Ayurveda on the Run: Ancient Wisdom for Optimizing Your Marathon Training

Running a marathon is, for many of us, a once-in-a-lifetime achievement. If you have any doubt about how daunting the task is, just think about the Greek soldier Pheidippides, who ran approximately 26 miles to Athens to report on the results of the Battle of Marathon … after which he collapsed and died. 

Fortunately, thousands of people safely complete marathons each year because they spend weeks and months training for the physical and mental challenges of the event. Ayurveda’s wisdom can help inform your training program, and ensure that both your training and performance are optimized for your dosha, or constitution.

Don’t know your dosha yet? Take our quiz.

Eat and Run

Diet is an important aspect of your training. Running for long distances can take a significant toll on your body; to combat the depleting effects, consume grounding and enriching foods, and avoid foods that could be described as dry, airy, and cold—such as raw salads, raw fruit, and dry grain products like chips or crackers. Warm, soft, oily, and/or fatty foods are much better for keeping your body nourished and your joints lubricated for long training sessions. Cooked oats with stewed fruit, dairy, salmon, and healthy oils like olive are all optimal.

Get more guidance on eating Ayurvedically.

Run, Sleep, Repeat

Getting adequate rest is vital when training for a marathon, to give our bodies the opportunity to recover between sessions. Training will increase vata—the air/ether dosha, which governs movement in the body—and thus can create challenges for sleep. To avoid this, it’s best to train in the morning. Those who tend toward kapha—the earth/water dosha—are typically more grounded and naturally slower, so they may not have any difficulty sleeping after training; in fact, they may be more likely to oversleep and skip training sessions. If this is the case for you, try leaving your running clothes and shoes on the floor next to your bed at night. Sometimes just the thought of having to get up and fetch your running gear keeps a kapha in bed. For pittas, who run hot (pardon the pun), a cool foot bath before bed can soothe tired feet while bringing the fire element back into balance.

Check out more Ayurvedic tips for better sleep.

Listen to Your Body

Ayurveda also has wise counsel regarding the actual physical activity involved in preparing for a marathon. Awareness is key: Take time to notice how your body feels on each day of your training. Being mindful of subtle sensations in the joints and muscles may help you to avoid injuries. Trainees will also benefit from the foundational Ayurvedic practice of abhyanga, or self-massage with oil. Abhyanga can be a powerful introspective experience because it helps you to stay in touch with where your body feels strong, and where it might need some additional care.

Here’s how to do abhyanga.

Just making the choice to attempt a marathon is inspiring and empowering, whether it’s your first or your fortieth. Embracing the wisdom of Ayurveda can help you go the distance.

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© Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. All rights reserved. To request permission to reprint, please email editor@kripalu.org.

Sarajean Rudman, E-RYT 500, is a clinical nutritionist, Kripalu Yoga teacher, Ayurvedic practitioner, life coach, fitness instructor, and outdoor adventure guide.

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