Flow in Sports: A book, a lifestyle, a challenge

I borrowed this book from my friend Sarah and have been working my way through it this week. It’s very interesting and I found myself reading sections of it out loud to my husband–for a non-fiction ‘how-to’ that is pretty unusual!

The crux of sport is the quality of experience, of richness, that it offers.

But how do we recognize ‘flow’ and how do we capture it? I know I have experienced that effortless, ‘flow’ movement running, even racing. Time slows down, my breathing is perfect, my legs feel strong, I feel suddenly effortless and smooth. I am floating! I can DO this!

Sadly, this is also rare and fleeting, and also extremely hard to replicate. Also, I have NOT been able to replicate it in riding. Why? How can I?

The book suggests a few different paths to take to achieve that flow. Here are some of their suggestions on the path to flow:

  1. Challenge-skills balance
  2. Action-awareness merging
  3. Clear goals
  4. Unambiguous feedback
  5. Concentration on the task at hand
  6. Sense of control
  7. Loss of self-consciousness
  8. Transformation of time
  9. Autotelic experience

What would it take to make you happy? You might guess a big TV, a beer, some chips and dip, and a great show on Netflix, but you’re wrong. That would make you relaxed and content, but it would not satisfy you, it would not make you happy for other than a fleeting second.

You have to struggle, overcome and try a challenge to be satisfied with life. We are apparently nothing without an obstacle to overcome= welcome to sports, particularly running and riding!

We have to create challenge, and overcome it. This happens one of two ways- physical and mental. For me, the mental challenge is the biggest! Having confidence in your skills is also incredibly important, you need this ‘I got this’ when going in.

Sometimes that means lowering your goals/challenge from outcomes to process. That means instead of seeking a placing or AG group win, you nail every fence and get smooth changes, or hit the paces you want instead of trying to beat a person.

Here is a good exercise to develop self-awareness: Pick a quiet spot, close your eyes, and focus only on your breathing. Time yourself to see how long you can do this before other thoughts intrude. A minute? Two minutes? It’s tough!

Also a great exercise- keep a notebook on you for 1 whole day, all activities. Write down every time you have a negative thought about yourself. Are there a lot? How are you managing them and refocusing them?

Set smaller, specific, daily goals rather than big, scary ones. You will be happier knowing you’ve ‘won’ instead of constantly trying to get to one that may never happen.

Prepare for competition- have a plan A and a backup plan B. I admit I am really bad at this, and I need to be better. What do you do when the wheels fall off and things go bad? That is when Plan B needs to step in to save the day.

Take advantage of feedback–it can be a game changer if things start sour. Also I am sooo guilty of this: You have a great start and think you’re winning and then things IMMEDIATELY go south. Ie- fall off at the last fence. Not that I’m guilty of that or anything…

You can prevent this by staying in the moment

And, I have an good example of when I was feeling bitter and sour about how badly a race was going and how slow I was, it was hot, the course was extremely hilly and I was just having a shitty time knowing there was no way I was going to get the time I wanted/hoped for. Until I ran up the big hill, I held this bad attitude. And then, a volunteer shouted to me “Hey you’re halfway done!” and I smiled and thought yeah you’re right!

I felt the pressure to get the time I wanted lift off me, and from then on, focused on enjoying the ‘experience’ of the race. It was hot, beautiful, I had lots of Gatorade to drink and hell, the hills were hard but they also meant that I could forget my time-pressure goals. I was loving it!!

Remember: the past is the road to nowhere, the future is a road under construction, and getting back on the right road is what matters!

We can only control the controllables- in running that is your pace, emotions, feelings and hydration/nutrition. In riding, there are a lot more…variables to put it nicely.

To sum this up, I also have another example of when I was SO ready to let the train run off the track, but was able (through a strength I didn’t know I had) re-focus, re-direct and just ‘be okay’ with what was happening.

I had Oats in the warmup at a big show and he was lit up. Bucking in-hand and just excited. I’d slept badly, there was huge drama in the morning with my trainer’s sick horse, so she was having a hard time of it and was distracted and upset, I tacked up Oats by throwing his tack on while he spun in circles wildly…It was just horrible. I was stressed beyond belief and when he was getting nutty, I was just hoping I could stay on.

Nobody knew what the course was, the class descriptions were all over the map, and I was just like, arghhhh.

I got on Oats, and immediately went to work. He spooked a few times, was jiggy and silly, but I know my horse and I know he will work down. So, we did. And I just kept in the moment- ok, trot. Fine, some walk. More circles! Canter. Canter this fence. Canter another fence. And exercise by exercise, he calmed down and I was ready to go show!

Sadly this focus didn’t last – apparently it was too hard for me to maintain it and I fell off in my second round after a fabulous first round- but I was very proud I was able to shake off the external issues (there were MANY) and just do it, by staying focused and present on my horse, in the moment.

And the last tip? Focus on the FUN! Yes, that’s why we do it mostly! There is no better feeling than a big fist-pump when you finish a great course, feeling like freaking Ian Millar! Or giving your all in the last sprint. It is AMAZING!!!!!!

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Learning to appreciate

 

I was at the gym at lunch today (work has a fabulous gym, good treadmills, TV’s that mostly work and lots of equipment that is in good condition) and I was kind of feeling grouchy about ‘having to’ workout at lunch.

I was feeling kind of blah, draggy – end of week blues- and not exactly looking forward to lifting some weights. I’ve been yawning a lot in the gym this week, the weather has been mediocre to outright bad, and I blame not running for most of it. Cardio tends to jazz me up and I’m not relying on it this week, as I am trying to save my legs (perhaps unsuccessfully, given how much I have been riding lately!).

But then when I was looking at myself in the mirror, with my hand-weights, I realized something: Man, I am SO LUCKY I get to do this at all. Lift weights. See a measurable difference in my body. Go to the gym at lunch. Work out, push myself. Run races. Ride horses. So fortunate!

This, coming on the heels of a pretty shitty ride on Oats last night. I let my ego get the best of me, and the ride flip-flopped between ‘good’ and ‘a fight’ where I was unreasonable, edgy and frustrated with him and myself. I hate those rides, and I often say I need a witness or an audience, to help me be better to myself and more forgiving with my horse. SIGH. Why do I always learn that lesson the hard way? The only thing I am happy with is how great my lessons were this week- two of ’em! And they rocked! And that these instances of frustration/edginess/anxiety/tension/anger are getting further and fewer apart. One day, I might not have them come up at all.

Until then…I can be very glad with what I have. And what I have the opportunity to do! My pony is a babysitter, he took great care of me in my jump lesson and he is a very forgiving sort. I need to be the same.

I also have a great physical body that is showing me every time I push myself how much I can do. Wow! It’s crazy! I enjoy seeing photos of myself in my athletic endeavours, because a few years ago I would never even dream of doing the stuff I do now. I love it.

Race recap: First race of the season! Prairie Inn Harriers 8k

As part of the 7-run series, Vancouver Island Race Series offered the first race of the season, the Prairie Inn Harriesr 36th annual 8k! We ran this race last year as our first race ever, trying out the series. Before that, I had only run Times Colonist 10ks (twice).

Last year I was impressed! It’s a fairly big race for a ‘small’ local race- between 500 and 600 runners, enough to make it feel fairly competitive and a very fast, international field.

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A race that looked as good as it felt (horrible!!). Photo courtesy of Race Stats.org

I didn’t really train as much last year, and this year I was feeling maybe a bit cocky? I had set some very aggressive time goals- 35 minutes (well, like under 36 more likely). And did I meet my ambitious time goals? a big NOPE on that!

I did run home to a fairly decent 36:20 (gun) and 36:12 (net), which is certainly  nothing to cry about. I feel good that I left everything on the course. I was dying! We held a quick pace of avg. 4:31 (well my race time online said I ran at 4:32 but my watch said 4:31) but it was very fast for me. And honesty time here: I do not practice race pace. I absolutely dislike speedwork and would rather even run hills…And it showed. My breathing sucked out loud.

I was immediately struggling to breathe. I was gasping, my mouth was like, hanging open the whole time and I was coughing and choking on phlegm the whole run. It felt like torture! This really nasty breathing was kind of an eye opener for me. If I had taken it down a notch, I’m sure the really loud, horrible gasping breaths I was taking would diminish and I would be able to ‘catch’ my breath again.

But…I wanted to keep at my 4:30-ish pace. Wanted to, wanted to, wanted to. I had to prove something to myself. So I did, and mannnnnn it was rough. I was running at maximum anaerobic capacity for me. And it showed. I had zero sprint near the end, my lungs physically hurt, my throat hurt and my neck hurt? Funny enough, my legs felt fine?!!

At the end, I recovered fine. The course was well marked, quite busy at first – and that is where I lost quite a few seconds between gun/chip time – lesson learned about getting close to the start line…And the volunteers were great, cheerful and lots of encouraging words~!

The food was great- I had orange slices, pb&J sandwiches, hummus and pita/veggies, and great cookies. They had the protein milk shakes I like best (Milk 2 Go) and yogurt too!

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Pretty ribbon! A big thanks to the Harriers for mailing it to me.

And the funniest thing? I even placed in my age division- 7th!! Woo! That was a surprise, and we left before they gave out awards, thinking we were total no-hopers. Well shoot, I should have stayed after all! 🙂 And thanks to my husband for slowing down enough to keep me on track. It was painful but worth it.

 

Why I’m not a New Years Resolutioner

So, I guess I’m going to continue feeling cranky and crabby. My parent drama really came to head yesterday, just before I was going to check out a new gym- Steve Nash Fitness– to test out their group fitness classes (that I had a free pass for, for a few months). Needless to say, the group fitness classes didn’t happen and will probably have to wait.

My New Years Resolution

My New Years Resolution

I’m still not feeling great about it, but I am trying to be supportive. As it turns out, that is harder to do than I thought.

So, I have my dressage lesson tonight and quite frankly, still feel very brain-drained. Emotional turmoil is tiring. So tiring.

But anyways, when I was trying to plan my new workout class yesterday, and when I was at my work gym today for my usual 30-40 minute daily workout, I was struck again by the ‘born again New Years Resolutioners’.

You know the type…Typically flabby, middle-aged women but sometimes men, try-hards who are ‘going to get this year off to the right start!!!”

They sport all the gimmicks- FitBit, new running shoes (in neon, though I have neon shoes too haha), iPods gripped in their hands, all they do is talk about their new naturopath and their recommended holistic treatments, and spend all of their time lolling around on the mats or foam rollers instead of doing any solid workouts.

These are people I have NEVER seen at the gym before January 1. I have my regulars, hell, I am a regular, haha. I listened to one woman talk to another in the change room (sidenote: why do people take freaking forever to get changed, arranged, and IPodded up? Get in, get changed and GTFO!!!!!).

They were saying about how going to the gym was such a better idea than trying to run after work (agreed- I only run after work in spring/summer/fall, as it’s too dark and unsafe in the winter) and how they were all prepared this year!!! They had all the songs they wanted loaded on their iPods, they had bought new running shoes, they had the newest workout clothes….

I just wanted to say- I, sporting my non music, my cut-off gym pants, and ratty tank-top, enough with the STUFF and enough with the BS and get on a machine and GET GOING!

Enough with the talk and rolling around. Get up, get in and get out. Rinse and repeat. You have to do it every day (and for me, I’m talking years of the same routine) that it becomes a mindless exercise to get to the gym and get down to business. If I had to wait for a friend? I’d never freaking go. You know why? Because THEY would never go!

I mix up my workouts though– I do get really stuck in a rut sometimes (hence the trying out of new group fitness workouts I mentioned earlier) but it’s too important to just GO AND DO IT. Don’t wait for a new year, a Monday, a new you, a friend, anything.

You can’t rely on trinkets, gadgets, new clothes, other people, the weather, anything. You have to rely on you. That is the only thing I have literally learned, doing this. I am a lunchtime warrior, haha.

And I am no saint with this either. I am a dessert-with-lunch-and-dinner type of person. I workout too much sometimes for no reason. I don’t necessarily have any good goals – though this year I am proud to say I signed up for an Island Run series!! Yeah! I am trying to fix my knee problem, though that is very slow going.

People are literally excuse machines. I can be (about my riding/jumping/showing goals, because I am an anxiety-riddled huge chicken who has something to prove, apparently), but I am NOT about my workouts, or the amount and intensity of riding I do – which is tons, and quite intense.

Me this year

Me this year

I’m doing it. And sometimes, that’s enough, because I do it every.single.day.