How Visualizing Can Impact Your Running

July 15, 2021

How Visualizing Can Impact Your Running

Running is undoubtedly both a physically and mentally demanding sport. While the physical aspect may be arguably more important, the mental game can seriously impact results. Every runner has experienced those tough moments of a race where they can either focus and keep pace or give in to the exhaustion and give up. 

Being able to push through challenges is a huge part of running, especially long distances like a marathon. When it comes to upping your game, visualization can make all the difference. That is why the majority of professional runners swear by it. If done correctly, visualization can bring out the very best of your abilities. 

What Is Visualizing In Running?

Visualization, sometimes referred to as imagery or imagining, is all about mentally seeing yourself accomplish a goal to overcome the difficulties associated with that goal. The basic idea is that if you can repeatedly rehearse performing specific actions in your head, your physical performance will improve. Visualization is all about seeing, then achieving.

There are three different types of approaches to visualization: internal, external, and kinesthetic. Many marathon runners use all three. Some will start their week implementing internal visualization and end it with kinesthetic visualization. However, there is no wrong technique. It all depends on a runner's personal preference and situational conditions. 

Internal Imagery

Internal imagery or visualization refers to the first-person perspective. In this style, the athletes envision themselves accomplishing the task at hand from inside the body as if they were doing it in real life. In other words, the runners picture themselves running from their own perspective. 

The main perk of the internal visualization approach is that it allows the runners to feel the stress and challenges of the environment. While not inherently beneficial, if the athlete can get used to these issues, they may get more comfortable with the environment. Then, when it comes time for a race, the inevitable discomforts will be less intense performance inhibitors. 

External Imagery

External imagery takes place in the third-person perspective. In this technique, the marathon racer takes on the point of view of live spectators or as if seeing a recording of themselves. Athletes are drawn to external visualization because it enables them to see their form and gain motivation from a larger standpoint. 

Posture, or form, is vital for success. In running, the proper form helps with everything from injury prevention to overall speed and even exhaustion mitigation. By visualizing from outside their own bodies, athletes can picture how their body moves. The key here is to envision the proper form because it allows for a sort of muscle memory. 

Motivation also has a significant influence on achievement. Wanting to win and get better is the foundation of actual improvement. In the same way that watching professional sports inspires spectators, external imagery often drives athletes to keep going.  

Kinesthetic Imagery

Kinesthetic imagery is considered the most unique and least common type of visualization because it is most useful when focusing on specific movements. In this approach, runners lightly take themselves through the physical movements they intend to improve upon. They are not fully engaging their muscles, but just enough to complete the movement. While repeating a short and precise action, an athlete conducting kinesthetic imagery will picture race conditions. 

Unlike internal and external imagery, kinesthetic works best for improving small and precise movements. Internal and external visualization target broader challenges and can be used for the entirety of a marathon track. 

How Do I Get Started?

There is no one particular way to practice visualization. The best way to get started is just by trying it out. Similar to the ways in which you have trained your body to run, you have to get your mental game in shape too. Internal imagining is usually the easiest technique to start with, but do not be afraid to try them all. Kinesthetic imaging is more of an advanced skill, so we do not recommend starting with this one from the get-go.

The simplest time to start can be on an easy run. Pick a route that you know well and are comfortable running. This way, you can focus more on your mental imagination than on the physical aspects of the run. Before beginning the workout, think about the route and get your mind into the idea of visualization. If you need to, run at a slower pace than normal. Remember, these first few runs are not meant to be a workout for your body but your mind. 

Figure Out What Works Best

When training, be sure to experiment with all forms of visualization. Even if you favor one over the others, each run may call for a different approach. If you have particular struggles with a certain racecourse, take a day to try out another mental technique. Remember that each type of visualization has its particular uses, so understanding exactly what challenges you are facing can be critical to success. 

For some runners, visualization is most impactful when they do it before exercising. While traditionally done during movement, mental visualization can be helpful before a physical competition. You can think of this strategy as a student studying before an exam. Here, an athlete will use either internal or external imagining to review the course or their form before a race.

5 Running Tips for Visualization

To get you started on proper visualization and make it simpler, check out these five great running tips. 

1. Find Your Purpose

In order for visualization to have a meaningful impact on your performance, you have to pinpoint some area of improvement or focus. Figure out your intention before beginning the run or selecting a visualization style. Examples of specific purposes may include form during a hard section of the course, motivation during an uphill stretch, or even inspiration to sign up for an event. 

Once you get the hang of visualization, you will almost unconsciously use it during every run, so you may not always need to establish a purpose when applying internal or external imagining. However, kinesthetic imagining always requires intention, as it focuses on small series of movements. 

2. Get Into the Details

The more realistic you can visualize yourself or the surrounding environment, the more useful this skill will be for your improvement. No matter which approach works best for you, adding details makes your mental picture more realistic. 

Ask yourself questions to get started. What are you wearing? How is the weather? Who else is around?

Then keep it going. Think beyond just the sights. Try to describe the environment like you are an author creating a setting.  Are there flowers nearby? Can you smell them? What sounds can you hear? Are cars passing by on the street? How does the wind feel when it blows against you? 

When training for running a marathon, try to use details from that specific course and be mindful of how they change throughout the race. 

3. Be Consistent 

As in all activities, consistency is key. The more you practice visualization, the easier it will become to utilize during a real marathon or other events. When you are first starting out, visualize as much as possible. Get familiar with the mechanics of it. By consistently practicing, imagining will become a reliable tool to help you overcome challenges. 

4. Memorize Your Route

Whether you're running on a track, a cross country course, or just around your neighborhood, memorizing the route can be very beneficial. By memorizing your track, you can improve your imagining. The more familiar you become with your surroundings, the easier it is to see yourself performing mentally. 

The most common way to memorize a route is by breaking it up into sections. For example, on a hilly course, you could think about the part before and after each hill. Changes in elevation, particular landmarks, areas of personal struggle, and even time checkpoints can be used to divide a course. 

5. Anticipate Things Going Wrong

While practicing for a marathon, envision things going awry. That way, when problems occur on race day, you will be less flustered. Keeping calm and focused is vital for achievement, which is why this tip is so valuable.

To get the most out of anticipation, stay away from outlandish ideas. Remain in the realm of real possibilities. For instance, the weather might be less than optimal in the future, or a shoelace could come untied. Being able to handle minor inconveniences mentally will prove beneficial when under physical stress. Anticipating a major, unrealistic problem, like a natural disaster, will only create unnecessary stress, so you should avoid dreaming big in this sense.

Getting to the Finish Line

Visualization in running can be an absolute game-changer. Athletic trainers, as well as top professional athletes, swear by its impact. Try out imagining using these running tips to take your performance to the next level. While it may be difficult at first, stay with it and experiment with each of the three approaches. 

Ready for more running tips? We aspire to help all runners improve their game and enjoy the process. Join our mailing list to receive more running tips and knowledge.

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