Chasing Flow In Running And Life

Are you chasing flow? When it feels easy to do something hard. When you are completely one with yourself and the task. These are the moments you feel truly alive.


Further along I’ll provide 5 steps I follow in chasing flow.


Is It Real?


There is a good amount of science coming recently looking at flow. There is now a good amount of evidence suggesting it is measurable with distinct physiology. High levels of neurochemicals related to pleasure, reward and the ability to perform superhuman feats all appear to released at the same time. These include, noradrenaline, dopamine, endorphin, serotonin, anandamide and oxytocin.

It’s not just the neurochemicals. There are measurable structural differences in the brain in those who train to develop long term skills. That is, some parts of the brain are larger and more developed. Check out the study Brain Structures Differ Between Musicians And Non-Musicians.



Does It Last?


Without the right situation externally and internally flow can be fleeting. When you get it right, it can last for hours.

In 2013 at the Surf Coast Century I ran my fastest 100km race in 11:46:07. The majority of this time I was in flow state. This race hurt, it certainly wasn’t easy. Yet it felt right to keep pushing. I raced above what I had physically trained to.

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Throwback to Surf Coast Century 2013⠀ ⠀ Grand plans and big goals initiated my training. Having covered the 100km in 12:26:01 last year, I was thinking I could slash that down under 11 hours. The training did not go as expected. Not much over 30km, plus a few gaps. I was worried about my ability to finish let alone be happy with my time.⠀ ⠀ 😫 ⠀ ⠀ This was my best race ever. I dug deeper and got more out of myself than I thought possible.⠀ ⠀ The incentive of a beer stein 🍺 was enough to pull me under 12 hours. 11:46:07 for the #100km⠀ ⠀ ⠀ 🏃🏼⠀ ___________________⠀ #throwbacktuesday #runhistory #nostalgia #reminiscing ⠀ #ultramarathon #scc #surfcoastcentury #surfcoast #anglesea #torquay #beachrun #trailrace #movingmeditation #bestrace #tbt #throwback #rapidascent #checkpoint #oakley #jawbone #hydraquiver #doublebarrel #2xu

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5 Steps To Chasing Flow:


  1. Find The Sweet Spot
  2. Do It With Clear Purpose
  3. Limit Distraction
  4. One Task At A Time
  5. Develop Mindfulness Skills



1. Find The Sweet Spot


Without challenge we have no flow.

The task we are to perform should be difficult. Near the edge of our abilities. The area in which we question if we are able to do it.

It helps to have developed your skills in the desired task. The higher your mastery of a task, the more likely you are able to achieve flow in it. If you can perform the majority of the task automatically due to hours of practice, it will be easier to reach your peak state.

In running when the fatigue and challenges of a race hit the edge of your abilities you need well practiced running form. Having the ability to rely on your rehearsed stride frees you up to focus on what is necessary. This brings you closer to achieving flow.


2. Do It With Clear Purpose


Know without doubt what success is. What are you aiming for?

All other steps are about process. To get the most out of the process you need to be clear on what you are aiming for. The work has to mean something to you. The goal can usually be stated in a simple sentence. However, you need to have an authentic connection to the goal.

In running ultra marathons I always have a time goal for the course. The goal is always at the edge of my abilities. I can state the goal as, “complete the race in under 12 hours.” This is clear and simple. The connection I feel is deep and genuine with pushing my body to it’s limits in running. This connection to the goal is so important I only focus on races that I feel it.

It always just sport. My work as a paramedic provides many opportunities. When attending someone in cardiac arrest the goals is simple, “save this person’s life.” It is easy to connect with this purpose.


3. Limit Distractions


Do what it takes to allow you to focus on what is important. Distraction is the killer of flow.

Create an environment that helps you focus.

Distractions can be your own thoughts. Having a negative mindset pulls you away from flow. Beware your self talk. Create your own internal environment to help you focus.

Distractions can be external. Your smartphone is the perfect example. Notifications popping up pull you away from your main task. Every time they do you take a step away from flow. Remove your phone if you need to.

For races I start with the external environment and move towards improving my internal environment.

My external environment is controlled by leaving early for a race. Allowing myself plenty of time not to feel rushed. Before my warm up I will listen to my “Race Ready” playlist. This eliminates distractions and makes it easier to clear my mind to create the internal environment I want.

I aim for a feeling of relaxed readiness for my internal environment. A non-judging alertness of my body and how it moves. Thoughts are minimal. Just a feeling of focus and movement as I make my way through my warm up and toe the start line.


4. One Task At A Time


There is no such thing as multi tasking. Only task switching.

The more you try to do, the less efficient you become at each task.

When racing do you race your best when you are thinking about work deadlines or chores not finished at home? Do you race better when your attention is on what you need to now to run?

Set up what can control in life to assist this. Get those chores done early. Complete those items that get in the way of running so they don’t interrupt you. Stop trying to do two or more things at the same time.

Practice staying on one task until it is complete. Then you can move to the next. Over time see if it improves your efficiency.

5. Develop Mindfulness Skills


There are so many different ways to develop mindfulness. There are different definitions. Here I will keep it simple. I treat mindfulness as the ability to be focussed on the now.

The skills required take time and practice. I try to develop them in this order:

  1. Single point focus (one thought or object) in a relaxed and quiet environment
  2. Ability to return quickly to focus when distracted
  3. Skill focus in a relaxed and quiet environment
  4. Single point focus under pressure or distraction
  5. Single skill focus under pressure or distraction

I use many different tools to develop these. They include meditation, run training itself, breath training, aspects of the Wim Hof Method, Insight Timer application and guided mediations (see Further Reading below for links). Personally I find taking a concentrated focus of breath training and meditation over a week or two helps me incorporate these skills within the physical training of running.


Further Reading


If you are interested in expanding your knowledge on chasing flow I recommend the following:


Chasing Flow In Running

Peak Training For Wings For Life World Run

With 4 weeks until race day. This is the peak training block. Training changes a lot.


Two key points for this block:

1. Develop race pace
2. Recovery


It feels amazing when you race well. The last block of training included the 10km cross country and Half Marathon at the Victoria Police & Emergency Services Games. Those races proved to myself I had made some big improvements.


The main goal of that last block of training was to improve my pace for the Wings For Life World Run. As a result there was a good amount of running at faster paces. My body responded and absorbed the training like a sponge. It went into over drive and the fast stuff became too easy.


Too easy?


My body wanted was hitting peak fitness. Unforunately that’s too far out from the WIngs For Life World Run. To try to capitilise on the my fitness gains, but delay a racing peak I dropped the speed and upped the volume, followed by a few very easy runs. It feels like it has worked. I’m ready to hit some specific training to peak on race day.

Peak Training


All the preparation work has been done. The focus of these last 4 weeks is only on being ready for race day. My goal is to make the WIngs For Life World Run an ultra marathon. That is run further than 42.195km before the car catches me.


This goal means I have to run a marathon under 3:10. Then keep it going for as long as possible. That will be my 3rd fastest marathon. It’s been over 9 years since I was in that shape. As result it means I’m treating most of the training as marathon preparation.


Two key points for this block:

1. Race Pace
2. Recovery


Race Pace


It’s important to be efficient at race pace for all long distance running. For a marathon this applies extra. The length of the race adds in extra elements. Being able to run efficiently under significant fatigue is paramount.


Overriding is the balancing of fuel use. Burn too much carboydrate at a your race pace and say goodbye to holding that speed for the entire distance.


The base training and long runs over the last few months play a big role in getting ready. Now it’s time to make the most of that and get everything in tune for my race pace. This calls for long runs at or very close to race pace. They are almost race simulations. Difficulty lies in the sessions being long enough to force the body to adapt to improve the fat to carbohydrate ratio, while not be too long to require a crazy amount of recovery.


These runs are big sessions. Too many will have likely be detrimental. Getting it right should lead to some big improvements. Only 5 key runs are being scheduled, all occuring in the first 3 of the 4 weeks. There will be an 8 day taper encompassing the 4th week.


Most of the training in the previous months has been focussed on getting the feel right. Times have been very secondary. This is flipped around for the key runs. In these key 5 runs the aim is to hit the paces as closely as possible. Let’s get into those runs…


All 5 runs begin with an easy warm up of 10-15min. I will try to keep it the same as what I aim to do on race day. After each run I will perform a very easy cool down of 15-20min. All runs will be over similar terrain as the race.


1. Specific Long Intervals 4 x 5000m / 1000m


Each 5000m repeat will be run at or just above race pace. That’s 100-102% of race pace. So if targeting 4:25/km then the range will be 4:25-4:19/km.


These repeats dial in the feel and rhythm of the top end of speed for the race. It is important to know what this feels like to control pacing over the distance. It also provides time training near the crossover point of fat and carbohydrate burning. Running faster switched the metabolism too heavily towards carbohydrate and will miss most benefits in fine tuning the balance of fuels.


The main set ends after the 4th 5000m repeat. After each of the first 3 repeats there is a 1000m recovery. Pacing the 1000m is important. It isn’t a simple jog aiming to take full recovery. Instead I will be looking to drop the pace down to about 90% of race pace. For a race pace target of 4:25km, that gives 4:51/km for the recovery. So the speed is still up there. It should provide just enough time for a mental reprieve to take stock of how the 5000m repeat went. There is also a sense of pacing that is enhanced when a small drop like this is practiced.


A total disance of 23km for the main with 20km at or slightly above race pace.


2. 30km Long Run @ 98-100% Race Pace


It’s as simple as it sounds. Between a warm and cool, run 30km at slightly slower to right on race pace. Using a race pace of 4:25/km this long run will be between 4:30-4:25/km.


This should develop fatigue resistance specific to racing. Sense of the slower side of race pace is enhanced. This will aid in preventing inadvertant drops in speed on race day.


The end of the run is likely to challenge carbohydrate stores. This should force the body to adapt and become more efficient in sparing carbohydrate at race pace. Holding the pace all the way through is paramount in this run. Being able to do so requires as much mental effort as it does physical.


3. Specific Long Intervals 5 x 5000m /1000m


Exactly the same outline as the 4 x 5000m in key run 1. Just extending out with an extra 5000m repeat and another 1000m. It is more important to be close to race pace than to run faster. The progression in race efficiency will come from. running further at this speed.


Jumping up to a total of 29km for the main set. Combined with the easier 1000m in between, the average for the full set should be right on race pace.


4. 32km Long Run @ 98-100% Race Pace


Exactly the same as the 30km long run for key run 2, just with an extra 2km. By now my body should have absorbed and adapted to at the first couple of key runs. Here I would any difficulty in maintaing speed to extend our closer to 32km. It will be a good guage to if I’m on track.


5. Specific Long Intervals Descending 7,6,5,4,3,2,1km / 1km


The last big run. Similar concept to the 5000m repeats in key runs 1 and 3.


Each fast interval will again be at 100-102% of race pace with a 1km repeat in between at 90% of race pace. After the warm I will begin with 7km at 4:25-4-19/km. Then 1km at 4:51/km, and moving into 6km interval.


If feeling good once down to the interval of 3km I can increase the speed slightly of 1km recovery, maybe to 4:40/km. On the final fast interval of 1km the aim will be run slightly faster than all other repeats just a few seconds. Maybe 4:16/km.


Will I hit those times?


I hope so, but that is 3 weeks away. It is the aim, but we’ll see how it goes. This last run is big. 34km as the main set. It won’t be performed closer than 8 days out of the race.


I'm looking forward to this block. When I'm feeling this is the type of training I love. Big sessions with no pressure in between



To perform the specific race sessions properly you need to be fresh enough. This is not the time to carry over fatigue into key runs. The key runs are big and create a substantial recovery cost. So my recovery between them is extra important.


I’m moving beyond my usual 1-2 days of easy running between key runs. For this block, the easy days will be 3-4 days. Yes, that’s right.


The running on these easy days will be exactly that… easy.


Easy doesn’t always mean slow, but it usually does. Most runs will be between 5-13km at a very comfortable pace. Occasionaly, I may throw in a few short intervals to kick up the nervous system and remind the few fast twitch fibres they are needed. The rule is each run should have me feel better after running. They should not add a recover cost.


At the end of the this block is ultimate period of recovery. Eight days of taper. All runs will be ridiculously easy. The legs will turn over around race pace on occasion, but the runs will be short. Absolutely nothing should add a training load. The training is done.


I’m looking forward to this block. When I’m feeling this is the type of training I love. Big sessions with no pressure in between. How do you approach your last few weeks before big race?