This is an excerpt from Running Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi,Philip Latter & Christine Weinkauff Duranso.
Adam Davy/PA Photos
Two-time Olympian, 2:27:03 marathon PR
Flow moment: 2016 U.S. Olympic marathon trials
Some days, the universe seems to throw it all at you. Sweltering temperatures with no shade and no heat acclimatization because it's mid-February? Check. A repetitive, uninspiring urban course through the middle of a concrete jungle? Ditto. Dirt covering the road from recent construction? You bet. Oh, and how about in these conditions running 26.2 miles with a trip to the Rio Olympics on the line? Absolutely.
The media, fans, and plenty of competitors locked in on these miserable variables and declared the race would be a "suffer fest." Amy Hastings was not of the same mind. The Kansas native and former All-American at Arizona State University had already endured the cruelest fate professional running offers, finishing fourth at the Olympic trials marathon in 2012 in a race where only the top three qualified for the London Games. At the prime marathoning age of 32, Hastings wasn't going to enter this race on a downer vibe.
"Ahead of time, you heard so many negative things," Hastings says. "The number of turns on the course, the heat, the dirt on the road. It gave me a little more confidence. After we checked out the course, I realized if I can be okay with these things, it's going to be an advantage. I made the decision I wouldn't let the little things bother me."
Instead Hastings and her Bowerman Track Club teammate Shalane Flanagan ran comfortably in the pack early on, then around the halfway point they found themselves up front. Over the next hour they would become the face of these Olympic trials as they led the field in front of a national television audience. The teammates shared fluids and small conversation, much to the amusement of the commentators. Their fluidity and comfort in the horrendous conditions spoke to Hastings' commitment to achieve greatness on that day. She was in flow, and she knew it.
"It's a very specific feeling and I kind of know it now," she says. "I've gotten better at getting myself into the right frame of mind where it'll affect my physical self. It's something I can absolutely recognize when it happens, and it does happen fairly regularly."
A kinesiology major who had learned about sport psychology over the years, Hastings frequently evaluates her physical and mental state to make sure they are optimized for the right day. For Hastings this means zeroing in on her goals and ridding herself of anxiety. She does so by finding a quiet place before a major race and focusing on her breathing. "I remind myself that races are supposed to be exciting," she says, "and that helps a lot."
For 23 miles (37 km), the only excitement in the trials seemed to be whether Hastings and Flanagan would win by 2 minutes or 3 minutes. Hastings felt the pace was manageable, as though she wasn't even racing yet, and even then she and Flanagan were gaining 5 to 10 seconds on the field every mile. Eventually the heat caught up with Flanagan. That same national television audience now watched Hastings encourage Flanagan, and when words could no longer do the trick, they saw her selflessly slow down to stay beside her teammate. Not far behind, 2012 Olympian Desi Davila gained with each step. With the gap under 30 seconds and only a few miles remaining, Hastings wished Flanagan luck, then surged away from her competitors to win the trials in impressive fashion. Davila finished second, with Flanagan collapsing across the finish line into Hastings' arms for third.
It was a fitting end to a perfect day, one where the ability to block out the negative and focus solely on the goal at hand allowed her to perform her best when it mattered most. "I had been thinking about that race for years, thinking about everything leading up to it," she says. "When it came down to it, I was incredibly confident and in a very happy state and excited state. Physically I felt like I was ready to do it. It was one of those days where I felt whatever happened, whatever was thrown at me, I could handle it because of where my frame of mind was."