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Yogi-Athlete Spotlight: Ironwoman Amy Ware

I met Amy Ware on the pool deck before a Master’s swim practice about six months ago.

We were both procrastinating getting into the water, knowing a tough workout was ahead and preferring to remain social. I asked her, in true athlete small talk, what she was training for. She said, “Well, I signed up for Vineman.”

“Half?” I asked, referring to the 70.3 distance some of my friends had on their schedule.

“The full,” she grinned. “I’m not sure I’m really going to do it. I don’t know what I got myself into.”

I nodded. I’ve never done an Ironman distance triathlon, but I am married to someone who has, and I know the training is grueling. It’s at least a part-time job, sometimes demanding more than 20 hours of training a week. It’s not for the faint of heart.

We got into the water and did our workout, and soon I’m following Amy on Strava. Then I’m riding with her and running with her (me working hard to keep up, mind you) after swim practices. Then we are carpooling to a race. Then she’s coming to my Active Recovery class. And then, just about two weeks ago, she not only finishes the full Vineman, she kills it.

Amy is inspiring. Here’s a little more about her journey and how yoga works into her life as a triathlete, nurse and partner.

When did you start doing yoga and why?
I started doing yoga after a knee injury side lined me from running in 2010. I started with Bikram yoga, as I was mostly interested in the “workout” aspect of the experience, so I attended class 2 to 3 times a week to “keep up my fitness” while I was unable to run.

As it turns out, I enjoyed the other aspects of yoga too, so have added vinyasa and restorative yoga to my schedule.

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Amy with lots of energy left and a big smile on the run at Ironman Vineman 2016.


How do you yoga has affected your triathlon training?
Yoga has been super helpful! I try to integrate it into active recovery days after hard training sessions for the stretching benefit and to change the way I’m working my body.

What’s your favorite thing about yoga?
I love that it challenges me in entirely different ways. I work different parts of myself and bring awareness to what I’ve got going on, and where I’ve got strength and weakness and what’s hurting or feeling really good.

What would you tell your athlete friends about why they should do yoga?
Yoga is an amazing addition to a training program of any distance! It helps strengthen both mental and physical elements and it has helped me bring awareness to what’s going on inside and outside of myself. Plus, who doesn’t need an hour or two of dedicated stretching a week in their training?!? Yoga is a perfect complement to the craziness that is Ironman training!

When’s your next Ironman? (wink, wink)
Haha! Good question! I’ll be doing the 70.3 in Palm Springs in December, but I technically don’t have another long course on the schedule… yet….

A careful balance: The yin of yoga

My husband hurt his knee. The timing could not have been worse. Leading into the USA Triathlon Age-Group Championships in Milwaukee, he wasn’t sure his knee would hold up to race.

He was hoping to beat his time from last year, and hopefully break the top 5 in his age group. He’s fast, that goes without saying. He has qualified for the World Championships twice and was hoping this year, after putting int a solid year of training and feeling strong and fast, he’d not just qualify for Worlds again but be highly competitive in that field.

The knee pain started a few weeks earlier during a hard run, and he took care to ice and rest following hard workouts. He did some stretching, he used the foam roller, and he paid attention. He knows his body well. He’s practiced yoga a lot in his life, and has been a dedicated endurance athlete for half of his life.

He was nervous the morning of the race. He kept saying he hoped his knee wouldn’t hurt. He wasn’t sure how he would do.

And after the first mile of the run split, his knee started hurting. It hurt bad enough that he couldn’t run fast. He couldn’t race like he had planned. He finished with a respectable time, still qualifying for Worlds again, but angry that he had succumbed to an injury.

I suggested he take better care of his body—perhaps with more yoga. And, he agreed.

His situation had me reflecting on the role of yoga in an athlete’s life. We train hard, we push our bodies to their limits with the hope of getting to the finish line faster, or scoring extra points or hitting the ball farther. Our bodies take quite a beating. When do we allow our bodies to heal and rest from all of that pounding? When do we relax?

Athletes are used to going hard, and the slow pace of yoga can seem like a turn off at first. I’ve been in plenty of yoga classes myself where I am wanting a hard workout, but the pace of the class is slow and gentle and I want to be flowing through sun salutations, holding warrior poses and testing my resolve during a balancing posture. I get the need to let it out, to see what new limits our bodies can physically reach.

But there is a point that is reached when the body really just needs a little yin, a little soft balance to keep it healthy. A gentle, slow sequence can be just the thing. Paying attention to breath, tuning into how the body is feeling, where there is tightness or a problem creeping up. These are important things to notice. They are as important as noticing that you ran 30 seconds faster in that 5k than last week.

If you have a few moments at home this week, try this short sequence, being mindful of the breath and easing into the poses.

  • Begin in child’s pose and breathe.
  • Come up onto the hands, positioning knees under hips, hands under shoulders. Inhale and reach the chest forward and drawing the tailbone to the sky into cow pose. Exhale and tuck the tailbone under, bringing the chin to the chest for cat pose. Flow through cat and cow, warming up the spine with each inhale and exhale. Notice any tightness in the back, shoulders or hips.
  • Return to child’s pose and rest. Breathe and allow the hips to reach back toward the heels.
  • Tuck the toes under and pick the hips up, moving into downward facing dog.
  • Bicycle the knees back and forth, feel the backs of the legs begin to open up. They might feel very tight. That’s OK, just move slowly and breathe.
  • Return to the knees, coming onto all fours again. Raising the left arm toward the sky stretch up and feel an expansion in the side body. Drive the left arm under the body, sliding it underneath the right arm, palm facing up. Lower the left shoulder all the way to the ground, reaching the hips up and back. The top of the side of the head will come to rest on the ground, gently, for Thread the Needle. Breathe here and feel into the shoulders and neck. When you’re ready, come back to all fours and repeat on the other side.
  • Return to downward facing dog.
  • Lift the left leg up toward the sky. Flex the foot, bend the left knee and twist the hips toward the sky, allowing the left foot to fall toward the right hip. Breathe and hold. Straighten the left leg and return to downward facing dog. Repeat on the right side.
  • Lift the left leg once more, press the chest toward the ground. Draw the left knee into the chest, moving forward over the hands and bring the foot up to meet the hands on the mat. Drop the back knee and gently walk the hands up to the left knee. Lifting the chest, sweep the arms overhead for Crescent Lunge. Breathe and hold. Repeat on the right side.
  • Return to child’s pose.
  • Tuck the toes under and sit up. If this is too much pressure on your feet lift the hips off the heels. We’re aiming for a good toe stretch here. Take a deep inhale and stretch the arms overhead. Exhale the arms back toward your sides. Repeat the long breaths three times. Untuck the toes and slide the legs forward.
  • Bring the soles of the feet together, letting the knees fall out to the side for Butterfly. With a flat back, move the upper body forward, reaching the chest toward the toes until you feel a good stretch.
  • Roll onto your back, keeping knees bent. Feet are hip distance apart and close to the buttocks. With arms along side the body, press the palms into the ground. Press the feet into the ground. Inhale and lift the hips. Lift the chest. Keep the gaze at the knees. Exhale and release the hips to the ground. Repeat two more times.
  • Draw the knees to the chest and rock gently side to side.
  • Take the knees off to the left side, pressing the right shoulder into the ground and extending the right arm. For an IT band stretch extend the right leg.  Hold and breathe. Switch sides.
  • End in corpse pose and relax for five minutes.

Athletes and Yoga: A Complicated Relationship

The other day I came across an article exploring the myriad of reasons why athletes should do yoga. Actually, this was the second time I had read this article, but reading it again after some time had passed and after gaining more knowledge and experience in working with athletes on the yoga mat, I’ve come to some of my own conclusions. But I still have a lot of unanswered questions.

As an athlete myself, I love the way yoga loosens up my tight muscles and joints that have been working really hard to get me into race shape. Sometimes I am so tired and worked from training for triathlons that all I want is my yoga mat. I crave that time to nurture my body and give it some release. I crave the quiet and the attention to my body the yoga space provides. I don’t think I could train so hard without it.

But I also love yoga and have loved it for many, many years. And not all athletes do.

While exercise gurus and trainers will tout the many benefits of incorporating a regular yoga practice into an athlete’s workout routine, and while I agree with them, I have found a lot of resistance from athletes.

Reasons I’ve heard for not doing yoga are many, but the most common are:

  • I don’t have time.
  • I hate yoga.
  • I’d rather lift weights or do Pilates.
  • I’m not flexible.

Of course I could just shake my head or begin to argue with these reluctant athletes. Instead, I have found that allowing them to be on their own path and not trying to convince them that yoga will indeed help them as an athlete is a better option for me and for them.

It is true with non-athletes as well. People who come to yoga come because they feel drawn to it. Some are curious and come to their first class and never come back, saying it’s not for them. Others come to class and become a die hard yogi, starting up a regular practice that gets really deep. Both choices are OK. People will come when they are ready, and if they’re not ready when I think they should be, that’s OK too.

So, yes, I think it’s good to explain the benefits of doing yoga for athletes, and to encourage them to give it a try. But I also think it’s important that they come to it when they are ready so they will be more open to experiencing it and feeling its benefits.

Sure, sometimes people just need a little nudge, and I’m perfectly comfortable being the one to give that nudge. But I’m also perfectly happy to wait and let someone come around on their own.

Here are some things to think about if you’re an athlete who’s on the fence about yoga:

  • Take some time to find a good teacher who will help you feel comfortable in your practice but also challenged.
  • Don’t write off all of yoga after doing just one class and not feeling completely sold. Experiment with different styles and different teachers. It’s often the teacher who will make you feel connected with yoga at first.
  • Be patient with your body as you become familiar with yoga. If you’re not used to being in some of these rather twisty poses, give yourself permission to take it slow. Your body will gradually adapt and loosen up. If you take it too quickly and push too hard you will injure yourself.
  • Think of yoga as a time to heal your body and give back to it for all the hard work it does during your athletic training. Every stretch, every pose will bring balance to your body and the muscles that can often get strained from overuse. Even if going to yoga class means missing a regular workout, that’s OK. Your body will get a lot out of doing yoga that will enhance your training and protect you from injury.

If you’re not on the fence about doing yoga, you’re either doing it or not doing it. And if you are, great! I hope it’s helping you in your training. If you’re not doing it and feel like sharing reasons why you aren’t, please leave a comment and share what you do for activity/training.

Here’s Jack Maitland, coach to the very fast Brownlee brothers who do very well with triathlons, talking about why yoga is good for endurance athletes.

Yogi Spotlight: Meet Bethany Ruiz

Bethany Ruiz
Age: 34
Hometown: Miller City, OH
Favorite Sport to Watch: Mudhens baseball (to people watch)
Favorite Yoga Poses: Pigeon, Triangle, Dolphin pushups and “anything lying down”

WBethanyMughen Bethany Ruiz isn’t busily fixing computer glitches and updating software or managing servers at her full-time job at the Anderson’s in Maumee, she might be lecturing college students about information technology or drinking a beer at Rocky’s Bar. But chances are, you will find her running, biking, swimming, working on her Jiu-Jitsu moves or chasing after her active dogs. And you might even find her on the yoga mat.

The Toledo resident says exercise keeps her sane during her 12- to 15-hour workday. “When I’m not working out, I tend to not eat well and it becomes a downward spiral.”

After a hip injury a few years ago, Ruiz tried yoga but wasn’t immediately impressed. Her mind wandered in class. She would wonder what she was going to have for dinner, what she needed to pick up at the grocery store or what she was going to do after class. Her mind was not in the moment.  Then she found a DVD of yoga for runners and it changed her perspective. “I signed up for some classes at the gym and I thought I was in good shape, I thought I was fit, but five seconds in the downward dog when my entire body started to shake I was like, OK, this is working muscles differently. And then it became a challenge so that’s where the fun came in.”Bethany2

She began a regular yoga practice and now sees it as part of her athletic training. She says it helps her see the bigger picture.

“It’s not just about your times and what you can eke out in a week for swimming, biking and running. It’s more about overall health and how do you feel and correcting your posture. And all that stuff rolled up I think does positively affect your times. If you can put the time into something that you may not think directly impacts your performance for triathlons, you can kind of get past that and start to see the benefits after just a couple weeks.”

Ruiz says her yoga practice has helped her find focus during her workouts. Working to calm the mind has helped her get out of her head and into her body. She knows she needs yoga when her body gets tight, and she’s not going to be thinking about going to the grocery store. She’s thinking about releasing the tightness in her hips and stretching her legs out.

After a good class, she says, she feels taller, “which is awesome because I’m six feet tall anyway. I feel taller, more calm and like I took care of myself, which I don’t usually do. It’s all about bigger, better, faster so it’s nice to take a step back.”

It’s not just about your times and what you can eke out in a week for swimming, biking and running. It’s more about overall health and how do you feel and correcting your posture. And all that stuff rolled up I think does positively affect your times.