Have you ever done something and felt like you have done it before? You know, déjà vu but at the same time knowing that you really have not done it before. What was that experience, was it a dream?
Our minds are very powerful and if we train them through visual images, our bodies can perform at a level beyond previous performances. By using imagery many athletes are able to improve sports performance. They use imagery to develop a strong “mental game” that leads to success. So, how can we runners develop and use imagery?
Take a minute; think back to your best race last season. Picture the race course, see your competitors, try to experience how you felt standing at the start, recall what you were thinking during the last part of your race, feel your reaction as you crossed the finish line.
As you thought about that race, were you able to make the experience “real?” That exercise of recreating your past success was using mental imagery.
After reading about elite runners having success with mental imagery I decided to give it a try. I downloaded Craig Townsend Mind Training For Runners and a few others he had. (www.mindtraining.net) I went in a quiet room and started the session. Townsend counts down from 5 - 1 as I become more relaxed. I visualize a peaceful place and then think about running strong, smooth and in control. He takes me to the start of the race while he continues to give me strong positive messages. I move through the race and imagine everything around me and how my body should feel. I picture looking at the mile splits as I run through the last part of the race and being right on target. Everything seems calm and relaxed around me as I run. It feels like a training run. Toward the end of the race I imagine a finishing time. Each time I repeat the visual race the finishing time is different. I noticed that time became my goal race time when I was closer to racing. I used this training tool two months before I ran my Chicago Marathon PR. The finishing time I visualized was 2:49. I ended up running a 2:49:02. During the actual race I was so relaxed when I was running. Everything seemed to flow. I had run this race so many times visually in my mind that I allowed my body to relax and not question the pace I ran.
I will continue to use the visual imagery technique as I train for my future races. I encourage you to give it a try and to see the results you get. In order for this type of training to be effective you must use the imagery for at least a month.
In sport, mental imagery is used primarily to help you get the best out of yourself in training and competition. The developing athletes who make the fastest progress and those who ultimately become their best make extensive use of mental imagery. They use it daily as a means of directing what will happen in training, and as a way of pre-experiencing their best competition performances.