With two weeks until Syracuse 70.3, and considering I haven’t raced a triathlon since Ironman last year, we thought it would be a good idea to blow it out at the Hyannis Sprint. As we stood shivering on the beach with dark clouds looming and gusts of wind carrying even more chill, I found my mind, albeit brief, think about getting in the car and going home. Another cold race surely wasn’t in the plan but I kept returning to the present moment to remind myself that the drama was in my mind and all the patience, grace and power I needed for this experience was held in the now.
BJ and I were set to go off in the same wave. We waited until the final minutes for our warm up swim. We started with three energizing pranayama exercises then dove in. The water was shocking as it hit my face and filled my wetsuit. I put in a few determined strokes and refused to feed any storyline in my mind about the temperature. After the quickest warm up swim I’ve ever done, we headed to the start. We lined up next to each other, BJ a little in front of me after a few moments of edging each other out for the inside line. My plan to draft off his feet flew away as fast as he did when the gun went off but I got into my rhythm and passed the buoys quickly. The next thing I knew I was on the beach and running towards T1.
Feeling warmed up yet numb in my toes and fingers, I took extra time to slide on my wind jacket and pop a pair of gloves in my back pocket. After my experience at Lake Placid last year, I swore to myself I would always grab extra layers when needed. I know I am tough and I’m done proving that to myself.
I took off quick and brought my focus to the moment I was in. I felt the burn of my legs as I took each pedal stroke and the sound of my breath which was heavy. It has been a while since I’ve felt that burn and became curious if I could I welcome it instead of resisting it. I knew that if I kept the burn consistent I’d be pushing the entire way. The ten mile bike flew by and not because of the meager mileage. It was because I kept anchoring into the moment that I was in, the breath I was in, the pedal stroke I was in. Although, I was getting excited about the run leg I kept bringing myself back to the now experience. In the final miles of the bike I felt a laser focus as rain poured down. I could feel the gripping of my tires to the pavement, my control over the bike and relaxation in my body amidst the increasing burn in my legs.
I cruised into T2 and slipped on my shoes which had mysteriously come untied. I took a breath and the time to secure my laces then took off onto the run course. Tap, tap, tap. Breath in and breath out. I was moving through the line of racers with ease and my cadence felt silky smooth. I was light as a feather.
I recall seeing the mile 1 marker and then I was gone. I remember a few things like making a right turn, running through an aid station and reeling in a woman ahead on the course. Everything was easy and I don’t think I moved my gaze once. Although I had been focusing on presence throughout the race it was at this point that I was completely in flow. I lost all sense of time and effort.
When I started to come back, it was if I was sitting back in a chair looking through two holes which were my eyes. I felt nothing in my body until my senses gradually returned. My thinking mind was quick to follow. Immediately I wanted to revisit the flow state but I knew that thinking about it wasn’t going to get me there. I dropped as much of the thinking as I could and hammered on still very present and not fully feeling the effort I was putting out.
I came up along the girl I had been reeling in. We ran together, matching each other’s foot strike. I saw a chance to surge. I pulled ahead but didn’t hold it, I was in my thinking mind which had me farther ahead than I thought. She pulled up beside me and we ran shoulder to shoulder lending encouraging words to each other and headed to the finish. We hit the sand, she was several legs ahead of me and I followed her lead through the finish line to claim 2nd place in my age group for the day.
The flow state is most easily understood as the place where awareness and activity meet. What I have reasoned from the research I’ve done is that most athletes find it by default but I know that by focusing in on the present moment it can be found on purpose. Based on what I’ve read and experienced this state is where the patience, grace and power for peak performance resides. It has also been found to be the common denominator in the the world’s happiest people. It’s available to all of us and it comes from the discipline to be in the moment.