Visualization of Marathons and Half Marathons

Many experienced runners and walkers know that completing a marathon or half marathon is as much mental as it is physical. If you have heard of creative visualization and have wanted to use it to help you with your next race, then keep reading!

A best-practices approach to visualization includes these characteristics:

  • Imagine the end-result.
  • Include details.
  • Include emotion.
  • See yourself.
  • Use relaxing music or a quiet space.
  • Spend only five minutes per visualization session.
  • Visualize only once daily.

So applying this best-practices approach to visualizing a successful marathon or half marathon means the following.

Imagine the end-result.

Concentrate your visualization on the finish line and the finish time. Of course, the finish time that you visualize should be reasonably related to the best paces that you have experienced during your training sessions. So do not visualize a race duration that would be far shorter than what most coaches would tell you is possible for you at this stage in your training. But also do not visualize a race duration that would be unreasonably long for you, either; in other words, do not short-change yourself!

You should drive the race course or watch a fly-over or street-level video of it so that you are familiar with its twists and turns, where the various mile-markers will be, and the hills and valleys.

But do not worry about visualizing your individual training sessions or the individual mile-markers along the race course. The finish line is THE most important aspect of your race to visualize. Why? Because your unconscious mind will use this vision to figure out the HOW-TO's that you need for your training and on race day. All that you have to do is feed it the final WHAT — your crossing the finish line with the desired finish time.

Include details.

What are you hearing as you cross the finish line? Is a band playing? Is the announcer calling your name and home town? Are your friends and family members shouting your name, ringing bells, honking horns, and waving posters? Are strangers cheering for you? Are police officers holding spectators back? Is the sun shining in your face or on your back, or is it an overcast day? Is it a cold day, or a hot day? Where is the finish-time clock — above the finish line, or off to one side? What color is the finish-line timing mat? Are there different finishing chutes for the marathon and half marathon? Are the racers around you sprinting to the end? What are you doing as you head toward and across the finish line?

Write down the answers to all of these questions as well as many other questions that you can ask, and review those answers right before you close your eyes to begin your visualization session. Or record yourself gently asking all of the questions, and then play that recording to guide you through each session.

And do not worry about whether the details that you are visualizing will exactly match reality. For example, the color of the finish-line mat could differ between your visualizations and reality. What matters is that you visualize details that make sense to you — so that your unconscious mind fully “gets” that you want this success.

Include emotion.

Here is a leading question for you: What are your most vivid memories? The answer: They are the ones with the strongest emotions attached to them.

So it is crucial that you include emotion in your visualization sessions. How big is your smile as you see the final photographers on the course? How do you feel as the finish-line area comes into view or you approach the louder crowds at the finishing area? How do you feel as you enter the finishing chute — either alone or with other racers? How do you feel as you cross the finish line? How do you feel as someone hands you your medal? How do you feel as post-race volunteers greet you?

Imbue your visualizations with emotions, and your unconscious mind will connect more deeply with your desires.

See yourself.

A common mistake that many people make when visualizing is NOT including themselves in their imagery.

One solution is to use a first-person perspective, as if you were looking through your own eyes at your own body, clothing, and race-day gear. For example, you should visualize your own watch or GPS unit on your own wrist with your own hand attached — all the way down to the sweat, freckles, wrinkles, and scars — and your other hand reaching across to press the stop button as you cross the finish line.

Another solution is to take a third-person perspective, as if you were someone else looking at you. For example, you can look at your own face and how joyous you are as you enter the finishing chute and cross the finish line.

A third solution puts you in front of one or more mirrors in your visualization and lets you get both perspectives. You can see your own body through your own eyes (the first-person perspective), and you can see your full body as if you were someone else (the third-person perspective). For example, and although it might seem odd as a practical matter, you can imagine seeing yourself run by a full-size mirror along the finishing-chute sidelines and seeing yourself approach another full-size mirror a safe distance beyond the finish-line mat.

The best approach to seeing yourself in your visualizations is to use all three of these solutions.

Use relaxing music or a quiet space.

Some people find that gentle music can help them relax into their visualization session. Others find that they must have no sounds when they are visualizing. Find what works for you, and keep using it.

Spend only five minutes per visualization session.

This advice contradicts a popular misconception — that you must spend thirty minutes or an hour visualizing in order to get any benefit from it. But what many visualization practitioners eventually discover is that they cannot maintain their concentration for more than five minutes per session. So most of that half hour or hour is wasted.

And here are two more benefits to limiting your visualization session to five minutes: (1) you are more likely to start this daily practice; (2) you are more likely to make this into a daily habit — because you know that it takes no time away from your other training for your race.

Visualize only once daily.

This is another piece of advice that contradicts a popular misconception — that you must visualize several times a day… or that “If some is good, then more is better.” — which it is NOT in this case.

There are two key reasons why you should plan to visualize a successful race only once a day. One is that it becomes less of an obstacle to developing the habit. But the more important one is that visualizing multiple times a day can actually be counter-productive — because you start to compare the perfection of your visualizations to the imperfections of your everyday life. And those comparisons can lead to a conscious focus on HOW you will achieve your visualizations — the HOW-TO's — which can lead to feelings of overload and despair.

One more thing: Start visualizing today!

There really is no time like the present to start visualizing a successful race. Of course, the more days that you can visualize before your next race, the better. But, even if your marathon or half marathon is next weekend and you have not visualized throughout your training season, you can still benefit from visualization in the final days leading up to the race and right before the race on race morning. So get started today.

Best wishes — and visualizations! — for a successful race!

Have you visualized for a race? Please leave a comment here. Thanks!

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