How Yoga Helped Me Complete My First Ultramarathon

Sarah Hatch

Sarah inspires her friends, her family, and her fitness participants with intentional and heart-warming conversations about courage, confidence, and self-love. She shares her wealth of knowledge and her contagious energy in every interaction.

How Yoga Helped Me Complete My First Ultramarathon

How Yoga Helped Me Complete My First Ultramarathon

First of all, let’s just say that I’m capable of doing almost anything – except moderation. So setting my sights on an ultramarathon, known in the running world as anything over the “normal” 26.2 miles distance, isn’t a huge surprise. When it comes to going big or going home, I’m all in.

Things usually escalate quickly for me. I started running in January 2018. Sixteen months later, I was in for 50k (about 32 miles). If you know me, you’d say, of course. I’d expect nothing less. It started when a dear friend described herself as an “ultra runner.” I’d never heard of it, didn’t know what it meant, but I knew immediately I wanted to tick that box, too. Anything ultra had to be awesome. Like extra awesome, right?!

I picked a race and started training. I planned to cross-train with spinning, weight lifting and yoga. I graduated SWEAT yoga school about a year ago and knew it would help me recover. But as the race grew nearer, I was surprised by how much yoga helped, particularly beyond the physiological standpoint.

Here are three unexpected themes that emerged through my yoga practice and eventually helped me complete my first ultramarathon.

1. If you can’t get out of it, get into it.

I didn’t coin this term. I heard it from a friend, who by the way, is a 70-year old man who can physically outwork most 30-year olds I know.

It started with my absolute favorite (NOT) posture: Warrior 1. I’m not a happy camper in Warrior 1. I HATE Warrior 1. And really, who likes this pose? I get that it strengthens the legs and stretches the spine, but really? It’s just NOT fun. But one day something clicked … if I can’t get out of it, find a way to get into it.

I shortened my stance and worried less about squaring my hips forward. I added a backbend to my upper spine. And BAM! I liked it!

Adjusting my mental and physical orientation translated to training for the ultra. If I noticed I wasn’t having fun on a training run, I tried to find a way to get into it – even if it meant I need to slow down or pop in earbuds and listen to a trashy podcast. It’s ok to make adjustments. That’s what yoga – and most of life – is all about.

2. Embrace restraint.

Like I said, I’m good at a lot of things – but editing myself is not one. In the months leading up to the race, I wanted to go, go, go. Long, fast runs seemed like the best way to train. That is, until it wasn’t.

After a small heel injury, a couple of weeks of not running left me pissy. When I was in yoga class, I thought about how unfair it was that I couldn’t run. I worried I’d suck on race day. But I got real with myself (Yama practice of Satya, aka, truthfulness), and knew that taking a break was exactly what I needed to recover. This practice of honesty and eventually restraint, helped me show up on race day with a strong, healthy body.

3. Focus on the now.

We’ve all been there. Detailing the important to-do list for tomorrow – and the 10 days after tomorrow. I love planning. I love thinking about planning. I love planning how I’m going to plan. In the months leading up to my training, however, I tried not to let my intense planning brain map out every detail of my upcoming training runs while I was in yoga class.

When I found my mind wondering to my Sunday run (How long should it be? Where am I going? Will the weather be nice?), I tried to notice the thought and let it sail away. I tuned into my breath – inhale to lengthen, exhale to twist and contract, and I could actually let go of some of my obsessive thoughts (sometimes).   

The magic of the rhythmic inhale and exhale that I used in yoga class also helped me through the hardest part of my race. Half way through the run, I veered off track. This was not a small detour. It was more than a mile downhill before realizing I needed to run back up the hill to get on course. That’s more than two very frustrating miles that didn’t go toward the running bank.

Once I was back on track, I was pissed at myself (not helpful) and the people I was with (not their fault) for taking a wrong turn. But something from yoga that was planted in the back of my brain brought me back to my breath. I started intentionally focusing on my breathing. The frustration slipped away. When I wasn’t attached to my anger, something came to me – a small voice that said, “Sarah, you can be pissed, or you can F*ing DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!”

I shook it off, kept running and finished 12th out of 25 ladies who ran that day.

While I didn’t break course records, or even meet my own expectations of finishing within top 10 females, I did kick ass by completing something few humans do in a lifetime.  

If you have any questions about whether yoga helps with mental strength, be assured it does. And if you’re looking for the best hot yoga studio in town – and want to watch me ‘love’ Warrior 1 – come visit SWEAT Yoga Studio!

-Sarah Hatch