Objectives: This research aimed to shed light on the relationship between flow experience and performance
in sports using a marathon race as an example. We hypothesized that flow influences the
marathon race performance by an indirect rewarding effect.We assumed that the positive quality of flow
experience rewards the pre-race running activity and thereby enhances training behavior which again
leads to high race performance. A methodological issue of the this was to compare the retrospective with
the experience-sampling measure of flow.
Design: Three studies with marathon runners (Ns ¼ 109, 112, 65 for Studies 1, 2, and 3, respectively) were
Method: They measured flow experience four times during a marathon race either retrospectively
(Studies 1 and 2) or using an experience-sampling method during the race (Study 3). Additionally race
performance and future running motivation (Studies 1, 2, and 3), pre-race training behavior (Studies 2
and 3) and flow experience in training (Study 3) were measured.
Results: The results confirmed the hypothesis showing that flow during a marathon race is related to
future running motivation, but is not directly linked to race performance. Instead, race performance was
predicted by pre-race training behavior (Studies 2 and 3) which again was fostered by flow during the
training (Study 3). The descriptive flow courses of the retrospective and the experience-sampling flow
measures were comparable but also showed important differences.
Conclusions: We critically discuss the practical implications of the rewarding effect of flow on performance
and the advantages of the retrospective and experience-sampling measure of flow.