The ‘Dark Side’ of Flow?

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Some of you know I’m a recreational long-distance runner – I train for Half Marathons (21.1km) twice a year. I co-coach the Half clinic which keeps me connected to the community and giving back, and it keeps me in shape. Having said that, after 13 years of running, I’ve peaked and I’ve valleyed, many times over.

Let’s be frank. Running long distance is hard. The mental game is a challenge EACH run, no matter how short. My body seems to adapt pretty well, in spite of how much my hamstrings complain on hills. Yes, I do a lot of yoga to compensate for the toils of running!

Back to the mental game. Someone has said that running is 50% physical and 50% mental. There are days when I’d say it’s more like 20/80!

I was chatting with some friends this weekend about their last race experience. Each had trained really well over 4 months; no injuries, did all the hard training of intense hill work and speed work, negative splits (coming in faster on the last half of the run), hitting their pacing, etc. And, on race day, they PB’d (achieved a personal best in terms of finish time).

Yet somehow, they were rather depressed the week after the race. What if they’d held their OMP (‘Ordinary Mortal Pace’) on the downhill so they had more gas in the last 4k? What if it hadn’t been pouring rain and sideways wind? What if they’d taken another gel at 16k?

Runners high can come with an equal dose of runners low.

As I heard their mind game reel out, I thought ‘What is this? The dark side of Flow?’ No, this rumination is the opposite of Flow. Even tho they PB’d, they fell into a negative, disappointed state. They were absorbed with looking back, ‘what ifs’, negative bias and self doubts. They lost sight of their significant accomplishments over the course of training and in the light of race day.

I gently helped them remember their excellent training season – pushing and holding their paces for the various training runs, different kinds of speed work, AND that they were injury free. That’s all progress and highly significant. They had too much hanging on the race day result, and lost focus on what else they’d achieved.

With the risk of sounding trite, they’d downplayed the journey and put too much focus on the destination. Flow, my friends, is all about the journey. The challenges and moments of small victories. Of course, moving toward a reach-goal, AND acknowledging each small piece of progress and celebrating in the after glow!

Tal Ben-Shahar, my Positive Psychology teacher, describes this phenomenon as the difference between the Perfectionist, and the Optimalist. “While the Perfectionist rejects failure, the Optimalist accepts it as a natural part of life, and as an experience that is inextricably linked to success.” He also puts his spin on the Pareto Principle, the ‘80/20’ rule and applies it to the Optimalist: ‘investing our efforts in the 20% that will give us the 80% of results we want to achieve’.

Flow, my friends, is all about the journey.

Would love your thoughts and experiences on this topic!


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