They say if you can imagine it, you can create it.
I tend to agree with this, but I also believe you need to go a layer beyond just imagining it.
Visualisation has been shown to produce incredibly powerful results when it is focused and specific. Sports Psychologists regularly prescribe visualisation techniques to athletes and in some cases this can be done in lieu of practicing the actual thing you are trying to achieve.
For example, if a Golfer has a major tournament coming up, they may practice in their mind, the winning putt. They can’t replicate the crowd, the pressure and the atmosphere in real life, so visualisation becomes the tool by which the Golfer can immerse themselves in that situation so that when it happens, they are better prepared.
For us runners, being able to run a major race in our heads before we actually turn up to the start line gives us a far better sense of readiness on the day. The technique of effectively visualising for the purposes of improved performance should involve a number of things:
1) Begin by visualising the situation from the very beginning. This may be the way you feel when you wake up on the morning of the race. You’ll want to feel energised yet calm. Imagine feeling that sensation of being READY, in body and in mind. KNOWING that your engine is tuned and that you have done the work that is required.
2) Picture moving through the crowd at the start line, feeling the energy from the other runners and picking up on their nervous tension. Knowing that feeling the way you do, gives you a distinct advantage over them. Imagine yourself smiling and being calm. YOU ARE READY.
3) Imagine yourself standing on the start line, your muscles are twitching with the anticipation of what is about to happen. Again, see, hear and feel the crowd of other runners around you then expand your awareness further out to notice the family, friends and onlookers nearby. They are adding to the energy in the atmosphere. Use it.
4) Hear in your mind that gun going off and then feel the surge of adrenalin that comes as you being to run. You are still relaxed but you also feel unleashed. Running smart, you don’t bolt at the gate, instead you pick a strategic line through the crowd and work your way into a position where you feel the pace suits you.
5) You run an internal check of your systems. Legs are moving freely, feet tapping lightly at the ground. Your back, shoulders and arms are not holding any unnecessary tension. Your hands are loose and your head is up, looking through the crowd, being aware of YOUR pace and how comfortable you feel.
6) See the other runners around you and notice that some are slowing down while others are speeding ahead. Know that they are running their own race and that their pace holds no importance to you. You are running in YOUR groove and it feels good.
7) The distance and time is passing. Your effort has been solid and you begin to feel the first signs of tiredness. Recognise this for what it is. It is simply a reflection of what you are doing right now. Notice that feeling and accept it. Exertion is required – tiredness or fatigue is inevitable (it shows that you are working hard enough), BUT suffering is optional! Expect to begin to get uncomfortable but welcome that feeling. This is what we crave! We seek out these experiences because they give us a new and improved version of ourselves in return. Embrace it and keep running.
8) Smile. Imagine other runners looking over at you and noticing that you are smiling. They too are beginning to feel the exertion in their bodies. Doubts are beginning to creep into their minds about how they are going to hold on to this pace. They see you and your content smiling face and they wonder how you can be so happy at this point.
Smiling triggers a learned habit of releasing feel good hormones into your body. Those hormones not only make you feel more energised, they reduce your perceived experience of exertion and pain. Smile.
9) As you begin to near the finish line, feel the pain in your muscles and don’t shy away from it. Revel in and know that your legs will not fail you. Push them and they will respond. Finish with the knowledge that you have kept nothing in reserve and LEAVE NO DOUBT that you gave it 100% of yourself.
10) Now, picture yourself crossing that line moving the fastest you have for the entire race still wearing that smile on face. Feel that deep inner glow of self-satisfaction. Hear the clapping and cheering going on around you for what you and those around you have just done. Tune in to your pounding heart, thank it for not letting you down. Gaze down at your legs and see them for what they really are – the incredible vehicles of your endeavour. Picture your smiling face and imagine how you must now look to those around you who could not see themselves doing what you just did. Inspire them with your achievement.
This is just one possible way you can play out a scenario in your head, but the key thing is to go deep into the visualisation. Picture every minor detail in the environment, imagine the sounds and even the smells. The more detail and the more real you can make the visualisation, the more effective the process will be for you. If you can then repeat the visualisation a number of times, your brain creates a “memory” of that scenario as though it has actually taken place. Then when the big day comes, you will be able to play it out as though you have done it all before.