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Imagery for Runners

imagery for runners simple marathon training visualization

What follows is an excerpt from the Geek Out section of my book, Simple Marathon Training. Enjoy!

Use Imagery to Run Your Best Race

I strongly believe that runners need to use mental imagery to run to their potential on race day. Using imagery isn’t complicated. Find a quiet space and imagine yourself going through the race. A quiet spot and 3-10 minutes is all it takes.

I used imagery on and off during my collegiate career. There is no doubt that my best two races (a 14:20 5k on Friday night, and a 8:20 3k on Saturday afternoon, at the Big XII Indoor conference championships) were the result, in some part, of the mental imagery I used to prepare for the race. There were countless races where I didn’t use imagery in the days leading up to the race, and, in retrospect, I think my performance suffered.

I recommend you start this process ten to fourteen days out from your marathon. Start with just 3 minutes a day, and as you get closer to the race, work your way up to roughly 10 minutes. As weird as it may sound, I find that sitting on the toilet in a bathroom is an ideal place to do this work. That said, don’t use the port-a-potty as your quiet space on race day, keeping your fellow runners waiting to take care of their important business. You won’t be very quiet, calm, or popular if you do.

The idea of mental imagery is to see yourself in the race: running the race and grooving the pace in the opening 20 miles, grabbing water and sports drinks with ease, taking a gel and having it go down easy, seeing runners pass you in the opening miles (runners who are going out too fast and will not doubt come back to you in the last 6.2 miles of the race), hearing the music at the start line, passing dozens of runners in the last 6.2 miles, and the crowd cheering at the first mile. You should be able to tune in to how your legs are going to feel, how your respiration will feel, and how your posture will feel. This all should feel good as you envision the first 20 miles. In the first few imagery sessions you want to envision everything going well. Once you’ve made this positive picture in your head, it’s time to envision things going wrong. See yourself going through a tough mile, or coming to a full stop at an aid station to get your water or sports drink. The key here is to envision something going wrong and then seeing yourself positively dealing with it.

Finally, what self-talk are you going to use in the final 6.2 miles of the marathon to help you grind out the last section? You can come up with your own version of Cindy Kuzma’s, “You do hard things.” The key is that you use imagery to hear yourself using positive self-talk to grind out the last 6.2 miles. Imagery is a powerful tool, so make sure to use it in the final ten days leading up to the marathon.