It is proven that the power of the mind is immeasurable. Many top athletes ranging from a wide variety of sports utilize the practice of pre-race visualization and the creation of mantras as a main point in their training program. So the question is why? Below I have listed some benefits and how to utilize these tactics in your training programs and explain some examples of when this form of mental strength could be the most beneficial.
What is pre-race visualization and how does it work?
Pre-race visualization comes from a place of relaxation and is a foundation for success in endurance athletes. Your mind creates a reality when you are in situations, the more confident you can come into a race and the better you will perform, right? I have a story that might give this some merit and explain how this works in practical use.
I was first introduced to this concept back in college during my time as a cross country skier and we would have a sports psychologist come and work with us every week. As a trail runner my endurance crossed over well into the skiing and I was very good at the uphill portions, but it was on the downhill portions I would often crash and on these downhill portions I was going a speed that you typically don’t want to crash at. There was one time in specific I crashed and was laying in the snow drift and another ride come over the top and rode down the hill I had just tumbled down, he got to me and hopped directly over me and kept on riding, he looked so natural on his skis. I remember at that moment feeling so frustrated with myself and the situation that I let it eat me up and it really hindered my performance during the race. Afterward, I spoke with the sports psychologist about these frustrations and she introduced me to a simple concept that changed my life, she told me to “expect the unexpected and mentally be strong when the unexpected happens to you”. The new approach was to expect to crash at times, and have a plan for how I will react when it does. My mind state had to become “okay I crashed, but I am going to catch them on the uphill.”
This attitude change allowed me to realize that bad things can happen in a race, and if I can visualize coming through those bad things with a positive mind state then pressing on at peak performance would be much easier. What I noticed is that as soon as I overcame the fear of falling down and the fear of what it did to my race time after I fell, I quit falling. I was manifesting the negative thoughts that would actually end up happening. I understood that it was okay to fall down and this mental switch allowed me to bounce back from the unexpected quickly.
How to apply pre-race visualization to your training routine
I have been coaching cross country running for 7 years now, and we use this tactic as a main staple in our training programs. Before all of the big races I will take the team and we will do yoga style meditation and we will go through a series of breathing techniques to help create relaxation, as we know this is important for pre-race visualization to take place effectively. I will have them lay down on the floor and after we establish the mental relaxation, the visualization portion begins to take place. I will often have them imagine showing up to a race or even as a bird floating above the race that eventually lands on the starting line light, calm, and ready to race. Now, if they know the course I will have them visualize every corner, straight away, hill, or terrain change that is present. We use positive thoughts to associate with this practice and those sound like this:
I have a plan.
I am prepared.
I know what I need to do.
I am ready.
During this practice, I also like to have them think about the bad things that have happened to them during races in the past. For instance, I had a runner who had his shoe come off completely in the first 800 meters of a 5k, without missing a stride he completed the race and placed third. This was able to happen more effectively by preparing for the unexpected with pre-race visualization and the thought that we practiced was “if things happen, make a decision quick and move on” and this was a prime example of that in action. It is important when doing this that you create a mental space that allows you to feel the emotion of the situation you are visualizing, this gives the practice power and keeps you ready if and when you experience adversity on the course.
Often times things come up that weren’t planned for, but when they do there is another tactic that can be utilized with pre-visualization that is handy for those tough situations.
What is a mantra?
A mantra by definition is a word or sound to aid concentration in meditation.
A good way to think about these concepts is this; pre-race visualization are for if things go wrong, mantras are utilized when things go wrong.
For my cross country runners we were very strong on the hills, but hills are tiresome and a quite the challenge nonetheless, this is where our mantra comes into play. So our mantra will be this “we love hills, we love hills, we love hills” and we do this as a tactic to flip the thought process around to deal with things that are more difficult. Something to remember is that every other racer on the course is dealing with the same terrain as you, so you be strong mentally and adapt to what the race gives you and your performance will increase. There is so much power in mental strength training when it comes to endurance sports that these practices should be crucial parts of any training regimen.
Summary for mantras and pre-race visualization
One thing to note, is visualization for my runners often takes as long as the race will, I feel there is power in training mental strength in real time (this is different for a 100 miler of course). But If the race is 30 minutes, then the visualizing lasts 30 minutes also. So what are some key tips to take away from pre-race visualization and creating mantras?
- Start these exercises by finding a place of relaxation
- Learn and practice breathing techniques to help create that space.
- Self-affirmation and positive thoughts during this exercise go a long way.
- Think deeply; create a state of emotion that comes with your thoughts.
- Create just a few for key situations
- Truly let your mind believe in what the mantra is saying
- Your mantra can be an evolving thing over time
Remember that all of this stems from relaxation, my best runners would show up to the race totally relaxed and equipped with a positive mind state. Mental strength in the endurance sports world is critical and I hope these tips get you started in the right direction.
I would like to hear some of your training practices and visualizing meditations. Leave your routine below and let’s discuss!