Interview with Runner’s Love Yoga founder, Ann Mazur

Here at Project Yoga Richmond, we believe that taking care of yourself, takes care of your community. This fall, we are thrilled to be partnering with SportBackers for the Richmond Marathon on November 12th as we celebrate our 6th Birthday! As you cross the finish line, we’ll be offering 15 min cool down sessions on Brown’s Island throughout the day to help runners recover! While you take care of your body and cool down properly through slow movement during these sessions, you become and important part of our movement to increase access to yoga in our community!

To show just how powerful your practice can be and the powerful benefits that incorporating yoga into your running routine can have on your body and mind, we interviewed running and yoga expert, Ann Mazur! Ann was a walk on to Notre Dame’s running team and one of their fastest runners by the time she graduated. Ann began practicing yoga in 2005 and received her 200hr RYT in 2009. Since then, Ann has gotten even faster, beating her college PR’s.

Ann has experienced the power of yoga and the benefits of running. She believes in it so much that she started her own company, Runners Love Yoga, to support runners and yogis and help them bring balance to their practices. Ann is also an official blogger of the Richmond Half Marathon this year, and we could not be happier to have a chance to soak in her insight and knowledge to help you recover on race day!

What similarities do you see between running and yoga?

Both running and yoga require a great deal of mental strength. Yoga probably feels mentally challenging in a different way to beginning yogis–it can be difficult to lie still in savasana, for example, or really let your mind relax, but with practice, this becomes much easier. Yoga is actually quite similar to running in how it is both physically and mentally challenging; I think people tend to underestimate how vigorous yoga can be as a physical activity, but probably also underestimate how much of running is actually very mental. In both, you can really find yourself in a sort of effortless “zone”–whether you are running a race and just keep knocking your miles off at the right pace, or are practicing a flow of poses and just seeing where it takes you.

What differences do you see between the two?

Yoga is a little different in that you have to be okay with where you are. There are always going to be poses you can’t do or that aren’t maybe particularly comfortable for your body. Yoga teaches you patience; you quickly learn to be okay with where you are right at that particular moment. This doesn’t mean that you don’t want to grow, but that you know if you practice, you’ll get there when it’s meant to happen. With running, though, you tend to want to be as fast as possible, as quickly as possible–I think this is also probably why runners (especially those who don’t stretch) generally are prone to a lot of overuse injuries. Yoga teaches you that, as a runner, it’s totally okay to allow yourself time to recover, and that’s actually how you improve. Yoga really just makes you nicer to yourself!

A lot of runners come to yoga thinking it will only help their flexibility, but the mental side is just as important. In running, the emphasis is on pushing yourself, while yoga is all about doing what is right for you right then. I think a balance of both–pushing yourself but also listening to your body is where you want to end up. Yoga has probably helped me be more chill overall in a way that has definitely helped with running. There is no perfect race day scenario, or training, or nutrition plan, or way to hydrate, so just do the best you can and otherwise relax, because that last “relax” part will get you further than perfection would have anyways.

Both running and yoga appear to be “individual” practices, yet both have a strong community component and impact. How and why do you believe this emerges?

I think that for a lot of people who are currently runners, their high school or college cross country and track teams were one of the very first teams that they were on. I know my college team at Notre Dame was so, so important to me; this was really a second family. So, I think a lot of lifelong runners come to the sport of running through those teams that they were on when they were younger, and camaraderie is just such a natural part of running, period. There’s just no way to go through a grueling 10 mile practice, let alone four years’ worth of grueling practices, without forming some tremendous bonds with the other people working out with you. Even though I’m not on a formal team now, every weekend I race I find a sense of community–you tend to see the same people at races, but you also end up bonding with people who end up running near you, something which is especially true for the longer races like the marathon.

Yoga feels like a community especially in the regulars in my classes. In addition to teaching English, I also teach yoga at UVa, and I’ve seen some yoga students go through all four years of college while coming to my yoga classes! I love getting to see these same people week after week. Social media actually really adds to my sense of yoga as a community–Instagram is actually a huge yoga community, and teachers share advice and tips, and everyone cheers on everyone else’s individual practices and breakthroughs. I think Instagram sometimes gets a bad rap, but that’s only if you’re approaching it with a negative mindset! There’s so much inspiration and joy shared in ways that we otherwise could not.

What advice do you have for someone who practices yoga to start running?
    1. Don’t increase mileage by more than 10% a week.
    2. Find ways to make running work with your yoga. When I can, I run to and from teaching yoga since this makes my whole workout more efficient. Of course, this might not work for everyone, depending upon where you live, but the whole idea of stacking your workouts in a row has been very helpful for me time-wise.
    3. Have some sort of variety to your daily schedule. Don’t do the same thing at the same intensity every day. Have harder days, recovery days, and something in between. Vary both intensity and duration. Experiment until you find the right mix of whatever works for you. I literally draw a 7 day chart and extend it week by week so I get a clear “at a glance” map of my training, and can see further in advance when I might need to have one type of day or another, or can plan my training week in a way that makes sense with the rest of my life.
What is one primary lesson you have learned from running?

Honestly, with running, persistence. There have been so many times where I could have very easily given up on running, and just stopped–there are almost too many to list here. Anyone who knew me in grade school would not have believed I would end up even running for Notre Dame or that I would still be running now. I was literally picked last in gym class for the entirely of grade school, and made fun of relentlessly for being slow, and neither of my parents thought I had any aptitude for sports whatsoever. But, I always wanted to be a fast runner. At Notre Dame, I was a walk-on–by the time it was all said and done, I was the last walk-on from my entering class who was left, and had had some great races where I was all Big East. There are plenty of challenges particular to being a walk-on where it would have been easy to just quit, but this was honestly never even a remote possibility–nothing was going to stop me from being able to contribute to that team. Post-collegiately, running can be quite challenging to balance with regular life, let alone earning a Ph.D. at the University of Virginia, or teaching and writing and running a small business. If I am anything, I am persistent! Don’t give up on your dreams because that’s what makes you a real human.

What is one primary lesson you have learned from yoga?

I think with yoga, it really is what I said earlier about being okay with you are. While there are some complex poses I can do, it can still be very intimidating when you see some of the more crazy poses, even as a yoga teacher. But you don’t have to be able to do the hardest poses to be a great teacher! That’s also part of the fun of yoga, knowing that you always have somewhere new to go and learn, but also understanding your limits in the moment. I love showing my yoga students that yoga is this never ending journey. It truly is a lifelong journey of continued growth, and no matter the pose it will may feel totally different from one day to another.

Why are running and yoga so successfully paired together?

In the past 3-4 years or so, I drastically cut down on my running mileage and upped the yoga time each day with great results. I essentially cut my mileage in half from about 50-60 miles per week to somewhere right around 30–this includes the training for my sub-3:00 marathon which included I think maybe 2 weeks where I hit 40 on the nose, but nothing more than that. I also have a possible insane but definitely unconventional training method which involves pretty much no workouts but races nearly every weekend. Somewhere along the line I discovered this plan accidentally–I really just had no time for specific running workouts during the school week, but I really really love to compete, so I just did what I enjoyed the most and it’s worked out better than what’s generally prescribed. I’ve beaten a lot of my old college PRs that I thought I’d never come close to again.

Yoga aids running performance because it corrects imbalances in your body that you otherwise probably would never have even known that you had (until you got injured), and generally makes you more aware of how well your body is doing, so that you can fine-tune a run or a race in a way that you couldn’t before. Yoga also strengthens your core, helps you move more fluidly and efficiently, and prevents a lot of common runner problems like IT band tightness (which is actually what got me hooked on yoga to begin with). With yoga, you can train more consistently. I can’t remember the last time I was injured (knock on wood). I’ve always been a natural endurance athlete, but I would swear that yoga has helped my speed somehow too!

Yoga and running do more than impact the individual, these self-care practices transform entire communities. While both involve moving your individual body, these self-care practices create a community movement towards health. As you run your race and unroll your mat with us after crossing the finish line, know that you are a part of our movement to increase wellness in the Greater Richmond region. We cannot wait to unroll the mat with you and help you recover after crossing the finish line this weekend! #bethemovement

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