At this point in the Fall, many of you are approaching your league championships or some other final meet of the season, so you are hoping to run your best. Visualization is a technique that can help you with the mental aspect of running races.
I first learned about visualization in the 80's, specifically in 1987 when I was training for a marathon. I really wanted to run under three hours, and I found a book (The Total Runner, by Jerry Lynch) that described visualization. I didn't have a good race (died at about 17 miles) in the marathon, but I continued to use the technique because I was having success in other races from using it.
Without going into the detail of Lynch's book or anyone else's specific techniques, I can tell you a few things to get you started.
One of the main things is that visualization is more than just imagining your race and how wonderful everything will be. What I do is start there. Once I am relaxed (although not too relaxed - I will sometimes fall asleep!) and ready to do some visualization, I close my eyes and basically do a run-through of my race. During that first step, everything goes as planned.
But here's the benefit of visualization: the next step is to imagine various things going wrong: you get a blister; the weather is crappy; someone steps on your foot; your jersey doesn't feel right - anything you can think of that might reasonably happen.
"But isn't that kind of the opposite of thinking positively?"
It could be, except that in this exercise, you troubleshoot whatever the problem is during the visualization. That way, if it actually happens in the race, you will already know how to deal with it, and your race will continue on uninterrupted.
"Don't you have a funny story about visualization, Marty?"
Well, as a matter of fact, in the early spring of 1988, I was getting pretty fit, and was racing frequently. I decided to do a 5k race that was in a hilly park on trails. I did my usual visualization techniques in the week leading up to the race, going through various things that might happen. When I got into the race, though, something happened that was totally unexpected: I was leading. By a lot. Having not anticipated this, I started worrying that I had gone off course, but I resisted the urge to look behind me, knowing that you should never look behind you in a race. I finally decided to just keep pressing on, and I actually won the race by over a minute! My first win! Now I had one more thing to add to my visualizations.
As you get to within a week or so of your race, you should start doing some visualization. Find what works for you, in terms of where and when it works best. Think about how you want to implement your race strategy. Let me know how it works out by posting in the comments.
And don't forget to consider what you might do if you find yourself in front!