Can Yoga Help You Train for a Marathon?

How changing your mindset can improve your runs.

As a marathon runner and a returning yogi, I sometimes wonder exactly how to capture and grow the peace that comes from practicing yoga. I yearn to incorporate this feeling into my running. But while I’m slowly starting to figure out how, the slow factor feels frustrating.

Maybe that’s the lesson I need to learn: Not everything needs to be rushed.

All the same, as I train for my second full marathon, I continue to work toward that feeling, that state of being. It helps, of course, that I’m actively practicing yoga once again. Last week I attended a class in the morning and ran seven miles in the evening; I felt blissful. Exhausted, of course, but blissed-out.

This past and current week, I considered the things I can and am doing differently with my marathon training. For one, by incorporating yoga into my routine, I feel much calmer, and I carry that feeling along the many miles.

But what else?

A personal challenge: to stop listening to music while I run. It’s new. I used to rely heavily on music to get through even the shortest of runs. I didn’t rely on the tempo as much as I relied on the distraction. Yes, running can hurt at times, but if you can giggle along to “Timber” during mile 20, you can pull through the pain.

By taking music out of the equation, I’ve become more attuned to what my body is telling me. Yoga, of course, helps as well. Despite the high heat and humidity of this summer and my tendency to overheat, I have not once fully overheated on the road or needed to bail on a run. I find it easier to walk when needed or to pause, refill my water, and practice deep breathing to get my body back to a calm and safe place. Instead of just listening to the music, I’m listening to what the pain is telling me about my current run.

Adjusting my breathing has also been beneficial to my running. With as many articles on which breathing techniques to use during a run as there are runners, it feels strange to pick just one and go with it. In yoga, I’ve learned that my breathing isn’t the same as my teacher’s or the students’ around me, so why should my breathing be the same as every other runner?

Yoga also taught me how returning to the breath can help adjust the practice. So now when I get tense during a run (often felt in my upper shoulders from holding them so tightly), I return to the basics of breathing. I cleanse myself with a few deep breaths—much deeper than I usually take while running—and let go of the tension and anxiety. I then let my breathing return to the pace it needs to be in that moment. It’s like I’m a whole new runner after just a brief, conscious effort to fix my breathing.

Yoga has definitely helped my mindset as a runner. In the past, I’ve been extraordinarily hard on myself. If my paces didn’t improve with each consecutive run, I’d call myself a failure. I’d wonder why I even bothered if I couldn’t consistently get faster and faster.

But nowadays I’m heading out for a run with the understanding that, just like yoga, running is different every day. My body is different every day. Sometimes I’m tired from the process of actively mothering two sons. Other days I wake up with all the energy in the world. Sometimes my legs feel like lead. Other days I’m as light as a feather. All of these things are okay as long as I am gentle with myself and listen to my body, whether I’m lacing up my shoes for a run or taking them off to step on the mat.

I still have nine weeks left to train for this marathon, and a lot of mileage ahead of me. I feel more at ease now with the distances, my paces, and my body than during any other training cycle. I know I can attribute some of that to the lessons I have re-learned in yoga. I feel thankful to have both running and yoga in my life.

Photo by Guy Thorsby

Jenna Hatfield

Jenna Hatfield is an editor, writer, and storyteller. She also loves to capture little moments of daily life with her camera. She blogs at Stop, Drop & Blog and has also worked as a photographer, though currently she prefers photographing her two sons, her husband, their zany German Shepherd, and six bossy chickens. Beyond writing and photography, Jenna also enjoys running (currently training for her second full marathon), cooking, and reading all the books. You can follow Jenna on Twitter and Instagram.