How Visualizing Can Supercharge Your Running
Techniques to see success and overcome obstacles in your next race
When it comes to running, the mental game is as important as the physical game. “You can have the best training and coaching in the world, but if you don’t get your mind in the right place, it’s tough to get results,” says Under Armour’s performance coach Tom Brumlik. The pros understand this, of course, and use visualization techniques to push through difficult moments. Here’s how to take a page from their book.
Just as you train your body if you want to get fast, you must train your mind if you want to get skilled at visualization—creating a mental image of a future scenario and watching it play out as realistically as possible. “It helps to realize it takes time to develop,” says Brumlik. “The most important elements are consistent repetition and following up visualization with action.”
“If you are thinking daily about running the Boston Marathon before you have qualified, or even started the training needed to qualify, it won’t matter how well you can visualize the course,” cautions Brumlik. “That is daydreaming.” Instead, he says, focus more clearly on the actual task at hand, visualizing yourself doing it, and repeat many times over.
Olympian Joanna Zeiger, author of The Champion Mindset, adds “As with anything new, it takes practice. Start using visualization techniques long before you race.”
You Don’t Need to Follow Specific Rules
While there are certain approaches to visualization that will help, it’s not a one-size-fits-all method, says Zeiger. “The only thing that’s important is that you do it,” she says. Where you visualize isn’t important either—do it while in the midst of a hard workout or at home in a quiet, comfortable spot. For instance, “If you visualize your long run the next morning while you lie in bed the night before, that can be effective because you’ll be putting it into practice in the near future,” says Brumlik.
Experiment with What Works Best
When it comes to visualizing, athletes usually choose one of two paths: internal or external. Either is fine, but you need to figure out which works best for you. Internal visualization might look like practicing a certain aspect of running. Say you’ve been wanting to increase your cadence. “Picture driving your foot down underneath you, not throwing it out front and overstriding,” says Brumlik. External visualization is what most runners think of when they think of the practice. Imagine yourself on a racecourse with your competitors, leading the way. Or picture a particularly rough spot in training and running effortlessly through it. “I also recommend visualizing things going wrong,” says Zeiger, “so that the athlete can practice how they will handle certain adversities during a race.”
Visualize while Training or Racing
Visualization really starts to pay off when you can tap into it during a rough patch, whether during a race or training. “It can help to picture yourself finishing the interval when you’re in the midst of it, for example,” says Zeiger. “When I was doing intervals on the road, I would often picture myself on a track where I could count down in 400-meter increments. I would also visualize myself being able to stop at the end and catch my breath.”
For maximum impact, Brumlik coaches his athletes to focus on the process for months before important races, gaming out all the potential hurdles to achieving a positive outcome. “Then you will be better able to properly visualize a race when you know all the variables,” he says. No matter what you encounter during a challenging moment—rain, hills, heat, or humidity—you’re mentally practiced and ready to react in a way that will carry you through the moment.
Under Armour, Inc., headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland, is a leading inventor, marketer and distributor of branded athletic performance apparel, footwear and accessories. Designed to empower human performance, Under Armour's innovative products and experiences are engineered to make athletes better. For further information, please visit http://about.underarmour.com.