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Training & advice

It's all in the mind!

It has been said that running is 90% mental and 10% physical, so why is it that most runners spend a huge percentage of their training time pounding out the miles but not training their thoughts?  Mental imagery can help boost your performance so perhaps it's time to include it in your training plan.

If someone wants to sell you something they are likely to use images or stimulate your imagination to create neuromuscular impulses that lead to physical responses in your body. If you want to achieve your running goal you can use imagery that will help you do just that. There are two ways of using mental imagery:

  • Internal - Imagine yourself in the moment when you are running towards your goal. Think about the sensations you will feel as you achieve your goal.
  • External - See yourself from the outside. Imagine someone else observing you as you achieve your goal. Look at your running form, see how strong and fast you are and how effortless you make it look!

You may have seen Olympic athletes using imagery before they start their race. They may have their eyes closed or be looking down the track. They will be playing the scenario in their mind as they mentally prepare for the race. But this won't be the first time they have done this. During their preparation in the weeks and months before the race they will have taken time to use imagery and instil self belief.

Mental imagery can help you to control your emotions. If you find that you get overly nervous before an event or competition you can imagine yourself preparing for the start in a cool and calm manner.

Mental imagery isn't only useful to help you to achieve your competition goal. You can also use it to help you to improve your running technique. If, for example, you know that you over-stride and strike the ground too early you can use imagery of yourself running tall and bringing your foot in contact with the ground underneath your hips as you power along your running route. By doing this you are making yourself more aware and this awareness will pay off when you go for your training run as you will put into practice the running technique that you have in your mind even if you're not consciously aware of it.

By using mental imagery you can improve your self-belief. This plays a big part in setting your goals and then whether or not you achieve them. As Henry Ford said "If you think you can or you think you can't you're probably right"! By rehearsing scenarios in your mind as you work towards a target you will instil self belief and make yourself more likely to acheive success.

The great thing about mental training is that you can slot it into your life more easily than you may your physical training sessions. If you have to take a train or bus journey or stand in a queue at the supermarket you could switch your mind on to some useful mental imagery. Be careful that you don't miss your stop or your place in the queue though!