Giving the track a whirl was a fluke. In high school she played basketball. But, when a friend coaxed her into checking out the track team she was too shy to say no when the coach put her in a race the following weekend. Her favorite thing when she started out? No one screamed at her like on the basketball court. From that fateful, if timid, day she earned a running scholarship at the University of Tampa, eventually making her way to Austin in the Spring of ‘09 to join the Rogue Olympic Development Team. She also coaches, does marketing, design and a million other things for the Rogue running program, right next door to the RedBird Pilates Studio in Austin, Texas.
Even though she’s an elite athlete, Allison is the first to admit that her physical habits throughout the day tend to go from one extreme to the other – marathon training in the morning, followed by marathon sessions sitting in front of the computer during the day. Like many road and office warriors, Allison had recurring pain in her hips and back, as well as issues with her pelvic alignment. That’s why when Lee and Elisabeth invited her elite runners’ group to try out RedBird Pilates, she enthusiastically agreed – it couldn’t hurt, right?
A big part of the improvement came from the individual attention and focus RedBird instructors Lee and Elisabeth provided, said Allison. “They were both excellent at correcting me in an encouraging way – they didn’t just let us go through the motions.” As the team members learned the new exercises, Lee and Elisabeth became familiar with each individual’s problem areas and made a point of modifying and supporting their practice, keeping the intention on alignment, precision, and concentration of their efforts. “Just like all of their classes, they were very hands on.”
Single sport athletes are often reluctant to spend valuable training time doing other things. Energy spent on swimming might mean fewer miles logged on the bike. Other demanding fitness training might also require recovery time. “Pilates was challenging but didn’t affect my running workout,” said Allison. In fact, even though she says it’s sometimes hard to practice what she preaches, Allison believes that taking time away from her running program to practice the RedBird focus on alignment and strength in her weaker areas made her a better runner. “My times didn’t suffer,” she said, ”they actually got better.”
Another big issue with runners, as with other endurance sports, is injuries. (If you meet Allison, ask her about her fractured pelvis…) This is because all of their action happens on one plane. There is constant repetitive motion so that any time their form is out of alignment, things break down. For Allison, Pilates is most valuable to runners for preventing this type of injury. “Pilates won’t necessarily make you faster, but more importantly, it will help you get fewer injuries,” said Allison.
Many injuries are caused by poor form. As they get tired, runners start collapsing, losing whatever form they started out with. The runners’ hunch – easily confused with, and similar to, the computer hunch – is the hallmark of the final miles where the finish line is the only goal. The weaker your whole body is, said Allison, the sooner in the run that hunch appears, something she had noticed in herself. “The stronger you are, the longer you hold it together,” said Allison.
Part of holding onto your best form is developing the judgment to not overdo it, something that’s not always easy to do. Allison believes that her experience with RedBird Pilates in Austin helped with a key aspect of this: creating awareness of her breathing. Most running veterans like herself know their optimal breathing rate and adjust their workouts accordingly, but many new runners don’t have such a well-developed gauge. “Pilates makes people more conscious of their breathing patterns,” she said, “and that awareness helps runners avoid running too hard,” which often leads to injury.
Naturally, most runners’ focus is on their legs, and the importance of their overall strength and alignment can be overlooked. But, as Allison points out, “you don’t just run with your legs – it’s your whole body,” said Allison. Austin-based RedBird, Pilates couldn’t agree more.
· Rogue running programs are for everyone between those lacing up for the first time to the hardcore trail runners (100 mile races!)…and everyone in between. The biggest crowds are training for marathon and half-marathons.
· When you sign up for a running program you’ll be part of a 15-30 person group with an experienced coach. Together, you participate in one weekday (morning or evening) quality-focused run plus a long Saturday morning supported group run – you’ve seen the water coolers and trippy cone cups they leave along the Town Lake trail, haven’t you? (They also hold workouts at Anderson HS, Circle C and their newest training facility in Cedar Park.)
· As anyone who has seen their running groups setting off from 5th St. can attest, Rogue is more like a community than a fitness fix - they have almost a thousand runners active in their programs. Right now they have 200 runners training for the Austin Marathon!
· In addition to the in-person coaching during the bi-weekly sessions, you get a customized online training schedule to follow for the rest of the days.
· Three core strength classes are offered each week to round out the running program.
By Caitlin Meredith
Photos By Emily Kinsolving