Whether you’re new to running, training for a marathon, or an experienced runner looking for a new perspective, Pilates is one of the best ways to complement this sport.
I first tried running in high school with the naïve goal of loosing weight and eliminating my extra jiggle. I heard it was great exercise and so much fun running for miles at a time. The magazines I read and some kids at school talked about getting “in the zone” and a “runner’s high” that sounded so sexy and enticing! Plus it was supposed to be great exercise that burned a ton of calories. I was a dancer, in reasonable shape, it was summer and I had some extra time on my hands, so I decided to give it a go.
My first run lasted a few blocks before I had to stop for a walking break. My heart felt like it was going to pound out of my chest and I couldn’t breathe. I thought I was going to have a heart attack right there. When I caught my breath, I ran another block or two and then had to continue walking. This went on a few more times before I stopped running altogether. After that, I walked home deflated and disappointed that I couldn’t actually run and “do it right”. That summer, I tried running a few more times, but had the same results and hated it!
Flash forward 15 years and my dance company decides to take part in a 10 kilometer run as a fundraising event. I’m all for doing my part, but this is one thing I was not looking forward to. Other than my dance rehearsals, I’ve always shied away from cardio… especially running.
My husband danced with me and as soon as he heard about the run, he enthusiastically enrolled us. I unenthusiastically complied and agreed to do it. I heard you could walk the entire thing, so at least I had a back up plan if it the running thing didn’t work out.
Our first day of training began the day after we arrived home from a trip to Fiji. It was early March, but that day happened to be windy and -20 degrees celcius. I put on my winter boots, snow pants, base layers and balaclava and went out dreading the experience. What a day to start an activity I’d likely hate and was not looking forward to.
As we got going, I was absolutely shocked. I ran nearly 1 kilometer before I needed to slow down and walk. I was also out of breath, but it wasn’t as awful as I’d remembered it. I held myself together and actually felt energized and invigorated.
Six weeks later, my husband and I ran the 10 kilometer race along with members of our dance company. He ran along-side me and we finished the race in less than an hour and ran the entire thing! I was sore and tired, but I did it and was so proud of myself for following through and giving running another chance.
So what was different from then to now that helped me successfully complete this race? I’m going to attribute nearly everything that made me run better to Pilates. I studied how the body moves in my Teacher Training program, leaned about optimal mechanics, practiced Pilates and worked as a teacher helping my clients get stronger and move better.
8 things stand out in particular
I improved my postural alignment
In the world of Pilates, postural alignment is key. Some schools of Pilates emphasize “perfect form” in every exercise. At Body Harmonics, we focus on the best form possible given where the body is that day. And we realized it can take time to get there.
People thought that because I was a dancer and had a very erect spine I had good posture. But that came with other pain points and challenges. Bit by bit, I worked on restoring the natural curves of my spine and aligning myself better from head to toe without cheating or forcing my posture.
Better postural alignment helped me keep my body in a good position that minimized the strain from running caused by potential imbalances in my body.
I moved from my joints
This is a simple concept in theory, but I found it complicated to really embody. A joint is where two bones are fitted together. This is where movement happens. Think of your hip joint, knee joint, the many joints that make up the spinal column. Those are all areas you can move and bend.
When I ran, I focused on soft landings and congruence in my ankle, knee and hip joints as well as the natural rhythm in my spine.
I got stronger
Pilates is known for building core strength. And it does that. But the work you do stems far beyond your center and builds strength in your entire body from head to toe. It’s a different kind of strength than simply working out at the gym doing weights, as the movements are very dynamic.
I had time to breathe
Part of my Teacher Training at Body Harmonics was attending the Breathing Mechanics workshop. While everything made sense, I understood the importance of breath and I tried a few of the techniques on my own, the true importance of breathing didn’t click for me until I started running.
I used breath to help pace myself and put breath at the forefront of my mind as I ran. This gave me a lot of undivided attention on my breath each and every time I ran. The more I worked with my breath, the easier it got to run. Being outside also made me want to breathe more. I could smell the freshness of nature and this was exciting because I’d never really paid attention to this beauty around me before.
I learned about running techniques
Years before I actually started running, I attended the Running Mechanics and Protocols workshop at Body Harmonics. I had a few clients that ran and wanted more insight into the sport and how to best serve them. It was great to have this as a basis for the running I did, because it helped me improve my foot placement, my stride and basic technique. I also got some great training ideas for my clients, which I used for myself as well.
I made this a learning experience
I’m an information junkie and LOVE to learn. Just like I focused on my breath during each run, I also had the chance to observe and hone in on different parts of my body, what it could and couldn’t do. I’d try different warm up exercises, different workouts throughout the week and observed how I felt, whether something was working or not. I would then test and tweak until something worked for me. This may seem a bit over the top, and I don’t recommend it for everyone, but it was quite an enjoyable reflective process for me.
I committed to doing it three times per week
At the Pilates studio, I noticed that clients who do Pilates regularly get the best results. Two to three times per week seems to be the ideal number. So I applied that to my running as well. As much as I wanted to train every day, I just didn’t have the time. Three days per week was effort, but manageable for me to fit into my schedule AND build the endurance I needed to complete the race.
I asked for help
My husband was an absolutely amazing support for me and a major reason I followed through. I asked if he’d help me do this and he agreed to train and do the race alongside me. He was stronger and faster than me, but it was more important for him to help me succeed than to just do this himself. He was my cheerleader and kept encouraging me when I wanted to stop. While we trained, he’d run ahead of me and circle back, run backwards and play many games to amuse me along the way. Having a partner to work with was so important.
I’m convinced that because of my experience with Pilates, I stayed safe, injury free and was able to run without beating my body up. I’m glad I gave running another shot, because the second time around I fell in love with it!