Finding Your Running Flow

Sara couldn’t believe her eyes. As she crossed the finish line of her fifth half marathon, she took a double-eye at her watch, and there it was – a 7-minute personal best. How did she do it? Good question…she ran by her body and found her flow.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

When I started running in the early ’90s I had a state of the art digital watch to time my runs. I’d go out and run and refer to my watch for the time I had covered. Then I’d get in my car and drive the route to see just how far I’d run. It always seemed like more, but that is beside the point.

These days, we have smart phones, GPS watches and soon chips will be implanted under our skin to inform us about all the stats we love (pace, time, splits, heart rate and possible a pay feature for that latte post run).

Don’t get me wrong, I love stats and I double love any techy device. But, I also believe they have distracted us from tapping into our greatest training asset – our inner GPS. That is, we went from training by how our body feels and then assessing the pace, to training by a specific pace, and not truly focusing on how our body feels.

The body knows effort, not pace, and when we go by the numbers – we can both under and over train.

It all starts with knowing the purpose of our workouts.

We run aerobically or in what I call the Yellow Zone for our easy runs, recovery runs and long runs. Running at this effort allows us to run for a long time, improves our fat-burning enzymes and isn’t very stressful on the body.

The Orange Zone is a step up from Yellow, and it hovers around the lactate threshold (redline), or the point at which we shift from using more fat for energy to using more glycogen. We run in this zone in workouts like tempo runs and long repeats to raise the redline which helps us run faster at easier efforts.

When you cross over the redline, you run into the Red Zone, or the effort level that is flat out hard, well outside your comfort zone. This is the effort where we run intervals, hill repeats, and any high intensity workout.

When Sara ran her easy runs, she ran them at a 6:24 pace, but her body was actually running in the Orange Zone. Which meant she wasn’t recovering well because she was running harder, and that she was also running her long runs at this same pace. She was suffering from accumulated fatigue, which caused the aches and pains and decreased her performance.

The problem with training by pace is it varies by the day and throughout your training season. Your easy pace will turn hard in the wind, heat, rain, after a sleepless night, during your cycle and more…

Pace is a variable and the outcome of your running performance.

When Sara began to train by her body and in colour, she learned how to pace herself on the given day, by what her body was telling her. And the key to that is tuning into your breath.

Here is a colour chart for the three zones.










It took her a few weeks to learn to pace without a number, but once she did, she was able to train in the optimal zone based on the purpose of the workout, which resulted in better recovery, faster runs and stronger performance.

I had her take it one step further and asked her to race without looking at her watch for pace. She took my Timeless Challenge, and on the way to the start line, she dropped her watch – breaking it. She ended up racing without any watch that day, and ended up shedding seven minutes off her best time.

The most enlightening thing she told me was, “I couldn’t have imagined running that fast, for that long.” And therein lies the message friends. If we can’t imagine it, we can’t run it. And if we look down at our watch and see that pace – we will always slow ourselves down to our perceived greatness.

When we tune into our inner GPS, listen to our breath, and train by our body, we find our flow, or that energised state of focus which leads us to joy, improvement and personal bests. It starts with tuning out the numbers and letting go of what they represent. A slow run might be slower, until it isn’t. A fast run becomes faster, on some runs. It all begins to make more sense when you feel the difference down the road.


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