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


  1. I have worked on visualizing the last tenth of a mile, but never thought of trying to visualize the whole race. Good idea!

  2. Your discussion of using mental imagery to accomplish a running goal is a very good one and from first- hand experience I have seen how it can work.
    I had a goal of running a sub-3:00 hour marathon some time back and decided the Chicago Marathon was the best race to attempt to accomplish that goal. I convinced two of my training partners to register for and train with me for Chicago. We did almost all of our track workouts and long runs together preparing for the race, but it was not just physical preparation that was important. During our long runs which started with 14 and ended with 24 miles both stressed what should be our approach to running the race and many descriptions of the course itself.
    Our previous PRs ranged from 3:16 to 3:28 (mine) so trying to run a sub-3:00 marathon was no small task. I stressed that even pacing from start to finish would be the key in breaking 3:00. I stressed we should not “bank” or save time and also not try the even harder approach of a negative split. When it came to the course itself, I discussed what to expect based upon my running of Chicago two years earlier: the major landmarks to look for – the Sears Tower being where we turned west across the river just before the half, White Sox Park just around 23 as we approached the final turn for home with only a 5K left to go, and three areas to be careful of – going under Illinois Center in the darkness in the crowded first mile, the narrow passage in the road in Chinatown because of the crowds spilling into the streets, and a final passage in the darkness under McCormick Place with 1.5 miles to go when fatigue could cause us to make a misstep.
    When it came to race day, two of three of us broke three hours in 2:58:41 and 2:58:45 (I was one finishing first). We ran together the whole way until right at the end and the third member of our group ran a 3:03 which was a 24 minute PR. We ran both halves within 30 seconds of each other average 6:49 for both. We were careful going under Illinois Center by not worrying about our first mile split, rather getting there trouble free. Sears Tower was like a beacon for us as we knew it led us to the halfway point. When we got to White Sox Park it meant only a 5K to run at our more pedestrian marathon pace. We surely could do that. The final hurdle was a safe passage under McCormick Place and coming through back into the light of what was a great day for us.
    Our friend who didn’t break 3:00 was ahead of us from 4 until around 18 when she slowed. I am convinced to this day has she stayed with us and not gone out faster she could have broken 3:00 as well.
    We did a lot of hard training for Chicago that year, but it was the mental aspect – creating images of what was to come – that provided us with the ability to succeed just like you did Tammy. I believe others can also benefit from using mental imagery in preparing to accomplish their running goals.

  3. Wow! Are you a sport psychologist and a pro runner? These tips are great. I know so many athletes can benefit from true certified sports psychologists like you. Such an underutilized tool.

  4. I am not a sport psychologist. Many athletes can benefit from this. You can get the information from this link that I provided in my post. I do not have any connection with them I just wanted to share what has worked for me. Thanks for responding.