“We run, not because we think it is doing us good, but because we enjoy it and cannot help ourselves”
– Roger Bannister
If you have experienced running in a state of flow, you have experienced a sensation of “doing without doing” or running effortlessly without thinking about it. However, it’s not effortless because it’s easy, it’s effortless because you’re in “the zone”: flow can only occur when the level of challenge matches your level of ability.
All competitive runners want to get into the zone on race day and those who achieve it often achieve personal bests. This highlights the fact that “effortless” running and “easy” running are not one and the same. Personal bests don’t just materialise without effort! However, a state of flow is not something you can make happen, it’s something that just happens − when the conditions are right.
A state of flow can occur at any point in a run, in a training environment as well as a race environment. Research has found that it’s most likely to be experienced by runners who run purely for the love of running, or in sports psychology terms, runners who are intrinsically motivated to run.
The following three conditions have been identified as necessary to achieve a flow state:
1. You must have a clear set of goals in place. Goals provide direction in all of your running efforts.
2. Your perceived level of running skill must match the level of challenge you perceive the training session or race to provide. You must have confidence in your ability to meet the challenge.
3. Running must provide you with immediate feedback. Every step and every stride must generate an awareness that allows you to respond instantly to any changes in demand, allowing you to make on-going adjustments as you run, which in turn helps to keep you in a state of flow.
Runners who experience a state of flow describe it as a feeling of being totally absorbed in their run. They are focused only on what they’re doing and become oblivious to anything and everything else. But they’re not drifting along in a daydream, they are channelling all of their energy and attention into the only thing that matters − running.
A top performance is going to be an “in the zone” performance but the necessary conditions listed above prove the point that achieving a state of flow is not something that you can force. To achieve your true running potential, don’t focus your energy into trying to “get into the zone”, focus all of your energy into progressively improving your running skills instead. This means developing both your physical and mental skills as a runner.
When the challenges of the run and your skills as the runner are simultaneously above “average“, the potential to find your zone and experience a state of flow greatly increase. Don’t chase after “flow”, just keep on running and let it come to you.