The Running Physio

TRP's Running Blog

Injury management, nutrition, training and running tips.

Brain Jammed - Mental Strategies for Runners

I think I need some good physio.

I think I need some good physio.

Maybe it’s the cooler weather and zipped-up hoodies. Maybe it’s all of the warm steamy bone broth that we’ve been obsessed with lately. But with race week coming up in Toronto, we’re brain jamming one of our fave topics - mental state and flow.

There’s a whole lot of yack about flow on our website. We love flow. Humans love flow. But what exactly is flow, and is it something we can learn to cultivate?

“Flow State” as per Wikipedia, “is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting loss in one's sense of space and time.” Flow has been documented from positive psychology researchers for a few decades now, yet it remains a bit of an elusive concept to many of us.

One of the prerequisites to achieve flow state is to recognize the difference between practice and performance. During practice (or training), you set out to do a workout that is going to be potentially more challenging than you can currently do. For example, tempo repeats at a pace that is not sustainable to you for very long. These workouts are hard; they can take pure grit to get through. Sometimes you may not even finish them. Because they are uncomfortable, it’s tough to achieve a state of flow as your current abilities are less than what you are trying to achieve. This is why training isn’t always easy! (And also why we love run groups :) )

Think back on your best race. You likely had a sound plan that you had worked towards, and then on race day were prepared to execute. You knew the paces that you could hit and sustain. They weren’t a “reach” - they were what you had adequately prepared for through your training sessions. In this ideal situation, your abilities perfectly match what you are trying to accomplish. When abilities = performance, we can effortlessly drop into a state of flow.

So what does this mean? A few things:

1) Your training plan needs to be finely tuned to your racing or running goals

2) Your racing goals need to be realistic

3) You need to have patience. And keep practicing. Again, and again, and again….

4) A mindfulness practice (such as daily or weekly meditation) can be helpful to practice being and working in the present moment and train your brain to respond from the center of the hurricane, rather than reacting from the chaos of the storm. This can be very helpful to get through tough workouts.

For more juicy reading on mental performance, here’s a few of our fave reads:

The Mindful Athlete - George Mumford

Peak Performance - Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness

Endure - Alex Hutchinson - Also - Alex is going to be in Toronto at BlackToe Running on October 16th, 2018. For more details on this event, click here!

What have you found works to find your flow?