11 Mental Tips to Improve Your Running

Photo by iStock, Arthur Kwiatkowski

Seeing is believing. To be the best runner you can be, it's crucial to begin with a positive vision. While thinking about running won't get you in shape, creative visualizations will motivate you to stick with a training plan, achieve your running goals and persevere in challenging race conditions.

Just as we work out our bodies, we also need to exercise our minds. Visualization is like taking your brain to the gym. Physically, runners are able to run fast or slow, hard or easy. In the same way, we need the mind to be flexible, so we can shift from negative to positive gears no matter what is going on around us.

Visualization is a powerful tool whether you're a beginner or an elite. Even if you've never tried visualization before, everyone has an imagination; all you need to do is practice. You can use visualization to attack any problem or achieve any goal. Imagery can be used for reducing stress, gaining energy, focusing attention or managing pain during a race.

Think it Through

Visualizing does not mean daydreaming about being a great runner. It is a learned skill that requires discipline and regular practice to gain the maximum benefits.

Here are the key principles for performing effective mental imagery:

Breathing and Centering

Begin with a few minutes of deep abdominal breathing. Put one hand on your stomach and feel it rise and fall with each breath. Imagine that when you inhale you are filling up a balloon. As you exhale, the balloon collapses.

Imaging

Create a vivid image in your mind of what you want to achieve in your sport. Let distracting thoughts and feelings float away as you focus on your image.

Sensing

Bring in all of your senses so you can see, hear, and feel what it's like to have a great workout or race. Imagine the scene in the present tense so you are totally focused on the task at hand.

Positive Picturing

Don't replay race mistakes in your mind. You want to remove the memory of your errors.  If you see yourself doing something incorrectly, mentally edit the film and replay it exactly as you wish it had happened.

Modeling

Use visual models and guides. Try watching a video of a great running performance that you like. Search YouTube or get out a recording from the last Olympics, then visualize yourself moving just as fluidly and powerfully as the runners on the screen.

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