It was the day before regional cross country championships. I was 15.
My teammates and I arrived to practice expecting a typical pre-race jog and stretch. Instead, our coach directed us to lie down and close our eyes.
We probably giggled, in all of our 15 years of maturity, but we listened and did as we were told.
As I lay on my back, eyes closed, on the infield of my high school track, my coach taught me to visualize strength and speed. He walked me through 2.5 miles of challenges that I would face the next day, through decision points and self-doubt. I turned corners, accelerated down hills, and passed for separation, all in the comfort of my own mind.
My team won the championship before we ever stepped onto the course. Before we ever opened our eyes.
As I prepare for my next 140.6 mile triathlon (Ironman), I return to the lessons in visualization that I learned in that grassy field.
Below I share with you visualization techniques that have helped me in my preparation for and performance in big races. Feel free to add to the list in the comment section.
1. Perform your visualization exercises at a place and time with minimal distractions. I visualize myself racing when I have some quiet minutes in the evening before bed or during solitary training time.
2. Some of the hardest moments in training are the most ideal for visualization. As you push yourself in practice, visualize pushing yourself in your race. As you crank your bike up the hills in Arlington, VA, imagine crushing hills at IRONMAN Lake Placid, or wherever your next race may be.
3. Visualize yourself as strong, calm, and confident. For each triathlon leg, I imagine myself as the lovely subjects of the pictures below.
4. Set your visualization exercises against the backdrop of the course itself. To do so, visit the course in person or on youtube. If you’ve never experienced an Ironman mass start, youtube can help illustrate your visualization exercises. If you can’t quite imagine how the finish will look when lined with hundreds of spectators cheering for you, youtube can give you a good idea.
5. Visualize the best. And the worst. Visualize a fatigued back and neck 80 miles into the 112 mile bike. Envision how you will respond to that fatigue. Visualize being too hot on the run, and practice how you will respond to that heat (Stuff ice wherever it will go. Dump water on your head.) Visualize responding calmly to a flat tire. Practicing this response saved me and helped me stay calm during my first Ironman when I flatted twice in the first 10 miles.
It’s true; we don’t always achieve what we visualize. (If we did, I’d have become a successful 70s cover band songstress in white go-go boots instead of a triathlete.)
But visualization exercises do bring us closer to reaching our full potential.
Wishing you all the best as you visualize (and achieve) personal superhero-ness!