Visualization and planning can go a long way on race day.
As runners, we’re always looking for that extra edge in training to make us faster and more consistent on the race course. Understandably, most of our efforts to improve are geared towards the physical–lowering lactate threshold, increasing muscle power, improving form. Enhancement to any of these physiological systems is going to result in faster race times and should be the main focus of your training plan. However, if you’re already pushing your physical training boundaries, it’s possible that adding mental planning and visualization to your regimen can help you squeeze out that extra one or two percent on race day.
Some of the world’s top athletes, from professional golfers to Olympic track and field medalists, practice mental imagery and visualization in their training. Perhaps one of the most well-known examples of the power of mental imagery is the gold-medal performance of Mark Plaatjes at the World Championships marathon in 1993. Plaatjes extensively practiced visualization techniques while preparing for the World Championships, so much so that he knew every undulation on the course and had “run” every possible scenario of the race before he arrived in Germany. When the real racing began, Plaatjes was able to summon his reservoir of confidence and mental preparation over the final miles and snatch victory just 3 minutes from the finishing line.
Mental training and visualization clearly works for high-caliber athletes. Here are some specific visualization and mental planning tips and strategies you can implement to improve your performance.