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As I mentioned in a recent post, I bought a 20-day pass to my local Bikram Yoga studio in London so that I could supplement my North Face Endurance Challenge schedule with some cross-training. I have not had access to a gym during my two weeks here and Hot Bikram Yoga just opened a new studio a short walk from where I’m staying, so I figured it would be a great opportunity to get back into yoga after a six month hiatus (I took a break when my hip started to hurt last summer).

If you’re not familiar with Bikram Yoga, it was developed by Bikram Choudhury and consists of a 90-minute long series of 26 postures practiced at 105°F. For more information, this page on Bikram’s website is useful.

I was very curious as to how my body would react, both in terms of the heat and my recovering hip injury. I have done hot yoga before, but not for well over a year, so I knew it would take some time to adjust to the heat. My past classes were at 8am, and I usually only drank water and/or juice beforehand as eating anything heavy 1-3 hours before class wasn’t recommended. I remembered enjoying the postures and feeling extremely energized and toned every time I left the yoga studio so I was excited to give it another try.

Each of the five classes I have done so far has been a very different experience. I experimented with several things, including how much food and water I consumed prior to class and whether or not I did a short easy run beforehand to keep my mileage up. The temperature of the room also seemed to differ.

My first class was surprisingly strong – it was at 5pm and the room was PACKED, which meant the temperature felt extra high. I had done a relatively challenging race pace run that morning, but had eaten and hydrated well throughout the day and felt very flexible. The occasional wave of dizziness and nausea washed over me, but overall I was comfortable and maintained great focus despite how little space I had to do my postures. I was slightly sore the next day, but nothing abnormal.

Two days later, I attended an 8:45am class and had the complete opposite experience. The room was far less crowded and I struggled to make it through the standing series. I felt so dizzy and sick to my stomach that I had to sit down many times and simply focus on my breath. For the postures I did do, I was unable to stretch as far as I had during the last class. I ran two miles prior to class, which is hardly anything at all, but that may have affected my energy levels. What’s tough with the 8:45 timing is that it’s too early to have a full breakfast (unless you get up extremely early) and too late to not eat anything, so I had a banana and a liter of water 30 minutes before my run. Clearly that combination wasn’t right for me or I was simply having a tougher time that day. The instructors always tell beginners that feeling sick is very normal as your body adjusts to the heat, and it’s important to stay in the room for the full 90 minutes, so I did and felt fine shortly after leaving the studio.

My third class was a few days later at the same time and I swung back to the other extreme. I had a rice cake with almond butter and jam and tons of water about an hour before running three miles easy, then drank water mixed with some energy drink throughout class. I was 100% focused and felt incredible. The room felt far less hot, partly because the instructor kept opening the windows, which made the yoga slightly easier. I still felt stiff, but I think my body is just less flexible at that time of the morning, plus I ran over 12 miles a couple days earlier. By this point, my hip was hardly hurting anymore after my runs, so that was a good sign!

My fourth class a couple days later was even stronger – this time I didn’t run beforehand and had a light breakfast. I also hydrated very well the day before, as the instructor had said that it’s 24 hours prior to practicing that really helps your yoga, not chugging water as you rush to the studio. The room was warmer again and I pushed myself a bit harder in the postures, which is perhaps why I later felt some soreness in my knees and lower back. This worried me during my coaching session the next day, as we were due to work on barefoot technique (which I am starting to explore) followed by a hill pyramid workout (for my upcoming half marathon). We focused more on technique and the aching went away after a rest day, which put my mind at ease.

I completed 14.5 miles – my longest run of this mini training cycle – on Saturday morning with minimal pain. My hip ached a tiny bit a few hours later, but I think that was mostly because I rushed off to catch a train and spent several hours sitting down without taking the time to stretch as I usually do. Thankfully, I made up for it by spending two days relaxing in a wonderful B&B on the edge of the New Forest, which is where I did this 10 mile race back in July!

And that brings me to my fifth class this morning, which I must admit I didn’t particularly enjoy. I’m glad I went, but I wasn’t as into it and thus didn’t get as much out of it. I opted to save my run for this afternoon, so I ate a relatively substantial breakfast 45 minutes beforehand, which perhaps contributed to my not feeling great. In terms of my lack of focus, I’ve been feeling a bit anxious about leaving London in two days and trying to get everything done in time. I did my best to acknowledge my thoughts and let them go during each posture, but it was tough not to feel distracted. That’s okay though – some days just aren’t your best days, and that goes for yoga, running or whatever else. You simply try your best and learn for the next time. The feelings of boredom, anger, stress etc that bubble up are natural and it’s healthy to work them out through yoga, meditation or other forms of exercise.

I realize that my two weeks of Bikram do not qualify me to make any sweeping conclusions, but I do believe this type of yoga is beneficial and can be a great addition to a runner’s training. It can be easy to get caught up with the instructor’s narrative and push yourself beyond what your body is ready to do, so just make sure you don’t rush the process, particularly if you are naturally flexible but weak in certain areas like I am. I found some of the postures to be difficult on my knees and hips, but in those instances I took it easy or skipped the postures.

I can’t say that I loved every minute of each Bikram session, but I always felt great afterwards (eventually) and really notice the difference in my body, even after five sessions. I will certainly make it a regular part of my training in the future if I live near a good studio, and encourage others to try it out!

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Be inspired, inspire

This was the message of a lovely card that I received from my sister when I got home on Saturday evening. It made me think of a yoga top that I often wear, purchased many years ago (right before moving to London, in fact) while spending some time in Santa Cruz.

The card (along with the thoughtful note inside) was well-timed, because inspiration pretty much sums up the fantastic weekend that I just had. It’s also something that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently – what are my sources of inspiration and happiness, and how I might be able to inspire others?

When I got home on Saturday night, I was buzzing with positive energy (and perhaps some wine) after enjoying a long but incredible day, mostly in the sunshine. I kind of wish I had written this post right then, because I had so many amazing thoughts and feelings swirling inside of me, but sometimes it’s better to simply experience and appreciate those moments rather than document them.

London really comes alive when the sun is out, reminding me of why I put up with so many dreary days throughout the rest of the year! It’s always when I start to get really fed up and threaten to leave that London pulls out all the stops, giving me nearly perfect weather for days, displaying its beautiful flowers everywhere, inviting me to explore many different parts of town and join the throngs of happy (drunk) people in the city’s myriad green spaces, outdoor pubs/cafes etc…Yes, I realize this is also called Spring, but London seems to have a unique vibe in warmer weather compared to other cities, in my opinion at least. Perhaps we just appreciate these days more, since they are so precious!

When these days do occur, I typically sunbathe and picnic in the park or drink Pimm’s with friends on the river, and the bone-chilling, wet weather of yesterday quickly fades in my memory (until it inevitably returns, of course). All I can think about is how beautiful and vibrant London is – and how easy it is to escape when you feel like doing so! I miss California like crazy, but you can’t jet off to Morocco, Italy, Norway etc. from SFO for a couple of nights (well you can, but it’s not exactly recommended).

This is, of course, how many Americans like myself come over here with the intention of staying for a short period of time and then discover that they don’t want to leave. London grabs hold of you with its travel opportunities and extra weeks of vacation time – not to mention its national healthcare system and things like year-long maternity leave – it can be hard to break free! Then, after you’ve lived here for a certain amount of time, you start toying with the thought of becoming a citizen – not because you actually want to be British, but because you’ve already made a significant time investment and that passport opens doors! That said, although being able to work anywhere in the EU and UK is quite appealing to me in theory, staying in London for three more years isn’t appealing at all (okay, maybe just a little bit).

So don’t worry – I’m not feeling inspired after this weekend to stay here forever. All I’m saying is that London can be incredibly seductive, particularly around this time of year, and when the time does come for me to head back to the US, it will be hard to let go of many things that are important to me and that I currently take for granted.

This weekend did inspire me, however, in a number of other ways, including keeping up my relatively new yoga practice after a challenging session on Saturday morning. I had a leisurely 4M run to a gym across town, where my Thursday yoga instructor was leading a 90-minute class in a larger, brighter studio. Everything flowed better than normal (perhaps the later time and warmer weather helped) and I made notable progress in several poses! The second half of the class was tough, but I’m proud of myself for getting through it and felt a particularly potent combination of runner’s high/yoga glow for the rest of the day.

I met up with E after class and we headed to Marylebone High street, which was really fun given our tendency to hang out a bit too much in our own neighborhoods. We lucked out and snagged a prime sunny table at a cute cafe for lunch. Here I am enjoying my long-awaited first Pimm’s of the season – pure bliss!

This was  followed by home-made organic ice cream from La Fromagerie, an exciting discovery that I made while wandering along a side street. I will certainly visit again very soon – everything looked amazing. And their mint-chocolate chip ice cream literally tasted like stracciatella infused with fresh mint leaves, probably because that’s exactly what they did. Mind blowing.

We enjoyed our ice cream while walking to Regents Park, which was of course packed. After admiring all of the gorgeous tulips and other flowers, we managed to find a secluded spot under a tree to chill out for a couple hours. How could I NOT feel inspired – buzzing from a great workout, a delicious meal, my favorite drink and loads of sunshine while cuddling with my boyfriend on the grass, staring up at this view?

In the early evening, E and I parted ways and I decided to walk all the way home (about 4-5 miles) to make the most of the weather. It was awesome, but exhausting after the other activities of the day. As I approached Zucca – a relatively new, small Italian restaurant which is always booked weeks in advance – I sent E a text, jokingly, that I might rest my legs and get a bite to eat there, to help get me all the way home (five minutes away). Next thing I knew, I was sitting at the tiny bar, chatting with the chefs and waiters and eyeing all the incredible dishes they were creating.

I ordered some appetizers, including the carpaccio of sea bass with olive oil and fresh chili that I enjoyed the last time I was there, a mixed salad and a basket of their delicious breads.

Would I like any wine, asked my waiter?

No thank you, I’m fine with water…A few minutes later, I started to peruse the wine list. May as well take a look…

Would I like any wine, asked a different waiter?

Hm…

A massive glass of white wine suddenly appeared in front of me – so refreshing, perfect with my sea bass – as well as a second basket of their addictive foccacia. I was getting full, but was still salivating as I watched the chef prepare a plate of taglierini with spring herbs and fresh ricotta. I started to tell her how much I LOVE fresh ricotta.

Would you like some pasta, the chef asked me?

Um, yes please!

I glanced to my right at the only other person sitting at the bar, another woman on her own enjoying some wine and various plates of food too. We shared a smile. I can’t remember the last time I rocked up to a nice restaurant and had an impromptu meal by myself – it was so lovely!

I completed my journey home slightly drunk, very full and extremely happy, simply thinking – this is what life’s about! Enjoying the colors of a particularly beautiful flower or tree; feeling pride in a certain achievement – big or small; savoring a delicious meal or glass of wine; enjoying the company of a loved one or some quality time alone…

Days like today.

And days like the following day, when I woke up and immediately set off on one of the best long runs I have had in a VERY long time. Maybe it was all that pasta and bread! I had no real target in mind, and nothing in particular that I was training for, so this run was purely for ME. Everything clicked and felt great – the weather was ideal, the tourists on my route mostly stayed out of my way, and the songs I listened to (which was a treat in itself) perfectly suited the exact moments during which they played. I felt strong, relaxed and completely pain-free.

Awesome 11M run in the sunshine: Garmin Connect details

When I got back to my flat, I was literally dancing and singing – it was the highest runner’s high that I have had in months! Fitting too, since exactly one year ago at that time, I was just about to finish my first marathon, in Paris! I couldn’t help but think back to that incredible sense of achievement I felt after crossing the finish line – and how badly I want to run another marathon (my third) in the near future. But first, I’m going to really cherish this period of “anti-training” – running for no purpose other than to make myself feel good!

I felt even better after a delicious brunch of eggs on top of sauteed purple kale, baby eggplant, shitake mushrooms and wholegrain bread…

…after which I headed to my local park to nap under another tree – this one with huge, pink powder puff blossoms. It was slightly less peaceful with all the screaming children, but enjoyable nonetheless. My favorite moment was when I thought to myself, “I would love an ice cream – if only I didn’t have to get up and walk to the store around the corner to get one.” Surely I’m allowed these thoughts after a long run?! Moments later, an ice cream truck drove up right next to me. Boom!

Lounging around was followed by pear ciders (Kopperberg, the best kind) in a local pub with E, and another delicious meal back home. I made a rendition of my quinoa herb pomegranate salad, with slightly different vegetables and grilled marinated ostrich steak on top. Yummy!

It was a bit hard to get back to reality this morning as I walked to the office rather than the park, but at least I got a last taste of my wonderful weekend for lunch as I sat outside in the sun and had my leftover quinoa salad. Much nicer than last week’s oatcakes and hummus (clearly the Bodychef diet has been thrown out the window). And sure enough, the rain came back in full force later in the day, just in time for my walk home – good thing too, because if every weekend were like this last one, then I don’t think I would ever leave…

I did Ashtanga yoga yesterday morning at Globe House, a converted warehouse just off of Bermondsey Street. I had been to this class once before, about a year ago, and remembered the space being very open and peaceful, with huge windows and high ceilings. I was running late and had to squeeze into a tiny space in the back corner, but with the sunlight streaming in and no thumping music in the background, it was still a nice break from my gym’s box-like basement studios.

The teacher instructed us to inhale to the mantra, “I am here now” and exhale to “I let go of resistance.” Not particularly original, but these words really resonated with me, given my frequent struggle to focus on the moment. Being the type A personality that I am, I can’t help but constantly think about the future and, to a lesser extent, reflect upon the past.

In the context of my running, “I am here now, I let go of resistance” is especially relevant because the Fleet half marathon is only one week from today! I have been working towards a time that I want to achieve, while also obsessing about my best time (or more specifically, how I can beat it). Of course it’s great to motivate yourself with a goal and improve by learning from previous experiences. However, it’s often easy to lose sight of how you feel today – mentally and physically – when you’re caught up in what you accomplished (or failed to accomplish) and what you seek to achieve. That awareness – that letting go of  resistance to being fully present – is crucial.

Maybe you’re ignoring early signs of an injury because you don’t want to miss a run or race; perhaps you’re eating when you’re not hungry, not paying attention to the driving forces behind your mindless snacking; or maybe you decline invitations to various social activities, because they might interfere with your training (obviously you need to train hard to perform well, but balance is key to avoid burnout). I have certainly been in these situations many times, because I wasn’t thinking about what I wanted at that moment AND in the future.

I’ve been slightly better about that recently. For instance, this week was a relatively light training week – in part because I started to taper, but mainly because I skipped my last hard session (intervals) due to some slight soreness in my right shin and knee. I was tempted to do the run anyway, but figured that so close to the race, it was better to err on the side of caution. (I was also tired and felt like sleeping in…)

Normally, missing a run would stress me out slightly, but surprisingly I didn’t really care. The fact is, I peaked too early in this training cycle (which I now realize was a bit too long) and have been losing steam when I really should be revving up for my event. At this stage, I just want to get the race over with so I can focus on other things (like the exciting trips that I’m currently planning)…not exactly the ideal attitude to have leading up to a half marathon!

Regardless, skipping my interval session was a smart move. After waking up in a grumpy mood and begrudgingly putting on my running shoes this morning, I headed to the river for my last “long” pre-race run. Within ten minutes, the negativity and other junk of the week melted away. I am here now. I am running. I am strong. I feel invigorated. I am fast. I’ve let go of resistance.

And that, my friends, is the beauty of running. Despite everything, it almost always leaves me feeling awesome.

I ended up running for 65 minutes (7.7M/8:28 avg pace), aiming to do the last 1.7 miles at my goal race pace of 7:24min/mile. I only managed to do 1M @ 7:33 and 0.7M @ 7:24, and even that was quite challenging, but overall it was a great run. I felt strong, and the soreness in my legs had faded.

Training is a process, and it often doesn’t go as planned. This is where I’m at, and I’ve made peace with it. And so I have adjusted my goal from sub-1:37 to sub-1:39 (or simply trying to get closer to my PB of 1:37:34 than my second fastest time of 1:39:47). I hear it’s a fast course – hopefully the weather will be in my favor as well! At least I have an 8 in my number which I believe is a positive sign (I have had at least one 8 on the bibs of my best races).

But I will see how I feel on race day – as I warm-up, as I cross the start line, as I tick off the miles and as I approach the finish. Because you can have as many goals and plans as you like, but you never really know how a race will turn out – you can only assess the moment when you’re in it, and then simply go for it.

Isn’t it wonderful when you start doing a new activity or something more regularly, and you finally reach that stage when it it all starts to feel just a little more natural and enjoyable?

As I wrote about previously, I have been attending a 45-minute yoga class every Thursday at 7:30am since mid-December. This morning I was so exhausted that I nearly didn’t get out of bed, but now I’m glad I did, because today (my fifth class) I noticed that I have really improved. Granted, I’m not a yoga master just yet and I’m doing a relatively easy class (so I’ve been told), but poses felt easier to hold, stretches were deeper, breathing more focused, mind quieter. Everything felt more familiar, and as a result, my body flowed more smoothly from one pose into the next.

My instructor advised the class at the end that it is best to do yoga at least twice a week to truly experience the benefits. I asked him if going only once was still worthwhile  – I knew the answer was yes but was curious why he said two classes rather than one. He said of course, and confirmed that I certainly have made progress already by going once a week (which was very encouraging) but that I should try a longer, more dynamic class if I can find the time!

I certainly plan to do so, because I really am starting to enjoy yoga more than I used to, when I only went once every few months at best. I do see myself growing bored at some point with this particular class – but when that happens, I’ll just find a more challenging class to attend! It’s no different than running, really – if you improve, then you start running faster, further, on a different terrain, or whatever else calls out to you!

I know this is obvious, but given its relevance to so many activities, including running, it’s worth pointing out the following:

If you’re trying something new, promise yourself that you’ll stick with it long enough to at least see a glimmer of progress, as I did this morning. In most cases, those first weeks will not be easy and as a result, perhaps slightly discouraging or unpleasant as you look up at what seems to be a mountain in front of you. Perhaps you are even looking up at an actual mountain, depending on what you’re doing! Regardless, if you persist, you will ultimately improve, and even in small doses, you will find this incredibly rewarding.

I am very proud of myself – I went to a yoga class this morning, for the third week in a row.

That might not sound like a big deal, but yoga is one of those things that I always say I’m going to do, but then never actually end up doing. The classes are either hard to fit into my running schedule (which is quite full, when I’m training for something specific) and/or I decide I’d rather be doing something that really makes me sweat (and thus feel like I’ve exercised), such as a spin class. When I’m in that mood (which is pretty much all the time), Bikram or hot yoga is perfect, because you leave the studio soaking wet and feel so energized afterwards. Unfortunately, most of the studios in London are not conveniently located to where I live and are pretty expensive, so I don’t go very often.

And so over the past eight years, I’ve done enough yoga of various types to be familiar with the poses (ie blend into a class and pretend like I know what I’m doing), but not enough that I’m particularly good at any of them or truly experience the benefits of regular practice.

How can yoga help my running? Or, how can running help my yoga?

Cross training and strength training are crucial to becoming a better runner, and more generally speaking, it’s important to challenge your body in new ways on a regular basis to stay fit and avoid getting into an exercise rut. Cycling and swimming are excellent cross-training choices, but running and yoga also compliment one another very well.

In yoga (as I have experienced it, at least), you focus on your breathing; try to clear your mind in order to enter a more meditative state; pay attention to every detail of your form; call upon your strength and endurance to hold challenging poses; stretch your tired muscles; and finish feeling re-energized.

Sound familiar, runners?

During a run, I do much of the same, but in a different context. I focus on my breath and how it changes depending on my level of exertion; let my thoughts wander and ultimately fade away in order to get “in the zone;” pay attention to my technique and to the rhythm of my feet (known as cadence) to get the most out of my session; call upon my strong legs and core to get me through to the end; stretch my tired muscles post-run; and finish feeling awesome, otherwise known as “runner’s high.”

So, as you can see, running and yoga go hand-in-hand – the endurance and strength that you build through running help you hold those yoga poses longer, while the flexibility and focus you gain through yoga help you train your mind and body for competition and better running, generally.

Will yoga become a more permanent fixture of my training schedule? Well, after my first class, the instructor learned that I was a runner and told me that “running is bad for you.” Oh is that so? (Perhaps best not to tell an avid runner that running is bad for you, just a thought…) “But yoga will help.” So I guess I better stick with it!!

Namaste


Welcome to FFR

Hi, I'm Claire! I’m a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (MS, RD, CDN) and a Road Runners Club of America certified coach. This is where I share my latest adventures in running, racing, food & travel! If you'd like to work with me, please visit my professional website, Eat for Endurance.

My PRs

Marathon (Chicago): 3:33:18
Boston Marathon: 3:36:14
Half-Marathon: 1:37:21
10M: 1:14:52
10k: 44:52

My latest photos

This morning's breakfast bowl isn't exactly pretty, but really delicious and filling! Two fried eggs in a pan with black beans (I used 1/2 cup = 1 serving), a little feta, a few spoonfuls of ricotta, some pesto (random but had some leftover and tastes great with eggs), and 1/4 avocado. Cooked all together for a high protein tasty breakfast! Awesome @onepeloton endurance ride earlier today with my buddy @mattwilpers before enjoying some family time outdoors on this beautiful day. Arielle came to visit afterwards and clearly is a big Peloton fan too! Speaking of which, check out the latest episode of the Clip Out (a Peloton fan podcast) - had such a great time talking all things nutrition and Peloton with @clipoutcrystal and Tom, who are hilarious btw! (Link in bio - my segment ~20min in). Wishing everyone a very happy first day of Fall! 🍁🍂 It's my favorite time of year to get out into nature and go for a run. L'Shana Tova to those who celebrate! We started the New Year with some apple picking at @wilkloworchards on our way back to NYC yesterday. Was so much fun, and Arielle was a great little helper! We don't have much food in the house after being away so these crisp local apples with almond butter will be our tasty, healthy snacks today. Getting ready for the loooong drive back to NYC after unplugging in Lake Placid for my bday! Fueling with a bowl of 5% plain Greek yogurt, bananas, peaches, and apple cinnamon granola. Not much of a view from our balcony this morning of Mirror Lake - swipe right for our view yesterday! So beautiful and peaceful here - minus screaming baby, of course. 😂 #Tbt to earlier this week, when one of my awesome @nutritionenergy clients surprised me with a @levainbakery cookie after we talked about them at our last session. I had planned to save half for my husband (those cookies are seriously dense!), but it was so delicious, I changed my mind and had the second half later in the day. Did I feel bad about it afterwards? Did I end up skipping dinner or working out more to compensate? Nope! I had already eaten a healthy balanced lunch, and it's not everyday that I enjoy such a decadent treat (although you will find me having smaller treats quite often 😀).

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