I haven’t run a half or full marathon since October 2017. Yet I have crystalline memories of stretches of races and training runs in which I got in the flow. Where my focus of attention is only on the road ahead, my peripheral vision dimming slightly and sounds drop away. I’m aware of other runners around me but it’s like I’m running through my own personal tunnel. Exertion feels completely in my control, challenging yet not uncomfortable. My legs are pistons churning from the engine in my core.

On good days, I could drop myself into this flow-state almost like a hypnotist putting a person in a trance. I’d flip some switch deep in my brain, and mile after mile would tick by. It felt magical and special. Like a fabulous party trick I could perform on myself.

The magic had been gone since spring 2020 when I trained for the COVID-canceled 2020 Missoula Marathon. I enjoyed running—being outside, moving to music, sweat trickling down my torso and legs—but I was aware of the exertion. Especially during my return to running after a long bulging-disks-related layoff. I was grateful beyond words to be running again yet I was always aware of the effort.

Until one Friday a few weeks ago.

The sun was shining in a cloudless blue sky, and I was putting in four miles on a riverside trail I hadn’t run on in years. It’s near some pickleball courts I’d just played on, about 10 miles from my house. Bachelor’s buttons and Queen Anne’s lace bobbed amidst the tall, dry grasses lining the paved path. Midnight-colored blackberries crowded tangles of trailside bushes. Mid-morning on a weekday, the trail was deserted save for the occasional cyclist.


Things suddenly shifted in my body—my head sat straighter over my spine, my abs felt engaged, my quads lifted. The asphalt suddenly seemed more pronounced as the surrounding vegetation became a vague blur of tans, white, and pale blue. I welcomed the sensation like greeting a skittish cat: I acknowledged it without lavishing too much attention on it, for fear of scaring it away. “Stick with it,” I thought. “Stay with me.”

Olivia Rodrigo continued crooning about a selfish boyfriend, the soundtrack to my flow state. Even flipping to run back to my car when my COROS beeped at the halfway point didn’t break me out of my magic trance-tunnel. The allure of fresh blackberries finally prompted me to take a break, pulling me back to full consciousness.

I’ve been able to flip the flow-switch a few more precious times since, like Tuesday morning on a run in my lushly shaded neighborhood. The powerful Zen sensation felt as welcome as the slightly cool breeze on my sweat-streaked skin.