yoga, it will help with your injuries.” But most of us who thrive on the adrenaline rush of zipping through the trails in our newest and coolest trail shoes, or racing down a hill in our aerobars hoping to hit a new high speed, cringe at the thought of placing our feet (or our head or our hands, or all 3 at once) on the mat and inhaling and exhaling to a count of 8! While the benefits are well documented: stress relief, improved mood and well being, improved flexibility, improved digestion, improved sleep… the list goes on and on… for some reason, it is still tough to convince us cardio-junkies to forgo a one hour brick workout where our legs will feel like lead for an hour of gentle relaxation and meditation. We are conditioned to believe that in order to set a new PR or achieve that highly sought after age group place, we must push harder, put in more hours, do more hill work or add speed work. While there is no compromise for hard work (you get what you put in), it is time to re-condition our minds when it comes to how we think of yoga. What if we had the mindset that the more yoga we practiced, the better we could bike, or the faster we could swim? Well, fellow tri-geeks, it’s true! Yoga really can make you into a “warrior.” I was the first to stake my claim against it, I thought, “Who has time for one more activity?” And who wants to sit around with their legs twisted like a pretzel becoming one with the universe? That is, until I tried it!
Tired of the long winter full of indoor bike rides and treadmill runs, I headed to the group fitness studio for a Yoga Fusion class. This sounded at least a little more fitness based and not as meditative. To my surprise, I struggled through most of the class! I am an 8 time 70.3 veteran, run more marathons than I care to count, and I am training for my first full Ironman. I had been putting in about 7-8 hours a week of base training and thought the yoga class might be a nice stretching break for my sore, tired muscles. Instead, I found myself in plank, pigeon and half moon, shaking to hold the poses. Shocked at my lack of apparent strength and balance, I began attending 2 yoga classes a week. Within 2 weeks I noticed remarkable improvements and had to admit to its benefits. As my IM training progressed, I entered a 70.3. It was very early in the season when you come from Michigan and have only had a month of outdoor riding. To add to that, the bike course was the hilliest and toughest of any I have done.
As I started on the course and climbed the hills, I felt very strong and quickly passed people. Hill after hill, the same result, I was strong and pushed with ease to the top of them. My bike split was faster than on most courses, despite its difficulty. What’s more, my legs recovered quickly after the ride and my run (hills, again) split was consistent with my others. Yoga has not only improved my strength and balance, which no doubt helped me climb those hills, it has given me a sense of control over my body. It has taught me how to breathe deep and remain calm amidst chaos. Now, triathletes, hear me when I say: this is worth far more than it sounds! In mile 90 out of 112, when your neck and shoulders ache and your legs are burning, if you can put your mind into that place where you feel calm and in control, your focus shifts from the here and now (“I still have to run 26.2 miles..”) to a place where you have a greater awareness of just you moving through space, in a world much bigger than just you pedaling on a bike. If that is what it takes to get you to T2, and ultimately, the finish line, isn’t it worth considering?
Yoga teaches you to become aware of your surroundings and to feel weightless as if you were part of those surroundings. This is achieved by challenging yourself to complete the strength and balance poses, breathing through them, and accomplishing a little more with each session. Yoga practice can mean different things to different people. For me, it was at first the humbling experience of inadequacy that convinced me to continue, but eventually the benefits carried over into my first passion, triathlon. Once I began to feel the strength and control of my body, and my race times improved, I knew yoga was for me. While I may never feel the meditative power many achieve from yoga practice, knowing I am stronger and more aware of my body I will continue to practice. I urge all of you cardio-junkies that can’t get enough of the wind whipping past your face and feel the need to be in your target heart rate zone for hours at a time, give yoga a try and see how it can improve all aspects of your life, not just your athletic performance.
Learn more about the benefits, and different types of yoga.