|Left to Right: Yogger, Me, everyone who passed me.|
It is not my purpose in this post to put into words how I feel about this, my first ever DNF in 14 years of racing. I might do that later, or I might not. I'll sum it up with a few quick facts. I didn't care much about this race, it was a training day with the yogger to get him ready for States and his 8:10 finish (better than any of my bests) proves he is on track. I also wasn't prepared for yesterday and I knew this and still opted in anyway so perhaps I got what I really wanted out of the day, a wake up call, a big serving of humble pie. Regardless, I think the necessary response is that it's time to chill on yoga and start running a lot more if I want to survive memorial day weekend and if I want to be able to pace Jeff at States and Rod at Vermont.
If I'm not going to get into how I feel about it, what is the purpose of this post? The answer is that I intend to do some M&M (morbidity and mortality) about what went wrong. Not at the psychological level, but at the physical level. My ego, my confidence, and my drive might all be confused, as much from yesterday as from my escalating passion for yoga and my lack of personal running goals. However, since I didn't go into yesterday intending to accomplish anything, the fact that I failed to reach the finish line is indicative of a far more basic failure than my own psychological weakness
I'm going to gloss over the obvious cause for stopping, that my left hip locked up with an injury pain that feels exactly like it did last weekend when I paced some of the #SMCOL ultra team members. I don't know if that injury came from "peeing dog" pose on Friday morning or if I stepped into a hole on that first leg with Sarah in the dark on the dirt section and triggered something. I'm sure it has a lot to do with not running much in the past 2 months and not running any reasonable distances this year. I'm also confident that this particular injury will heal completely in a short timeframe so it's not really worth thinking about. I made it to the turnaround without noticing it, so it's come a long way in the past week even though it's screaming right now.
What I really want to discuss, the purpose for this post, is how yoga and running appear to interact in my body. Because I don't really have anything to add to the DNF discussion other than more self loathing and my blog already has plenty of that. But I don't think there are many people with 14 years of competitive racing background who are as passionate about yoga as I have become. There are definitely many who are strong in one and dabble in the other. I'm certainly not strong in my practice yet, but my intentions are there and my desire as well. I also don't think there are many bodies like mine (bulkier) who are heavily interested in both of these two pursuits, although in the ultra running subset there seems to be more variety in body types than at the pointy end of road running. So, I think my unique addition to the discussion should center around how yoga and running, specifically ultrarunning for this post, complement and counteract each other.
I'd like to start with the good first so I can end on a sour note since that's sort of my style :) My upper body feels great today. I have no back pain, no neck pain, no arm pain. This is not simply the lack of any minor injury, but I'm talking a complete lack of soreness as well, from the waist up I feel as good as any other day. I find this fascinating because I haven't run with a pack for months and typically when I don't run, my lower back is the first to complain even without a pack. I attribute this to the benefits of spine and core strengthening on the mat and the upper body work in sculpt and boot camp classes. I honestly believe that the 2-3 minutes of focused work, done once or twice a day, has improved my upper body stability during 8 hour trail runs. That's interesting to me because the yogic benefits seem to be strength and power oriented, whereas the trail ultrarunning needs are endurance based.
Let me get to the punch line though. Long before my hip locked up and my body shut down, before I stopped sweating and started getting the chills, before I found myself walking gingerly downhill and being passed by the last runners at the back of the pack, my body was giving me clear signs that it wasn't happy. Signs I haven't seen before, and signs which have me a little confused even now. Specifically, my hip flexors were shot by the turnaround, which would have been about mile 29. My glutes were also complaining quite loudly. Both are muscles that are heavily used in the style of yoga I've been practicing, especially the sculpt classes I like so much. So, the obvious question is, if my spine and core strength from yoga has somehow benefited my running compared to my pre-yoga body, why then did my hip flexors and glutes fail so early, effectively putting my running back to a level that is below where I was three years ago when it comes to 50 mile trail runs? I see three potential answers:
1. I've been working hard (and making gains) with glute and hip flexor strength and power in yoga and therefore I started the race off with fatigued/broken down muscles which eventually became the weakest link.
2. The work I've been doing on the mat, which has seen visually demonstrable progress, is somehow changing the underlying composition of my hip flexors and glutes, perhaps replacing slow twitch with fast twitch fibers? I don't know anything about anatomy, so this suggestion seems like it may very well be a huge crock of s based on a sample size of 1, but I do wonder why I can lift my knees so much closer to my armpits now but I can barely run 20 miles before I start to have trouble picking my feet off the ground.
3. This one seems the most far fetched, but perhaps it is simply not possible to compare hip flexors and spine/core. Perhaps the spine/core use even in an 8 hour trail run is still more strength/power oriented than endurance oriented? And the hip flexors, because they are so small, maybe they just atrophy faster than other muscles. Maybe the experiences yesterday were 100% predictable in any body and my specific body and the yoga I've been doing have nothing to do with that.
I'd like to understand this better because I don't want to give up yoga or running. I'd like to figure out how to weave both of them into the fabric of my life. Perhaps I need to indulge in running during the summer and yoga in the winter and perform a relay-style handoff over a month or two in the fall and again in the spring? Perhaps if I just did 2-3 runs a week instead of 0-1 I'd be fine. That will be the short term focus and we'll see if I can re-discover some basic competency somehow. As far as today goes, I feel a world away from the body I had last year and multiple universes away from my 2010 body.