Over the eight weeks’ final build up to the London Marathon I am blogging some ideas you can use to stay on track and ensure your mind is as prepared for the race as your body is. This post, with six weeks to go, suggests you learn how to run through your mind, as well as in your body.

How often do you train? Three, four, five times a week? Ideally we’d be training every day, but not only does life get in the way, we often also find that our bodies can only cope with so much training before they get injured. In research I’ve undertaken looking at endurance athletes I found that 91% had been injured in the last few years. So anything which can help you perform better, without increasing your risk of injury, is likely to be very popular. One technique to do this is to visualise your running. This is a form of stimulation that allows you to recreate positive elements from memory so you feel your body is following in the patterns and shapes that are required when you run to prepare yourself for your performance.

Visualisation can work in two ways:

  • Motivational – focuses on your goals and your overall performance. i.e. I will be visualising running down to the finish line with a specific time on the clock, or crossing the line and my medal being put around my neck.
  • Cognitive – focuses on the motor skills and strategies you may use. i.e. I will be visualising the running technique I will be using to stop myself slowing down when I get tired.

Both types can improve your self-confidence and then ultimately your performance.

Researchers trying to understand why it works suggest that when we are visualising what we want to happen our neuronal groups interactively fire in defined patterns and structurally modify themselves in a way that makes them more effective. They suggest this means we gain a functional equivalence with the same areas of the brain firing whether a skill is actually performed or just imagined. So, while it can’t replace physical practice, only supplement it, this functional equivalence means an athlete benefits from the extra ‘imagined’ practice but without the additional risk of injury or fatigue.

If you want to try visualisation keep in mind:

  1. Keep your session short (to a few minutes only)
  2. Perhaps write a script and record yourself reading it so you can listen to it and have your story to follow in your head.
  3. Only visualise what you want to happen – not what you are trying to avoid. Be positive, and think of your ideal outcome.
  4. Visualisation also works best when you really bring the images in your head to life though not just trying to ‘see’ them but also add in what you will hear, smell, touch or even taste.
  5. The better your visualisation skills are, the better you will be at using it effectively. So it needs practice.

If this has tempted you to try visualisation there is a worksheet here which explains how to go about it.