Athlete for Yoga: Stephanie Howe Violett
Stephanie Howe Violett has been running competitively since age 14. She competed at the collegiate level in both cross country and nordic skiing. She was the 2014 Western States 100 Champ and holds a PhD in Nutrition and Exercise Science. After she broke onto the ultra scene in in 2014, she enjoyed two solid years of racing before dealing with an achilles tendon surgery, followed by a series of setbacks, including a stress fracture in 2016. But she’s scrappy, tough, and making a big return — she recently won the USATF 100K Trail Championships “Bandera”, setting a new course record of 9:08:35.
We are thrilled that Stephanie has joined Jasyoga as an Athlete for Yoga — read on to get to know Stephanie!
2016 is over! You called it the year of the devil, how does it feel to flip that calendar page?
The past year was really tough. There were some dark, dark times... But, the tough times are what define you and make the good times feel all that much sweeter. I felt that 2016 everything seemed to go wrong for me. Like, I couldn’t catch a break. I felt like I was broken; physically, mentally, and spiritually. It wasn’t until I let go and figured out how to be happy day-to-day that I really started to recover. Sometimes it takes that much to allow your body to reset and heal. Looking back, I’m glad for the knowledge I’ve gained, but I was NOT at all sad to close the chapter on 2016 (shudder).
Injury is such a dark and discouraging chapter, especially when it drags on so long. Looking back, are there any lessons or silver linings you’re taking out of that darkness?
I definitely learned things about myself. I’ve had plenty of opportunities in long races to prove my perseverance and stubbornness. I can suffer. I think that’s the lesson most people learn through injury — how to stick it out in adversity and just keep moving forward. That wasn’t the lesson I learned though. I learned more how to let go and allow myself to be happy without the thing I loved most. Running, and any movement really, are so essential to my life. Honestly, physical movement has been an important part of my life my earliest memories. I am very much a bodily kinesthetic individual, meaning I learn by physically doing things. I also am an introvert, and the time I spend running, skiing, biking, yoga, etc., are my time to process things in my head and clear some space. When I suddenly found myself without the ability to run or walk or do anything, I felt really off. Like really off... I was cranky, irritable, anxious, and stressed. I didn’t know how to get out of my own head nor did I know how to find another outlet for my needs. It took a lot of time to figure out a balance, but I was able to eventually find things that fulfilled me. Near the end of the summer, I was actually happy spending time sitting outside, painting, cooking, practicing yoga, canoeing, etc. Things that weren’t my primary focus, but suddenly had become an integral part of my life. The biggest lesson I learned was how to be happy with what I had, and embrace a slower pace of life. Moving forward I’m really glad to have this avenue to tap into. I’m more ok with not being 100% on all the time, whereas before I was always pushing my limit. I’m very thankful for this shift.
Obviously pushing hard and chasing goals comes very naturally. How have you grown to incorporate focused recovery into your training and life?
I have found that I can push harder when I take the time to recover. When I build in enough recovery my body thrives. This wasn’t always intuitive, I used to always push my limits and ride the fine line between hard work and injury. Often I’d push over my limit and end up fatigued, injured, or sick. The more I learned about my body, the better I was able to find the balance between enough training and recovery. I think I’m much more intuitive about training, but it’s a fluid process. I am very purposeful about rest and recovery. If I don’t plan it out, it can be too easy to forgo. Normally I try to take one day each week completely off. It’s my day to reset physically and mentally. I used to dread my day off, but now I embrace it. It feels like my day to bounce back and let my body absorb all the hard work I’ve done. And, I feel much less fatigued later in the week when I allow for a day to reset. I also try to take time each day to reset, even if it’s just 5 minutes. It helps me physically and mentally and re-centers me.
When did you start using Jasyoga in your training?
I have always been into yoga and have used it as a way to balance my training. I started using Jasyoga in 2015 when I traveled to Chamonix, France for a race. I was planning to be out of the country for seven weeks and I didn’t want to let my yoga practice lapse during that time. I knew of Jasyoga and decided that this would be a great time to try, since I could do the videos anywhere... and I completely fell in love with Jasyoga! It was the missing piece I was looking for. Often, yoga classes are too much for me. I don’t necessarily want another workout, I want a practice that will support my body and help me recover from all the running I do. I found the videos to be a perfect balance and were easy to customize for what I needed on a particular day. One of my favorites are The 5-Minute Reset Collection videos after a nice, long run. I love how I feel after and just a simple few minutes can really make a difference in how I feel in the hours following.
What does being an Athlete for Yoga mean to you?
Being an Athlete for Yoga means taking the time to give my body a gift. I ask so much of it when I’m training and I feel like yoga is my way of giving back and saying thank you. When I treat my body well and take care of the little things, it allows me to push it further. It’s a great balance and an important part of being a professional athlete. With every relationship there is give and take, and yoga helps me to balance this relationship with my body.
Ultras must be a hugely mental sport as well as physical — so much can change over the hours and miles. How do you train your mental strength to stay in it when it gets hard?
This is one of my strengths as an ultra runner. I’ve learned how to embrace the suffering. It’s never easy, but the feeling I get when I surpass what I thought was possible is amazing. THAT’S why I run. I love pushing my limits and seeing what my body is capable of doing. Every time I race I get to the point of failure, where every part of me is on the edge... and then I keep going. It’s an incredible feeling to embrace this darkness and persevere. It’s something I’ve learned over time and being able to trust my body is an important part of this.
Okay, and we have to talk about food. You have a PhD in Nutrition and Exercise Science, and make some of the most delish looking real food fuel eva. What role does nutrition play in your life and sport?
Nutrition is a huge part of my life. I am an advocate for REAL FOOD. I don’t think eating needs to be complicated. In fact, it should be simple and enjoyable. I like to think of my diet as the foods that I choose eat, not a list of rules and restrictions that I must follow. All foods are important and restrictions are not part of a healthy, uncomplicated way of eating. I LOVE to cook and prepare food and it’s made a big difference in my running, lifestyle, and just overall quality of life. My best advice — eat real food, don’t follow diets, and stay away from processed crap. And most of all, enjoy eating!
What have you learned about fueling over the years?
I’ve learned that everyone is a little different in how they need to fuel, but the framework is the same. We all need a certain amount of macronutrients, but how we meet that goal can vary person to person. I’ve also learned that following rigorous diets really doesn’t work. I’ve seen so many athletes manipulate their diet in hopes of achieving better results, only to their own demise. The real way to optimize fueling is to focus on good quality nutrients and eat everything in moderation. Yes, it’s boring, but it works. There is no secret diet or food that will enhance health or performance. Just good ol moderation
Since you’re been through some seriously high highs and low lows, and lived to tell the tale, what’s some advice you have to runners who want to avoid the injury bench?
Oh I have so much advice! The biggest thing I’ve learned is to be patient during recovery. In the past I’ve tried to cross-train and maintain fitness while injured and it’s blown up in my face. The best way to recover and bounce back is to just let it go. Let your body have some down time. Enjoy a slower pace of life and you’ll be surprised how fast and complete recovery can be. It’s tempting to think that a few months off with be the most terrible thing ever, but it’s really not. Focus on other things that fulfill you — paint, bake, cook, read, spend time with friends, etc. Once you realize that life goes on without running, you are able to become a happier, more fulfilled person. I’m really glad to have learned this lesson.
What’s next? Have you sketched out your 2017 racing calendar?
YES! I am racing Western States and UTMB. I cannot wait! It was my goal to get back into States and I’m trilled that I raced my way back in.
You can find Stephanie online at stephaniehoweviolett.com. And keep sharing your own journey with #athletesforyoga!