I found flow! Not the obnoxiously chipper Flo of the Progressive Insurance commercials, but the hyper-focused state that drives athletes to their best, and ordinary people to extraordinary levels. I thought that I’d been there before, but this was markedly different. In past runs and races, particularly on technical downhills, I’ve felt the laser focus and smooth breathing. But today I drew back further from all of that, felt removed from myself (think third-person video game view), saw a brightened landscape and enhanced color, noticed my gaze moving further down the path in front of me, and overall just felt euphoric - all while flying along on a technical trail that should have required my constant attention to each step. Even as I write this down, it sounds pretty out there or sensational, and I know I’ll risk over-simplifying or pigeonholing it, but it was worth sharing.
I was at a familiar trail with an employee and friend of mine. He’s a mountain biker, and I’ve always wondered how I would pace along with him as a trail runner; I figured he’d fly ahead on the straightaways and downhills, while I’d catch him on the uphills and more technical sections. I was wrong, mainly because I underestimated how good of a mountain biker he is (kudos to you Will). Flying at a 7 minute pace on trails is more-or-less an endurance sprint, and I was cashed after 2 miles, also having crashed to the ground for the first time in at least two years. We split ways so he could do a bit more distance, in hopes that we’d meet up at roughly the same time at the cars. I cut my pace, and not a minute later nearly ran into a deer, coming within a few feet. With my heart racing I brought the pace back up, shortened and quickened my steps, and felt light. My focus drew out, down the trail, and the light and colors in the woods sharpened. Breathing was easy, and I felt amazingly calm, almost euphoric. It was unreal and completely out-of-body, while being 100% present and in the moment.
A few minutes later I turned a sharp corner into a series of small hills and it faded away quietly. How’d I get there? Adrenaline from mild fall and deer + clean body / system (no alcohol, and extremely healthy eating last 10 days) + pushing pace heavily and then backing away = Flow? I know it’s too easy to simplify it like that, but I keep trying; it feels like I got a brief taste of the best dish of my life and now I can’t figure out how it was made! Guess I’ll just keep running!
P.S. For an exciting, scientific look into the state of flow, check out Steven Kotler's The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance. Game changer.