As a trail runner, finding flow is a necessity for success. One doesn’t run on a technical trail, but rather seeks to mesh with its undulations as the path winds around and up and down the mountains. Flow in the wilderness is not a given though, it’s continually fleeting and tough to ascertain.
Even at my peak fitness, when I think I have a grasp on flow and how to tap into it daily, in an instant it can slip through my fingertips and can be gone; for minutes, hours, even days, weeks, and sometimes months at a time. Missing and losing flow when you need it most is frustrating and disappointing.
Case in point, I put together perhaps the best three-month training block of my life for the most competitive ultramarathon in the country since the pandemic hit. I was ready to put to use all of my skills and execute a race beyond my wildest dreams, but clearly within my capabilities. Race morning I was cool, calm, and collected. The gun went off and I felt at ease, smiling from ear-to-ear and happy to have a number pinned to my chest for the first time in nearly a year. But when it got hard and I needed to tap into something extra, I couldn’t find it for the life of me. It was a skirmish for hours on end, both mentally and physically. Floating over the technical terrain was an uphill battle, a seemingly impossible task. There was no trail flow to be found, no matter how hard I tried.
In reflection upon the race I realized where I went wrong on the day. It was a minor mistake that was a slippery slope: Flow can never be forced, but rather needs to be cultivated and discovered naturally. You have to let it come to you.
My favorite thing about trail and ultrarunning is that it teaches me to be more aware of my surroundings, both internally and externally. This increased self-awareness helps to separate my oftentimes incorrect preconceived perceptions from the true reality. It’s when I allow this release that I am able to combat challenging and stressful situations with more resolve. I’ve found fortifying my mental tenacity is requisite to work my way through the tough times and come out stronger on the other end. Learning from my mistakes and shortfalls, getting back to work, realizing I have way more in me than I could ever know, and making the necessary changes to tap deeper into my inner-strength increases chances for continued success.
Sir Edmund Hillary, the New Zealand mountaineer who was one of the first climbers to summit Mount Everest in 1953 said it best:
“It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves."
It’s by conquering my own doubts and fears that I’m able to build resiliency through the struggle of unpredictable times. Developing resilience is the process of thriving amidst incredible adversity—precisely what enlivens a trail runner like myself. Refining this durability, though, requires a delicate and deep understanding of myself. A bright outlook is absolutely critical in order to blossom on the performance spectrum. It’s an essential art to tackle adversity with a distinct and staunchly positive outlook. Hardship happens for the benefit of my own personal journey. These momentary setbacks are a huge part of life’s process and represent a magnificent chance to grow in unexpected ways. It’s in these perceived valleys in life that my personal growth is truly infinite.
And this is one reason why I was so happy to find Flume. Their line of products guide me seamlessly into the flowstate, allowing me to spend more quality time basking in it, elevating my general wellness and development as a human, not merely an athlete. The plant-based supplements and botanicals improve well-being and enhance experiences, both in preparation for and recovery from adventures on the trail. And that’s just what I’ve done in the past month since the less than satisfactory race. I’m not training harder or doing anything drastically different. Instead, I’m more intune with my surroundings and trying to train smarter, keeping the positively steadfast mindset while continuing down the ever-circuitous path that is life. I know deep down in my soul that I can find flow again. It is there, within my being, as it is within us all. It’s not a question of if, but when it will come back. And rest assured I’ll be ready to seize the experience when those moments arrive in the very near future. The trail flow will manifest itself when the time is right.
By: Jeffrey Stern
A Salomon sponsored trail runner, dog lover, coach, outdoor industry consultant, and UltraRunning Magazine contributor based in the beautiful Santa Barbara.