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Dry Martini: Feel the Flow

I had a running epiphany on July 31.

The day started like pretty much every day has so far this summer. I woke up far earlier than I would like. I lay in bed for another few minutes, farting around on my phone and resisting the urge to roll over and go back to sleep.

That urge has been strong lately. It’s just so muggy and bright all the time. I’m increasingly convinced I have Seasonal Affective Disorder but my SAD season is the one everybody else seems to love.

I am an enigma.

sweaty woman in a blue tshirt
This might be my new favorite non-AMR shirt.

It’s been a weird summer, truth be told. Nothing horrible has happened, which is great, but there has been a series of bumps and stumbles that make it hard to feel settled. My dad had surgery that went well but required a few more trips to Albany and back than expected. Sure, I got to catch up on podcasts during the 2-hour round trip but it was a lot of time in the car.

Then my eldest had to get another MRI, just to make sure that her infrequent migraines aren’t a sign of something more worrisome. One of the dogs won’t stop chewing on himself; the other keeps randomly puking. Plus I’m pretty sure my 14-year old is more house slug than human at this point in the summer.

Again, nothing horrible and I am thankful that surgeons and MRIs and dogs exist. It’s just a little unsettled.

Which does not make me want to run when my alarm goes off. Which is why I should run. I know this but that knowledge doesn’t make getting out of the house any easier. Especially when there are tempo miles on the plan, like there were on July 31.

Even before I got out the door, I was composing the email to my coach in my head. “Dear Christine,” it started. “Not only was my body too weak for 1.5 miles at a tempo pace, my spirit wasn’t even willing.” Then I would get donuts and head to work.

My willingness to bail on a run wasn’t the epiphany. Nor is my love of donuts.

dog in a cone
The dog who won't stop chewing on himself.

Instead of pulling the ripcord, I decided to at least get a mile in, since I was already dressed for a run. Once I made it up to the high school track, I decided to at least try a lap at a tempo pace, because I was already there. I figured I might as well cue up some music, because NPR just wasn’t motivating enough. Then I pushed off for that first lap and it felt … good.

I’m not saying that it was comfortable. For me, a 10:40 pace isn’t easy but it also isn’t “oh-my-god-I-might-die.” It is hard but not too hard. After that first lap, my brain found that amazing state where it was both intensely focused and not focused at all. Metaphorically, I was able to both think about a purple elephant and not think about a purple elephant at the same time.

The people in lab coats who study brains and behavior call it the “flow state.” I’ve had it happen every now and again while writing. Time just evaporates, until a kid demands dinner and your magic bubble pops.

On July 31 at about 6:15 a.m., I achieved a flow state the first time while running. My music sounded better and my feet were light. My brain wasn’t churning over anything at all. Every time I glanced at Herr Garmin, my pace was right on. It was, as the kids say, amazeballs.

All of that being said, it was nice to slow down again. I spent the rest of the morning dragging my tired bod around my office. But I was giddy, too, and just a little bit astounded that a pace I truly believed I could not hold felt so much like freedom.

screen of data
I did not take a picture of myself during my miles so Garmin data will have to do. Laps 2 and 3 are where the magic happened.

Of course, all of the life stuff — the dogs, the kids, the parents — pushed back in. It’s what life stuff does. When it does, I'm going to remind myself of those laps on the red track when the sun was just starting to burn off the morning haze and Lizzo was in my ears. For those 15 minutes, I had no cares other than that next step, and the one after that, and the one after that, when I was enough.

Have you felt the flow?

13 responses to “Dry Martini: Feel the Flow

  1. Good for you! Have occasionally felt the flow. I have to remind myself that the first 20-40 minutes of a run are not to be used for decision-making purposes (barring health/safety concerns). Sometimes after that 🙂

    With you on the preferring “not summer” (not sure if it’s all the way to summer SAD, did see that article). Finding myself drained by “unsettled” events the last few months and some health stuff out of my control as well as heat, humidity, Voldesun, post-meno adjustments….but we’re getting more darkness at both ends of the day! I’d like early AM light (for runs) and early PM dark (for my early bedtime).

  2. Yes, I have achieved flow! Not in several months though. Life is getting in the way big time. But more importantly Adrienne, where are your AfterShokz? We need you to be “safe as a mother runner” 🙂

  3. YES — this is why I loved tempo runs… during the one training cycle when I actually did tempo runs. Maybe I should do one tomorrow! Thanks for sharing your flow, Adrienne!

  4. I had that flow state as well one of my runs this summer. I felt like I was literally gliding along. I want that feeling back!!

  5. I have had a weird summer too. Mostly because we are leaving our home of 34 years and moving “south” to the Saratoga area. I have a half on labor day weekend and at least one more in the fall, but consistent training has been hard. I did get two 11 milers in, and felt good, so I think I am set. Moving boxes and furniture counts as strength work, right?!

  6. Great run! I, too have had a weird summer, with lots of unsettledness – nothing horrible, but it’s still there. I’m trying to resist the urge to reach for the phone first thing but it’s hard when that’s where the snooze button is, lol

  7. Now you will be looking for that “flow” every run! Lately my 2+ miles swims have me in that flow state by 1000 yards or so…feels SO good! I remember a couple of my ultras where 20+ miles into them I was just on automatic, gliding along effortlessly with a hawk flying with me over my head. I was flying!

  8. Great essay, Adrienne. I read an article about summer SAD a few years ago. It IS a thing. The woman who wrote it said she liked to hang out in the freezer/refrigerated aisles at the grocery store. Your flow state sounds a lot like meditation! I am lucky to be able to get into flow while writing, painting, problem-solving, and running. It is a nice place to hang out. I will say it is much easier now that my kids are grown and self-sufficient, and I only work 2 days a week!

  9. As always, I love your writing, Adrienne! And just last week I was telling my husband about how I think I have summertime SAD, and he was like “you’re nuts. That’s not a thing.” Glad to know I’m not the only one!!

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