How Yoga Helped Me Reach My Ironman Dream
Rewind to 2008. I was sitting on a white sofa in Brazil when I overheard the words, swim 3,800 meters (2.4 miles).
My ears perked up.
I had dabbled in triathlon long enough to nearly drown in 2005, then transitioned to duathlon (run/bike/run). There were words like 140.6 kilometers, no drafting, marathon, Ironman, Florionapolis, and then I heard that many considered it, the most difficult single-day race on the planet.
I was intrigued, but insisted I could never do that.
Fast-forward to 2010. Although I had been racing duathlon steadily for five years, what I really wanted was to start my races with a swim. It was an itch that needed to be scratched.
I signed up; a 750-meter swim, 20 kilometer mountain bike, and 5km trail run. Wearing my scuba wetsuit, I slid my way to the swim start (literally), bailed, panicked for the first 700 meters, but somehow finished the race in 2nd overall.
During this time I was really trying to like yoga. Hip-hopping my way around Rio de Janeiro trying to figure out what “focus on your breath” really meant.
(I mean, I was breathing.)
In January of 2011, I mustered up the courage to sign up for an Ironman. An Ironman is a long distance triathlon consisting of a 3,800 meter swim, 180 km bike, and a 42.2 km run. I would race on November 26.
Between January and November, I would divorce, leave my international teaching position of five years, not live in one stable address, and have a series of injuries. To compensate and even propel my training forward, I also fell in love, with yoga.
This is how yoga lifted me to the finish line and beyond.
1. Practicing yoga reminds me to stay in my physical body.
I still sometimes swim my way right into a state of dread. I fear, fear. I fear losing control and ending up in a state of panic like I did back in 2005, gasping for air and screaming for help. My very own self-saboteur, my head, creates it.
Practicing yoga reminds me to stay in my physical body. My yoga teacher Baron Baptiste suggested, that, without physicalness, there is no presence, and without presence, there is no possibility. When I swim, I feel the water slither through my fingers and toes, I feel it massage my joints and offer weightlessness. I simply feel.
2. It helps me think about alignment in other areas of my life.
While swimming, I started to develop lower back pain. It wasn’t until I was teaching a yoga class myself that I put the two and two together.
“Tuck your tailbone,” I instructed.
As my students adjusted chair pose, a switch clicked. It’s not just utkatasana; it’s everywhere. Tucking my tailbone allows me to swim more streamlined and without lower back pain. On the bike, it offers relief from maintaining an aero position for extended periods of time.
On the run, it helps me propel my legs forward by lifting my knees higher as opposed to when my pelvis has an anterior rotation.
3. Yoga's a practice of constantly shifting your focus.
If I focus on my fear of being “alone” in the water, it grows. If I focus on the layers of skin being chafed on the bike, it grows. What you focus on grows. By applying this mantra, you can shift your perspective.
4. It reminds me to pay attention to my breath.
I lived in Brazil for five years and then moved spontaneously to Mexico City. The elevation here is 7,350 feet. Within the first 20 steps of any run, I develop a cramp in my diaphragm. Whether I am out for 5km or 42km, focusing on my breath is a must.
Day-to-day, we don’t pay much attention to our respiration. Automatically, we breathe in when we need oxygen and out to get rid of carbon dioxide. Altered breath however, is one of the body’s first responses to stress. By being more conscious of how we’re breathing, all kids of little miracles can start happening within our body.
Each time I hit the pool, straddle my bike, or hit the trails, the principals of yoga play into my training. It has become part of the sport, part of the discipline, and I can’t imagine that high-pitched sound of the triathlon horn without first getting a little pranayama on.