Imagining running success

Using mental imagery to improve your running

Preparation for a good race comes not only from the physical training you undertake, but also from mental preparation. It's possible to find that extra few per cent in performance terms through mental imagery (both internal and external).

Imagining running success

Thoughts and images can create neuromuscular impulses that bring about a response. The implications for the runner are clear then in that since our bodies tend to do what they are told, all we need to decide is what to tell them. Sounds simple?

Using mental imagery

There are two forms of mental imagery — internal and external.

  • Internal imagery has been described as where the athlete 'actually imagines and feels the sensations that might be expected when competing in a situation,' (Mahoney).
  • External imagery is where the person 'views themselves from the perspective of an external observer,' i.e. you see yourself running.

Mental imagery has been used by athletes for some time, especially those in more technical events such as the high hurdles, the high jump, or long jump, yet imagining running success is useful too.

It is not uncommon to see athletes close their eyes before the start of the event as they try to visualize the event. If you study their body movement, you see many of them running through their event step-by-step, even if they don't actually move from the spot on which they are standing. These athletes are imagining themselves particpating in their event and their muscles seem to twitch accordingly.

A runner may sometimes identify a flaw in their running technique, and mental imagery can be used to make the necessary adjustment. Using both internal and external techniques, the runners can picture themselves running the race well, as if being a spectator of themselves (external imagery). The internal imagery will concentrate on picturing yourself actually doing the event, not watching it from afar.

Controlling emotions with mental imagery

Emotions can have a massive effect on performance. A lack of emotion may produce a lifeless performance, while too much emotion can lead to a lack of control. Mental imagery can be used to give the athlete a sense of calm or quiet confidence (like Paula Radcliffe), or they might prefer to view themselves as brash, bold and intense (like Usain Bolt).

Repeated use of mental imagery can help runners acquire these skills. Using mental imagery training can challenge your attitudes and perceptions of your abilities. Tru imagining running success, you'll reap the benefits!

Mental imagery practice tips

  1. Practice in a quiet place for 5 to 10 minutes
  2. Try external imagery first. See yourself running with your current technique and level of fitness. Imagine things that you can control: your effort, the energy that you can bring to the run, an efficient technique.
  3. Repeat this process every day for a week. Consider it a regular part of your overall training.
  4. Once you are in a mental training routine, identify some areas that you would like to improve. Maybe it is an improvement in your choice of race tactics; perhaps it is some aspect of emotional control.
  5. Incorporate the desired change into your imagery and practice, regularly.
  6. After a fortnight of using external imagery, try to develop your internal imagery techniques. In a 10 minute session do 5 minutes of each technique.

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