Yogi on the Run

After years of telling herself "I'm just not a runner," Erica Rodefer Winters takes some pointers from her yoga practice and enters, and finishes, her first road race.

When I was in middle school, I went out on a limb and joined my school’s track team. I had only been on one other team in my life, so I didn’t know what to expect. I thought that if nothing else, it would be a good opportunity to hang out with my friends. While other kids were working hard to improve their times, I ran a little bit in between giggling with my girls and trying to impress boys (with my wit and charm, obviously, not my athletic abilities).

It shouldn’t have come as surprise when my coach pulled me aside for a chat. He asked me why I had joined the track team when it was so obvious that I had no interest in running. I didn’t know what to say. He made a valid point. If he was trying to motivate me to get serious about track, his plan backfired. I went home that day and thought: Why AM I doing this? I don’t even like running! 

That was my last track practice. It was also the beginning of a damaging self-dialogue I’d engage in for many years. I’m just not a runner. My feet are too flat. I understand that running is enjoyable for other people, but it’s just not for me. On the surface, these are statements about running ability (or lack thereof). But telling yourself you aren’t cut out for something—no matter what it is—can be really harmful, especially when it stops you from trying.

I could have gone the rest of my life believing that running just wasn’t for me. But years of yoga practice have helped me to realize that if I am willing to put forth the effort, there’s no reason I can’t do anything, including running. After all, there was a time when I thought I just wasn’t strong enough to do Bakasana (Crane Pose), either.

I trained all summer long. Finally, last week, I laced up my running shoes for my first road race. It was a 5K, which is a short distance for seasoned runners, but for me it was a big challenge. I approached it the way I approach my yoga practice, with an open mind and an I’ll-just-try-this-and-see-what-happens mentality. When I thought I couldn’t go any further, I focused on my breath and remembered that any discomfort I felt was only temporary. Although it was a race, competition was the last thing on my mind.

About halfway through the race, I started to run out of steam. I looked up and saw a runner in his 70s, a child, and someone dressed, literally, as a house (don’t ask me why) running far ahead of me. It was like a dream. In my younger days I would have been embarrassed that I couldn’t outrun a person in a house costume. In that moment, I remembered the question my track coach had asked me so many year ago, “Why are you doing this?” I certainly wasn’t trying to set any records. I wasn’t doing it to get in shape, really. And I could honestly say that I wasn’t trying to impress anyone. It was just for me; to prove to myself that I could do it.

And I did! I finished the race.

I’m may never become a serious runner, but I know that running (or not running) is entirely my choice—not something that is mandated by my flat feet or anything else beyond my control. For me, that realization might be even more exciting to me than the rush of crossing a finish line.