As the leaves begin to change here in Western New York, I am reminded of the joys of cross country season. The weather begins to cool, teammates get closer as traveling to meets becomes more frequent and your training continues to give you confidence as the season rolls. One of my favorite parts about cross country season was running new courses and traveling to new places to run. But as I got faster and people expected more out of me, I began to get nervous running on other courses that weren’t “home.” I remember traveling to a school where the course was at a ski resort and the second mile of the race was literally half a mile up a ski slope and half a mile down- talk about intimidation! But how can you be confident about running at new courses when you want to be fast and give your team a chance to be successful and potentially win the meet? Using visualization can help!
When I ran in both high school and college, the course preview was always a part of every meet. In high school, usually we walked the course as part of our warm up to make sure we didn’t get lost and so that we could prepare ourselves. In college, I had the luxury of running the course the day before as a shake out run and had the evening to prepare. But rather than mindlessly log some miles in the course preview or joke around with teammates, athletes can use this time to visualize the race they want to have and better prepare their mind and body to meet in a place of harmony come race time.
When doing visualization, athletes should be using all of their senses. Pay attention to the smells, sounds, how feel, what you see and even what you taste. If I was to guide athletes on proper visualization for race day, it would be to use the course preview “with purpose, on purpose” and do the following:
1. Pay attention to parts of the course and “chunk” the course into sections- not just miles but think about “attack sections” and “back off sections.” Pay attention to parts of the race that are fast and parts that are slow and see yourself running the race and asserting yourself on the course- where you’ll make your move, how you’ll feel (fast, light, hungry!).
2. Pay attention to the sights, sounds and smells of the course. Do the leaves smell like fall? Where will the fans be? What type of sounds will I hear? Paying attention to these senses so that you’ll be fully immersed in the task at hand- running and racing! Be where your feet are- our minds wander all the time, so be where you physically are and not thinking about the boy or girl you’re dating, homework or other distractors.
3. Feel your spikes gripping the grass or your studs gripping the gravel or pavement. Visualize how fast you feel when you strike the ground and push off. Thinking of something as simple as push off will send signals between the brain and muscles that will warm up that “highway” in your body and prepare you for the race.
4. See yourself running the goal you planned for this race. Visualizing success is vital, as research shows if you do not visualize success, than visualization can be a detriment to one’s performance. Have control over the images you see and be deliberate. Use your breathing to slowly and confidently compose yourself.
By using these tips, you’re warming up not just the muscles on the course preview, but also the pathways between your brain and body. You’ll be more confident, prepared and not look like a deer in headlights when the race starts.