I am fascinated with the concept of flow. For those unfamiliar with Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s work in positive psychology, I recommend doing a quick Wikipedia search on “flow (psychology).” In short, flow is the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.
I’m especially interested in flow as it applies to the concept of time, which suggests that although we measure the passage of time in an orderly, linear, discreet, quantitative system, we experience the passage of time in a much more fluid, subjective fashion. When I’m “in the zone,” whether it’s on a walk or immersed in a knitting project or sucked into a particularly engaging computer game, the experience of time passing is very fluid to me. We’ve all had experiences that seemed to drag on forever (dental appointments, for me) and we’ve all experienced the old adage “time flies when you’re having fun.” That, to me, is an example of the fluidity of time.
During those times I experience flow, it is almost a bell curve-like process. For example, during my half-marathon training walk this afternoon, for the first mile I was sore, stiff, slow and looking for a reason to stop walking. My thoughts were generally along the lines of “I’m tired. It’s hot. My back hurts. I’m bored with my workout music. I don’t have anyone to talk to or walk with. Six and a half miles is a long way. This is taking too long.” Then, somewhere around the second mile/lap, I started warming up, settling into a rhythm and getting into the zone. I began focusing on my technique, enjoying my workout music, thinking about solutions to a few problems I’ve been facing recently, and generally not minding the physical discomforts of walking fast outside. As a result, I experienced a state of flow during Miles 2-5. Somewhere around the fifth mile, however, I started being more aware of the time that had elapsed and came back to the present. My noticed how long I’d been walking, how tired my feet felt, how dry my mouth felt, and a host of other small discomforts that disrupted my state of flow.
I’m interested to hear your thoughts and feelings on flow, especially how and when you experience it. If you’re interested in learning more about flow, I highly recommend my friend Sam Spurlin and his blog at http://www.samspurlin.com/. We is currently studying Positive Psychology and is one of my favorite writers/thinkers on the subject.
I had some good news this week about my half-marathon training. I’m not as slow and out of shape as I thought I was. I couldn’t figure out why my pace was so much quicker when I walked laps with my training buddy as opposed to walking straight-aways by myself. I started to have my suspicions when the lap I was sure was a mile square clocked in at .75 of a mile on my pedometer. Sure enough, my buddy confirmed it on Monday – my pedometer is off. I never bothered to set the stride length on it because I assumed my stride was average length, but evidently it isn’t. That means that on my solo days, I was actually walking quite a bit further than I thought, which would explain why I thought my time was so slow. Typically, I average 15-16 minutes per mile, which is just at the pace limit for the half-marathon I’m running in January, so as long as I can maintain that pace for the entire 13.1 miles, I won’t be swept up by the Van of Shame. Of course, I’d like to get faster, so I’ll be working on improving my speed as well as my distance between now and the race.
I have a renewed sense of confidence and purpose now. This looming race is starting to seem possible again.
This past summer, a good friend of mine talked me into training for and participating in the first ever Disneyland Tinkerbell Half-Marathon, which takes place at the end of January. Now I’m the sort of person who needs a goal to work toward, and when she first brought up the idea of walking the half-marathon with her I had just gotten my meds, blood chemistry and hormones straightened out and needed a good reason to get back to a schedule of regular exercise. So, without giving it too much thought, I agreed to do it.
To tell you the truth, I didn’t think much would come of it. I successfully walked in a 5k race in March, so the idea of walking in a half-marathon six months away didn’t seem too far-fetched on the surface. And I didn’t really think she’d actually register for the half-marathon, so when she told me that she had and offered to pay my registration as well, I knew it was time to “put up or shut up,” as the old saying goes. So I decided to go for it.
And then I sat down to make a plan. First of all, I went to the Run Disney website and learned that, although it is perfectly acceptable to walk the race rather than run, if you don’t keep a minimum pace of 16 minutes per mile, you get “swept.” (i.e., There is a van that brings up the rear at that pace and anyone who falls behind has to get on the van.) Since my pace in March was approximately 17-18 minutes per mile, I have some work to do. Second, at the time I started training, I was essentially sedentary, about 80lbs. overweight, and struggling with recurring plantar fasciitis in both feet. Third, the furthest I’d walked before the start of my training was the 5k race I’d completed in March, and 13.1 miles is a lot further than 3+ miles, especially at the faster pace. On the positive side, I am fairly determined when I set my mind to something, and I scoured through lots of “couch to half-marathon” training plans before devising my own. I set up what felt like a reasonable schedule of daily walking with speed and distance increases built in at weekly intervals. I got the commitment of a local walking buddy who is in better shape than I am and who is dependable and reliable. And I started working my plan.
So far, it is going pretty well. With the combination of new medication, better eating habits and regular exercise I have already shed 20 lbs. and am on track to keep dropping more weight to get back down to a healthy range for my age and height. The plantar fasciitis is down to a manageable, dull roar, which is better than I’d hoped. I’ve been able to get my pace down to 14-15 minutes per mile for shorter distances (3-4 miles), and I’ve worked up to a distance of 4.5 miles per day. My long-dormant shin splints are trying to flare up again, but I think I’ve got that managed pretty well too.
Even though I’m only eight weeks into my training plan, I’ve learned a couple of interesting lessons:
1. Miles walked as laps around the block with a friend are much quicker and easier than miles walked on a straightaway with only the iPod for company.
2. A half-marathon is 13.1 miles, which is a helluva long way, and a <16 minutes/mile pace is really fast, at least for me right now.
3. I can be pretty determined when I want to be, and I really don't want to have to get on the Van of Shame during the race.
Although I don't want this to turn into a training blog, I'll post regular updates here because the process is becoming a metaphor for my life these days.