Do yoga, run faster? Ann Mazur says so!
It’s just stretching, isn’t it? Good for recovery, maybe. What’s the big deal? How about swapping half of your weekly mileage for yoga… and posting faster times?
Welcome to Running Sucks, a running blog where I talk to interesting people doing interesting things in the running world to find out how to make running suck less.
Despite its popularity, yoga gets a bad rap, doesn’t it? 1 in 10 Americans regularly practice yoga (36 million, that’s right!), but we’ll often hear the loudest voices moaning about how they’ll not be caught dead in a yoga studio, or how the presence of yoga pants and athleisure are ruining their strip mall dining atmosphere. Don’t listen to them.
What if yoga is the key to running faster?
I’ve believed this for a long time, so - in a bid to fortify my pro-yoga agenda - I spoke to Ann Mazur, the lady behind Runners Love Yoga, for this week’s post.
Running and stretching was always what Ann Mazur was known for at college. During that time, however, she had a troublesome leg injury.
“I was a 10k track runner, and that’s a lot of circles in one direction, so my left IT band would always bother me. I pretty much cured myself with yoga.”
During her senior year, her track coach put her in charge of team stretching because she “would stretch for so long on her own anyway.” She became the go-to person for her teammates when they had tight muscles. That’s when one of them suggested she become a yoga teacher.
It was during her PhD, though, that Ann had her real lightbulb moment. Her increased university workload meant that she simply couldn’t maintain running 60 miles per week. Having traded half her miles for daily yoga workouts, she noticed she was somehow… getting faster.
“If you’d told me in college that I could just run 30 miles a week, do more yoga, and get faster, I don’t think I would’ve believed you.”
After college, Ann continued to be the person her teammates spoke to about yoga and stretching. That led to her filming a yoga DVD and then, when the pandemic hit, she became a one-woman filming and editing crew. The result is over 200 on-demand videos on runnersloveyoga.tv and a 35k-strong community on Instagram.
“I have coaches who subscribe for their teams now, so it’s like I’m still leading team stretching, but for way more people.”
Alongside her yoga and apparel businesses, Ann teaches running and yoga as credits at the University of Virginia. Her goal? To help non-athletes incorporate exercise to the point it becomes a life-long habit.
“If you aren’t a varsity athlete, you can still have that built-in accountability in your schedule and really develop this lifetime physical activity that I think is easier to do if you are on a collegiate team.”
What is the best thing about yoga for runners?
“Practicing yoga gives you such good mind-body awareness. The way you get so much more in tune with everything that’s happening from your yoga practice is just invaluable as a runner.”
“Yoga gives you strength, flexibility and better mobility, so you’re more fluid in your stride and balance. People forget about balance being something that’s helpful too.”
Aside from the big cross-training benefits of doing a calisthenics-adjacent exercise, one of the things I love about yoga is that it’s a kind of diagnostic checkup for my body. It’s like when you take your car in for its 6-monthly service, but for your muscles and joints, and hopefully a little more frequently.
“I feel like there are so many imbalances that if it weren’t for yoga you wouldn’t know you even have them. I’ll be like, ‘Woah, that did not feel like that on that side,’ and I do yoga all the time.”
“I think with yoga you can catch them before they become real issues. Any repetitive motion sport you’re doing, you’re going to get something that’s a little different one side to the other side and yoga evens you out.”
The pure physical benefits of yoga are so vast. Aside from the post-run recovery of stretching, or the complementary action of diagnosing possible problems early, the act of balancing two sides of your body using yoga is not that different to single-leg training, for instance.
Add to that the mental aspects of improving your meditation skills and simply being more in tune with your body, and the arguments for incorporating a yoga practice into your running regimen become stronger still.
Why did you start running, Ann?
“I was a year young for my grade and always a little small. When you’re in 3rd grade that is such a disadvantage in gym class, and so I always wanted to be fast. I would literally go out at recess and run laps around the playground to try to get faster at running."
What do you do to make running suck less, Ann?
“When you’re trying to work running into your schedule, stack it onto something else. I’ll tell my undergrad students to run right before or after another class, for instance.”
“If you have it built into your schedule that running is something you do that way, it makes it more automatic. I know that if I’m at home working, I’m the kind of person that will get caught up in my work and won’t be able to stop.”
“If you are in that position, you don’t have to run 60 miles a week. You can just run a few times a week, and that’s part of your regular routine. It’s the same with yoga. 10 minutes of yoga a day goes a long way.”
“You don’t need to go to that hardcore ashtanga yoga class every day to see yoga benefits in your running.”
Indeed. Highlighting that Ann ran a sub-2.45 marathon at the California International Marathon in 2019, leading to US Olympic Time Trials in March 2020, puts all of this into perspective, somewhat.
She might be onto something.
Tell me about your yoga journey in a comment below! Has reading this changed your mind? Will you add yoga into your schedule now? Tell me why. Or why not!
This week’s coaching tip is tied to the mind-body connection that Ann says yoga improves.
The message of body and soul or mind-body is so common in the New Age lifestyle. Alter the language to something a little more scientific and technical and you have the neuromuscular - a key tenet of USATF running coaching.
Neuro = mind
Muscular = body
It’s the same thing, the same concept, just delivered differently.
Some neuromuscular fitness training is geared towards the mental training of ignoring fatigue, but other parts are about consciously adjusting your biomechanics to ensure your body is functioning as optimally as possible.
Getting into the nuts and bolts of what angle your thighs should be at the point of your feet’s impact is quite advanced into the science of running.
However, you could do things like fixing overpronation by purposefully landing on your toes more; you could breathe in a certain rhythm to balance out your strides. That’s all neuromuscular training. Try it.
My primary goal with this blog is to be more thoughtful about running and maybe help others to be more thoughtful about running as well. You can call it mindfulness or thinking or whatever.
But that’s how you become a better runner.
And it’s good to keep in mind that that’s not necessarily about becoming a faster runner, even if speed is the most natural thing to aim for. A happier, less injured runner who is active in their community is also a better runner.
Find your own way.
Ways to make Running Suck Less covered today:
Check your body for imbalances and tightness and find solutions
Reduce your risk of injuries with a thorough stretching regime
Help your friends stretch during warm-ups and warm-downs
Work running (and yoga!) into your routine naturally
Try a little neuromuscular / mind-body training
Run with friends to increase accountability
Use yoga for strength and balance
Run fewer miles?!