I’m gonna do a weird thing where I tell you that I didn’t like a book, but tell you it’s worth reading anyway. You should read Mackenzie Havey’s The Perfect Run, especially if you are unfamiliar with the foundational literature on flow states and don’t want to read a bunch of other books. It does a great job of describing what you want your runs to feel like, and giving you a common sense path to getting there.
I didn’t like it, because I’m a terrible instruction follower and/or I believe that following instructions eliminates the whole point of going out and looking for these transcendent states to begin with. If you can’t just run there, then I’m probably not interested. This point-of-view isn’t at all fair or sometimes even very constructive, but…
It’s sorta like the way linguists divide themselves into ‘prescriptivists,’ i.e. the type who think language should be defined and made to conform to a set of rules, and ‘descriptivists,’ i.e. those who believe language is a living, evolving form, and the best we can do is describe how humans communicate. A book like The Perfect Run falls into the former camp. It tells you what a perfect run is and gives you the steps to achieve it. I’m more inclined to run around in the woods relentlessly, occasionally stumbling on something like a spiritual experience and then running back here to tell you about it.
Put another way, just because you can follow a recipe doesn’t mean you can cook.
Having said all that, I do think Havey’s cause is noble, and for people of a certain temperament her book may be just exactly what they need to find those ineffable moments in their running. I’ve read a bit on the subject of flow states, including the foundational text by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (say it five times fast), and some of Steven Kotler’s work. Kotler has even established the Flow Research Collective which spends all its time and energy trying to understand flow states and teach people how to reach them. That project flirts with hyper-productivity and monetizing the teaching thereof, and so it leaves me a little cold.
I understand that what I’ve written here might have you feeling hesitant about spending your precious reading time on a book I’ve partially panned. The thing is, you’re not me. I’m an idiot. I hate to be told what to do. I couldn’t be more sincere when I say that The Perfect Run is a really good introduction to flow states and how to reach them. It’s well written and concise. It’s a quick read, and if this topic is new to you, this book is a great place to start.