Small hail pelted the streets in the early morning darkness. In order to complete a long run and get the most out of it, I took the treadmill.
Ugh. The dreadmill. For 90 minutes I had to run on its conveyor belt. Normally, I would brace for this to be painful, but my mind was preoccupied with the weather and my travel plans for that day. Still running for 90 minutes on the treadmill did not sound like tons of fun.
My friend Sue took the treadmill next to me. She was doing a workout with speed intervals. One of the advantages of running on a treadmill is being able to run with friends regardless of pace or intention for the workout. But Sue and I didn't chat the entire time. It can be difficult to hear over the noise of the treadmill and the televisions in the room. Plus, well, sometimes we don't chat away the run. We just pounded the treadmill for most of the time, side by side, with no music or TV in front of us -- just occasional conversation and our reflection in the window.
But something interesting happened.
That 90 minutes flew by.
It was one of the quickest treadmill workouts I have ever experienced. The feeling was amazing. That time just kept ticking away and I just kept running. This loss of time while running (or cycling or swimming) has happened to me before. But for it to occur on a long treadmill run, well, that was completely unique.
The book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi discusses just this sort of thing. It's not just in athletics. Artists get into this state, too. So do people who are just plain happy. My reading of Flow has just begun and while there are some things off the top I find I disagree with, the basic premise of finding that state of purely enjoying what you are doing in that moment contains a lot of wisdom an resonance.
"The best moments," he writes, "usually occur when a person's body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. ... Such experiences are not necessarily pleasant at the time they occur. The swimmer's muscles might have ached during his most memorable race, his lungs might have felt like exploding and he might have been dizzy with fatigue -- yet these could have been the best moments of his life."
That definition of flow is a great tool for endurance athletes who have to answer the question, "Why would you do that," to family and friends.
But how to capture that? Well, Csikszentmihalyi does not promise a prescriptive how-to. Harnessing flow seems to be mostly an inside job, being committed to the moment, not the end result. But each time we feel the flow, we can find out a little bit more about how to recreate it in our lives. That creation is unique for each of us.
For me, perhaps it means no longer calling the treadmill nasty names. Forget the dread. It's my safe running path, always there for me when I need it.
Maybe that will help keep me in a state of flow.
--- Amy Moritz
Follow Journey to the Finish Line on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amymoritz