Source: Running Planet

Have your ever experienced the zone? Some call it flow. Basketball players describe the basket as appearing as big as 50 gallon barrel. Baseball players describe the ball as moving in slow motion. A runner may feel as if they are floating on air with their feet barely touching the ground. Athletes in each sport feel and experience “flow” or “the zone” in different ways, but they are all part of the same group of physical and psychological feelings – the experience of flow or being in the zone.

The zone is nothing new. It’s been around since the dawn of man and it describes a very pleasurable, efficient and nearly mystical state in which running or any athletic event becomes nearly effortless. The state of being in the zone has been around forever, but the terms “in the zone” or “flow” are more recent inventions.

The origin of the phrase “in the zone” is up for some debate. There is not much agreement on who the first person was to coin that term. Some think it was baseball player Ted Williams while others credit tennis legend Arthur Ashe. No matter who first used the term, “the zone” has become the most common way to describe the effortless, euphoric feeling of that altered state of conscious that many athletes strive to attain.

The origin of the term “flow” is more clear cut. Flow was first used by in the early 1970’s by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi at the University of Chicago. Csikszentmihalyi broke flow down into a number of components, many of which, but not necessarily all, are present when an athlete attains “flow” or reaches the zone. The components as described by Csikszentmihalyi are: clear goals and feedback, balance between challenge and skills, action and awareness merged, sense of personal control, altered sense of time and self-rewarding experience.
It doesn’t matter whether you call it the zone or flow; it’s all the same thing. The flow theory simply breaks the zone down into its individual components.

Clear Goals and Feedback

You should have set clear goals for yourself and must have a way to immediately monitor your feedback. This one is running 101. You already know that you must have a well thought out and specific goal to meet. You also need a way to determine if you’re successfully advancing towards your goal. There is no better feedback than how you feel when you’re running and improving your running fitness.

Balance Between Challenge and Skill

If you have properly set your running goals you’ve already met this component of flow. This one means what your goal must be within your skill set. If you just started running you can’t expect to go right out and run a 15 minute 5K. Your challenge must be attainable or you will become stressed and frustrated. Reaching the zone would be impossible under those circumstances. On the other hand, your goal must be difficult enough to provide a challenge. If you are a 3 hour marathon runner, a goal of running a marathon in 5 hours would be easy and boring. The lack of interest and challenge would also make attaining flow unlikely.

Action and Awareness Merged

What this one really means is that you become so absorbed in your running that your sole focus is on your running, your pace, your stride and the signals your body is sending you. You go so deep within yourself that you lose self-consciousness. The Zen Masters out there may call this becoming one with your running. That description is quite true. You go so deep within yourself that your stride, your pace and even the external environment seem to blend into one.

A Sense of Personal Control

Think about your daily activities. If you don’t have control over what you are doing or want to do you feel helpless and frustrated. On the other hand if you have full control over your own body and what your body is doing you feel much more powerful and fulfilled. Your running is exactly the same. If you have developed a sense of control over your body and how it reacts to the both outside (extrinsic) events and internal (intrinsic) events you are going to be more confident and relaxed. You are going to me much more likely to attain flow.

Altered Sense of Time

When you become highly involved and focused on an activity you can lose track of time. This may happen when you’re in deep conversation with a friend or watching an enjoyable movie. You look up at the clock and wonder where the time went. When you reach the zone during running you have that same sensation. Time flies by faster that it seems like it should. A mile no longer feels like a mile. Both time and distances seem shorter than they usually do.

Self Rewarding Experience

A self rewarding experience means that you enjoy the activity or are rewarded by the activity for highly internal (intrinsic) reasons. What does this mean for a runner? Very simple – It means that you love to run. You aren’t running to please someone else, be it your coach, your friends or your boss. You aren’t running because you must to lose weight. You aren’t running to support your team mates. You’re running for the simple joy of running. If you’re running for any other reasons, it will be difficult for you to attain flow or a true runners high.

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