The phenomenon coined as “flow” has made its way into mainstream running. Flow is what occurs when you’re having the workout of your life. You’re so focused on what you’re doing that when you think back, you cannot remember one thing that went through your head. Flow can also be achieved when you find yourself pulling into your parking spot at work, but have no memory of driving there. The best kind of flow is when you’re in a race and even though your body is in total agony, you’re above it. The pain is nothing because you are so tuned in to your race. You may not even notice your friends and family cheering you on from the sidelines. You’re totally absorbed in your running, and you’re running fast!
When elite athletes are asked about their best performances, they often reply by saying that they were just doing, they weren’t thinking. They were executing their race as if it was a dream. They were in the zone. Flow occurs when you enter this zone and there is often a residual high associated with it. You don’t have to be an elite runner to find that sweet spot known as flow. I think all runners can relate to this experience on some level and this is part of what creates the shared bond that you feel with your fellow runner.
It seems simple, turn off your brain and run fast. If only our brain had an off switch. The experience of flow can seem like a total disconnection to reality. To me, it is just the opposite. It is actually not a disconnect at all, but a total connection to what you’re doing. Being totally focused on running, to the point that nothing else matters or is even noticed, is not an easy task.
So how do you achieve flow? Every runner is different. There is no magic formula that will work for every athlete. The good news is that you are an expert on your own running. You know yourself better than anyone else (arguably). For one runner, tuning in to your race might involve executing a certain warm up. For another runner, it might be a pre-race self pep talk or thinking about your best or worst race and feeding off of those emotions. The bottom line is, have a plan that works for you.
Race day is hectic. Your competitors are buzzing with energy, you’re excited but nervous, the line up for the bathroom is a mile long or maybe the weather isn’t cooperating. Having a plan to deal with these distractions is important. Being in control of your hectic race day can be extremely liberating.
To develop your plan, do some trial and error to figure out what you’re going to do on the day of your race, why you’re going to do it, and what you’re going to do if it doesn’t go as planned. Think about what you want to be thinking about on race day. In other words, when panic strikes because you felt a rain drop or your competitors look faster than they’ve ever looked, what will you tell yourself to bring yourself back into that state of mind where you just can’t wait to run? This is the first step in trying to achieve the highly sought after state of flow.
About the Author: Jennifer is a student member of the Canadian Sport Psychology Association. She works one on one with athletes of all levels and is pursuing her dream career as a Performance Enhancement Consultant. Despite her 5’2” stature, she is also a closet meathead who can be found on cloud nine eating a steak post PB power clean.