Sunday, January 27, 2013

Mental Imagery

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. ( 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.   Orlick, Terry

Monday, January 21, 2013

Mental Toughness

      I can see mile marker 18 in the distance. The sun is beating down on me and my legs are feeling heavier with every stride I take. How will I keep going and not quit? If I stop at mile 20 it will be OK because I just ran a PR at the Chicago Marathon 8 weeks ago. It will not matter.
      I started to walk just before mile 20. A woman on the bike who was leading the way said to me
 " You're not going to stop now are you? You are in the lead and will win this marathon. You have at least a four minute lead on the second woman."
      I was in my zone when I was running and I did not even realize I was the first woman. I had been running alone with no one around me for the last ten miles. Then it hit me, " Wow, I could really win this thing... win my first ever marathon. I can do this!"
      After about three minutes of walking I started to run again. The woman on the bike gave me a smile and continued to lead the way. I started to feel better and I saw 6:30 pace on my watch.
     The crowd started to thicken as I approached the finish. People were yelling and cheering for me. As I turned the corner I saw the finish line. I ran through the finishing tape. It was the best feeling ever and I was only a little over a minute off my Chicago PR. I did it!
      I am proud that I have never quit a race or walked off a course. In order to achieve our highest level we all must overcome the negative thoughts that try and take over when we are at our weakest. Preparing mentally before the race will allow you to fight back and achieve your goal.
      There has been a point in every race when I wanted to quit. From the 5k to the marathon I always have that moment when I felt I want to walk off the course or slow down. So how do I get through this rough spot? What works for me is focusing on my goal pace and remembering the times in my training I have successfully run that pace. I tell myself I have done this before and I believe in my training.

Now if you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the 
body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up. It is always 
tired morning, noon, and night. But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired. When you were 
younger the mind could make you dance all night, and the body was never tired...You've always 
got to make the mind take over and keep going."

- George S. Patton, U.S. Army General and 1912 Olympian

The body does not want you to do this. As you run, it tells you to stop but the mind must be strong. 
You always go too far for your body. You must handle the pain with strategy...It is not age; it is not diet. 
It is the will to succeed."

- Jacqueline Gareau, 1980 Boston Marathon champ

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Pain. Why We Need It To Improve

       Two years ago I found out I had a blood clot in my right arm caused by a fall off my bike in Colorado, Dehydration and 17 hour car ride home to Chicago. I found out I had to take Lovenox shots in my stomach to help get rid of the clot. I gave myself these shots twice a day for 3 months. When I first started to give myself the Lovenox it really hurt. After about 3 weeks I noticed the shots did not hurt that much anymore. Why was that? Does a person’s body get use to the pain? Does the brain block out the pain? This made me think about running. When we train hard, pain and fatigue sets in. Does our body/brain get used to those feelings of pain and fatigue? In future runs our brain might tell our body that it will be ok because we have felt this pain and fatigue before. The brain allows the muscles to work at a harder level because our training has conditioned it to accept this higher level of stress. I feel this is why it is important to do speed work and to race beyond our limits. The body must be accustomed to this new level of stress and not be shocked by it.

      I always do my races based upon time – a certain pace. I have had a lot of people and  some coaches tell me to race by feel, not time. This approach to racing states that you should not look at your Garmin for your pace (or if you don’t use a Garmin you should not be concerned with each mile split). When I started to research this topic I came across an article that explained why racing by feel might not be the best way to run your fastest time.

"The brain always allows a safety buffer that prevents you from running truly as fast as you could and thus risking self-harm. The size of this buffer is influenced by various factors. Basically, the more motivated you are, the smaller the protective buffer you will, and the faster you will run. Competition is a motivational factor that shrinks the buffer. It is also influenced by goals. If you set an appropriate race time goal, you will be able to run races faster than you could if you ran strictly by feel without a number in mind. A race time goal is like an imaginary competitor to race against.''

     After reading that article I feel I have chosen the method to help me run the fastest.
How do you really know you went all out and ran your hardest during a race?  Maybe if you looked at a GPS watch and saw you needed to run faster to hit your goals you would.  I know I do.

Here is the link to the whole article:

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Crossfit Mobility and Strength = Better running form and faster race times

     A week after running the Boston Marathon last year I developed knee pain and could not run more than 3 miles. While searching the Internet for ways to get rid of my knee pain I came across this site  This guy, Kelly Starlett, had some very interesting information. I saw that it was also a part of Crossfit. Even though I had never done Crossfit I was not running so I thought it might be a good idea to try it. I have heard people both criticize it and rave about it but I did not feel I could place any judgment without giving it a try. I went to Crossfit Glen Ellyn and I felt like I had my own personal trainer. They modified the moves and made me feel very welcome. I did not feel out of place at all. After the workout I started talking to one of the owners and told him about the amazing website I found. He told me one of his instructors, Dustin Dieter, was trained by Kelly Starlett and is very knowledgeable in mobility/injury prevention. I decided to give it a try and set up a time to meet with Dustin.
     During our session I realized how bad my flexibility really was. Dustin gave me three exercises to do. They were the Couch, Hip Floss and Hamstring Floss. I did those three times that day. The next morning I decided to go out and run and see what happens. I was prepared for my knee to hurt at mile 3. I saw three miles on my watch and no pain. I continued on to mile 4,5 and 6 with no pain. I stopped because I did not want to push my luck. I was so happy I was crying! I continued with the exercise routine Dustin gave me and started running everyday. I was also meeting with Dan Albright who is now my coach for other strength exercises. Dan has also helped me stay injury free and get stronger.
     After doing these three exercises and meeting with Dustin for a few weeks I noticed something felt very different with my running. My stride was longer, smoother and more efficient. Everything seemed to flow. I decided to experiment and did not do the exercises for a few days and I noticed my form did not feel as smooth. It was then that I knew I was on to something new and exciting that would change me as a runner. In the past I was working with a multi-joint strength coach in Arlington Heights. She helped me out a lot and I got stronger but I did not feel my form changed. A component was missing in the training she was giving me: the mobility. I also saw that Crossfit was using the same squat that I was taught.  There are so many more mobility exercises out there that can help your form. I feel a runner will have the same experience I did if they find their mobility weakness.  All of us have certain places that are locked up and tight. If you are able to locate where that is you will open up your new running potential.
     Because of this experience I learned that things happen for a reason. You need to look at everything with an open mind and do not judge based on what others have said. Go experience and try it out for yourself. I would like to challenge you to do these three mobility drills. Before you start the drills run in place and see how your legs feel. Then do the mobility exercises and run in place again. See if you notice a difference. Do these mobility exeercises before and after you run. After a week I would like to know if you notice a difference in your form and how you feel when you run. I am looking forward to hearing from any runners who try this out.


This shows the couch and hip.

This shows the hamstring and hip.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

It Happened

I made it happen yesterday in the 5K. The course was long and I could tell you 5 other things that were not ideal but I will stop. In the end I am happy. I was first woman and 2nd overall. It would have been a PR if the course was correct so I am excited to run my next 5K. After this race I went to do a 2 mile cool down and I saw a guy walking with a half mile to go. I ran up next to him and said "lets run this to the finish, I will stick with you". He started to run and we chatted and he sprinted to the finish. It was an amazing experience to help another runner. He was so happy and so was I. After the race I met this other runner and we talked about Crossfit mobility and how it can make you a faster runner. My next post will be about this topic. I am very excited to post about this because I really feel it changed my running form. It has helped me get to the next level. I am leaving from the Florida Keys to go home to Chicago tomorrow. We are driving so I will be posting in a few days. I hope everyone had a Happy New Year.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

How To make It Happen

Time. Where do you find the time? It is too cold out. It is snowing. I slept in. I have family/work obligations. We can find so many reasons why not to run. We can convince ourselves something else is more important. In the end it is really all about finding balance in your life and having a plan to find time for your running. Not only do you need long term goals you need everyday goals to keep from missing your training. My plan will be different from someone else. What works for me or your friend will be different. It is important to customize your own schedule.
I have found that running in the morning works best for me. I have three children and there is something about waking up before everyone and going out the door for a run. When I walk in the door the kids have usually just woken up and the day begins. I do not have that run in the back of my mind all day that I need to get in. It is a really good feeling. The down side to the early morning run is having to wake up at 4:40 a.m. so I will be at the meeting spot at 5:30 a.m. for the run. It takes a few mornings waking up and going to bed at 9:30 p.m. to get your body use to it. So how do you motivate yourself to go outside and run? You run with a friend or group. That is the key. I do not hit the snooze button because I know I have to meet people on the run. I know I will feel worse if I decide to skip it. I have run in the evenings but usually only in the summer. It gets dark out too soon in the winter and too many activities with my kids after school.  
The next thing I find helpful is to have everything ready to go in a certain spot. I set out my running outfit, Garmin, and shoes the night before I run. I also get the coffee and any food ready. It is very hard for me to eat that early so I usually do Cliff Blocks and drink a little coffee to get me going. All of this makes it very easy when you are tired and do not want to wake up the whole house.
I felt this was a good topic to start with since I am writing this blog post as I am trying to think of a reason why not to run this 5K on New Year’s Day. I really want to run it but now I am thinking about all of the excuses I just told you about. It might be windy, hot and a slow course. Maybe I will want to stay out late and party on New Year’s. My legs are feeling a little tired from running and doing all the activities with the family while on vacation. You are not alone when thinking of excuses not to do things. I still do it. I hope that when this posts to my blog that I am running this 5K. I need to remember that every race is not about the finish time.