The Zen of the Zone


In training, as in life, a lot is made of the concept of ‘being in the zone’. I first came to know and appreciate this early in life, playing team sports. Usually, ‘the zone’ was attained when some sort of magic was produced between teammates and a brilliant play was made – none of us really knowing how to reproduce it or from where it came.

As I entered my twenties, and I read, for the first time, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, by Dan Millman, I came to know and understand the zone a bit better. Satori, as he introduced it, is that space in time, where everything just naturally flows. There is no thought, there is only ‘do’. It is not the double pump before throwing a runner out at first, it is the fluid motion of having done this play so many times that there is no thought needed and it is measured by precision accuracy, after the fact.

I quickly discovered this as a solo athlete while cycling, about 7 years ago. After the first few road rides, I would get home and think, where did I just ride? My bike zone was, and is, a unique place. It is why I ride and it is why I like to ride solo. It is a complete release of the mind and in doing, a freeing of the spirit. It is, as I have described countless times before, my own nirvana on wheels. I have romanticized it before, and I will surely do it again, because there are few things in this world that feel as good as being in this place, in this zone.

As I began to swim, in earnest, four years ago, I would marvel at my lane partners swimming 40, 60, 80 lengths and would wonder how in the heck they managed. I remember so clearly, pushing myself hard to get to 10 lengths. Then, to 20, then 40, then 60. Now, I reach the zone around the 8th lap, and my stroke and my breath are in harmony, and there is no thought. Just peace. Clear and total peace. A different kind of zone for me, but still pretty enticing.

Lastly, the run. I have never been a huge fan of running and have begrudgingly done it my whole life as a means to an end. Whether training for soccer or volleyball, I did it to stay in shape and compete. There really is no more efficient way to stay in shape. Sadly, I have never enjoyed it though, as with the other two disciplines. When my friends would talk about being in the zone while running, I would be fascinated, because for me, every step was FULL of thought, usually, ‘stop and walk’.

This week, I tried something new, for the run. The sun was almost out, and I could see that the tide was way out, so I grabbed my pup and my flip flops and headed to the beach. I quickly shed my shoes in favour of bare feet, gingerly made my way out to the firmly packed, tide-designed sand and started to run. It was a different kind of running, because I had to pay attention to EVERY step, so as not to impale my feet on any sharp rocks or shells, but it was so freeing. It was a first.

Maybe it is in the focus of THAT next step that we are able to lose our focus; that we are able to quiet the mind. To become one with the run. We ran for 5 K. We splashed, we waded, we got wet. We laughed. It didn’t seem like work at all. Maybe, just maybe, I will forget my route on this one too. Soon.

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One Response to The Zen of the Zone

  1. Katherine says:

    What a great post. I can so identify with the concept of the zone while running and swimming. My half marathon PR race was run almost entirely in a state of flow, and it was awesome. I’ve realized this summer that I miss the Saturday mornings I’d spend on long runs, completely zoned out and letting my thoughts take over as I busted out some good miles. Thanks, also, for reminding me of how important it is NOT to be in the zone all the time. Your beach run sounds like a great experience.

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