When it comes to running, you likely do a lot to prepare. You run (obviously!), you make sure your shoes and gear are in good shape (like you), you eat well to fuel your training, and you might even cross train or lift weights. Runners do a lot more than simply run…
But how often do you use your mind for training purposes? Do you ever imagine any aspects of your training? This is called imagery, and it’s using your mind to create or recreate experiences, using all your senses.
Basically, imagery is using your imagination, purposefully, to help you train and compete. Chances are, you’ve used imagery at some point in time, though maybe not as specifically or as systematically as you could.
Here’s why imagery is useful for runners:
- When you do imagery, such as picturing yourself run with proper form, you’re firing the same neurons in your brain as you would when you’re running with that form.
- Through imagery, you’re able to create more muscle memory and allow yourself additional time for training. This is especially helpful if you’re dealing with aches or pains and injuries and need to cut back or your running.
- Imagery can help you prepare more specifically for races. If you’re running your first marathon, you may taper before you get to the full 26.2. So, use imagery to experience what it will be like to hit miles 23, 24, and 25 to work through any challenges that may arise.
How do you do imagery?
Your main goal is to make the experience as real as possible through your imagery. This is where all our senses come in. In addition to seeing yourself run, try to feel your feet hit the pavement or trail; hear your shoe striking the ground or the wind in your ears; feel the sweat drip down your neck; taste the Gu as you take it at mile 18.
Remember, you’re trying to have the most realistic experience possible in your mind, so that you benefit from imaging that experience. Keep in mind that you can do imagery of upcoming moments to help you prepare, such as getting through the challenging hills on your next trail run, or pushing through the wall at your upcoming marathon. You can also use imagery to review past performances or training runs to help you learn from those experiences and to build confidence for upcoming events.
Internal vs. External Imagery
You can experience your imagery by being “in” it- meaning that you see the road in front of you, through your own eyes, and if you were to look down, you’d see your feet. This is an internal perspective and probably will help you feel more of the experience, which is helpful for runners. An external perspective is when you watch yourself running as if you were viewing a video; this can be useful if you’re trying to check out your stride or are working on the mechanics of your run.
When should you do imagery?
Imagery really can be done anytime, anywhere and it’s up to you to decide the best moments. Regardless of your training distances, you don’t need to imagine entire runs- you can pick shorter segments of time to focus on, for example, a steep trail where you tend to get nervous, the last mile when you have to dig deep to get through it, or the first mile, when you tend to go out too fast. Decide what aspects of your run could use more focus and do imagery of those moments.
Final thoughts about imagery for runners
Remember that for imagery to be most effective, you’ll want to use it regularly. Think about integrating it into your training, such as right before each run, after your day’s training, or right before bed. You don’t need to do imagery daily, but a few days a week would be good. You can also change up what you do imagery of, based on your needs. For example, as race day gets closer, you’ll do more imagery of moments of the race, and when you’re further out, you focus on training.
Have you tried imagery to improve your run performance? Share your experience below.