Finding FLOW.

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Finding FLOW up high. Roys Peak Wanaka.

Finding FLOW up high. Roys Peak Wanaka. Photo by Paul Petch.

How much of our life stress do we carry on our backs while running? I’d like to think I’m not a hunched shouldered, fist clenched, thrash metal blasting, heels pounding kind of runner. Being free of stress or FLOW is the result of being in the moment where everything is effortless… but I work for it!

The fact is that emotional and mental stress contributes to physical tension that’s creating an ‘invisible’ resistance throughout our body making it all feel much harder than it should. Come on…. you have seen ‘that runner’ who looks like every footstep is like running barefoot on hot coals. Wooooaaahhhhhhh dude….

We all hear about the latest shoes and kit that help us run better and further (pain and stress free) but this ‘stuff’ will never really help us find FLOW if we are full of emotional stress, anger and that ‘urgency’.  Yes we are all in some way accustomed to running this way and for many it has become the norm, as most expect running to feel like HARD work and involve a lot of effort, struggle and pain. Past, present and future suffering seems to fuel and motivate some people to run- but this has never be my own vibe.

I’m not a coach or expert on running by the way, but I know what that run FLOW feels like, and once you taste it, there is no turning back. Runners high is always freiends with FLOW too and i’ve tried all sorts of uppers over the years and they don’t come close. Fact. What I also know is that associating life STRESS and negativity exclusively to running is a sure way to kill FLOW dead for me. FLOW never ever comes from anger or bitterness. It comes from being FREE. From being a blank page where tomorrow is a new chapter.

This is really why I run- I’m looking for the FLOW, where every footstep is effortless with my senses alive. Where anything is possible with no regrets, fear or anger. When in this state of mind, its less likely to have an overuse injury too, as to being able to ‘listen’ to my Dadbod is easier. The physical results for me when I have a ‘good one’ and FLOW is abundant, is that the whole running lark’ is more efficient, and overall I have more stamina.

Sure we all have bad days and cannot get those negative thoughts out of our skulls, but the constant invasion of negativity over good form, FLOW and the environment sensorially unfolding will eventually lead to injury or plain boredom (giving up).  The thing is, I’ve learnt over the years that it’s possible to run relaxed, free from tension and full of ease to make finding my FLOW easier. I love this place…. can I stay in my FLOW forever please?

Yeah yeah….. It sounds like a utopian hippy dream! The fact is that my runs are a mixed bag from the get go- and all of these ‘ideals’ fight each other for that perfect Zen like state of FLOW. Overall I get good results on my runs with a focus on enjoyment and form minus the negativity of my life, people and society- but I have to work damn hard for it. Maybe that’s why I love solo runs more? Less blah Instagram blah blah- blah Facebook blah blah Strava ;) Some runs are just plain shit though. Fact. But that’s how it goes, like life, running has its up and downs and wading through the self imposed life noise is the challenge. PREACH!

From day one as a runner I told myself that I was made to run. It should feel easy. Effortless. How it’s meant to be. It’s never a perfect science (and remember I’m not a coach or sports scientist) but here are some of my personal insights to find better FLOW.

Stress and tension.

I warm up nice and gently with some walking, leg swinging, stretching and focus on relaxing any muscular tension, especially in the shoulders and arms. I’ve found that tension creates a feeling of resistance throughout my body, which kills the energy, hinders efficiency, and leads to tiredness making my running feel hard instead of easy. Basically its a total buzz killer :D

This tension can also creep in during my runs with negative thoughts or when this old body gets tired. At this point quite often my posture falls apart (like 5km in :D) and I want to stop. So as I tire, the more tenser my body becomes. I try to be more aware of when  this is starting to happen and consciously release the resistance to maintain the FLOW. Or I simply stop and rest, stretch, take it all in and repeat. You get my point.

Being physically sensible.

So many runners seem to feel that they have not run unless they are utterly wankered. Unless they do 100KM + per week they are not a runner. Blah blah blah. Long distance runners glorify exhaustion to the level of stupidity. Well this is not just a sure way to exhaustion and burnout, but also very un productive for finding flow.

I shifted how I see myself as a runner years ago, where any run is worthwhile. Shorter or easier paced longer runs occupy most of my week with maybe one harder/ longer run thrown in if I feel like it. Running to near exhaustion every time out may feel awesome, but is actually the opposite. It’s STUPID. Such hard efforts are only worthwhile to a point and after that, your body and mind isn’t fully recovering between each run. And you can’t build fitness – and find FLOW if you’re not recovering enough.

Less IS more.

Don’t be a victim of negativity.

I know it’s not just me. Every runner I know has a little voice in their head telling them why they are not good enough or fit enough.

Apparently we are all wired to believe the bad stuff about ourselves more easily than the good stuff. But I start each day with this thought. ANY MOVEMENT IS BETTER THAN NO MOVEMENT. This is my life today. I don’t have to prove anything to people online or off. My past have gone and people change. Today is now.

I have no expectations beyond this reality and anything on top of this is a bonus. Not having this self imposed pressure to run or prove anything frees my mind and creates less tension. Therefore I run more often and better – and FLOW follows.

If you move forward. You are a runner. Haters gonna hate ;)

Posture.

Put simply without preaching. I try to run with good posture to engage what core I have, open up my chest to breath, activate my Gluteus Maximus (ass), and work a slight forward lean throughout. This posture promotes that I’m more in control of the forward momentum with gravity helping the FLOW. I’ve tried pillow type running shoes through to minimal- and the less I have underfoot does promote better running posture for me and easier to FLOW. My feet can also tell me my limits…. and I listen.

Understanding limits. Understanding goals.

This is really important to me. Put simply, I’d rather run 3 x 5km runs per week efficiently with FLOW than multiple “Long distances’ tired, dazed, confused and suffering pointlessly. Longer more purposeful runs on the weekend become full of FLOW if i’ve worked up to it.

If i’m training for an event then more focus on longer is often required, but if there is no FLOW then i’m not keen. That’s my purpose and a waste of time and energy otherwise :) Ask yourself what are you running for? Personal stoke, an event, friendship, to unwind, the FLOW, or ALL of the above? I keep check of WHY and what my limits currently are because they are important for me to find FLOW. If i’m burnout – or plodding pointlessly- FLOW never comes knocking!

Run somewhere new. Run what you LOVE.

Plodding though life can get boring. It’s the same for where I run. I can run the same place hundreds of times before I simply loose the FLOW- and get bored -where I stop noticing anything new or beautiful. This is when keeping my head empty of everyday thoughts becomes more difficult and starts to kill the FLOW. New places and new smells, climate, the ground underfoot makes me focus. Makes me find FLOW as I navigate the new. Therefore I try to run somewhere fresh as much as possible.

The mountains / up high are where I personally find my happy place more abundantly as a runner. Mountain singletrack is simply the very best terrain I like to run on and with the right light, tunes on my iPod and views…. FLOW can last all day.

 

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Paul Petch
Director of Good People Run, pro photographer, tutor and a recovering 'runaholic'. Based in Auckland City, my work is at www.paulpetchphoto.com
Paul Petch

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