So can visualisation actually assist an athlete in their training and preparation for racing? Of course it can! I use it in my training and race preparation almost daily and even more frequently as a race day approaches.
Let me start by recounting a short story (completely paraphrased, so I apologise to the original author). An American Major has been captured by the Vietnamese and become a prison of war, he was being kept in isolation, regularly tortured and his living conditions were the worse imaginable. In order to maintain his sanity he would spend hours daily visualising himself playing his local golf course. Every round was different, but he could see & feel every shot he played in intricate detail, see & smell every blade of grass. As time passed he even visualised his game improving, his handicap improving with every round. Following the end of the war he returned to his local golf course to play his first game of golf many years later. During this game of golf he played a close to even par round, beating his old handicap record by nearly 20 strokes.
Whether this is a true story is hard to determine there are so many versions available via Google so its hard to tell. Obviously this is an extreme story that serves to highlighting the value of visualisation techniques.
The practice is simple enough. Visualisation has a place in my ironman training program, plan and preparation. It serves the same purpose as all my other session, preparing me for race day. A lot of my visualisation’s are centered around dealing with the race chaos in a calm relaxed manner trying to keep the heart rate under control. Every endurance athlete knows that is the key to a successful day out competing!
I visualize myself going through the motion of a race, from waking up on race morning right through to crossing the finish line. I go through a range of different situations every time I complete a visualisation, sometime the perfect race where everything is perfect, I simply nail it all and cross the line with a Kona Qualification confirmed! However the reality is the perfect race is like a unicorn, untouchable, so I take the time to run through visualisation’s where things go wrong.
Things like my goggles coming off in the swim, my chain coming off on the bike, changing a flat tire on the bike, stretching cause I’ve started cramping on the bike, eating during both bike & run legs, dropping a bidon (drink bottle) at an aid station on the bike, spilling a cup at the aid station on the run. I then try to visualise my way out of any and all of the above situations, what would I do, how would I react, how would I move forward. One of my key strategy’s is to do these visualizations from both the first person & third person (birds eye) view, but always with as much detail as possible, actually see and feel what you need to do!
These don’t need to be epic session of sitting for an hour in a transcendental state, these can be quick simple 5 minute breaks, like a coffee break. Here is a quick example. I am currently only days away from competing in my 3rd ironman, this time in New Zealand. I have done plenty of research into likely weather conditions, I have spoken to athletes who have competed in Taupo numerous times over the past 12 years, I have gathered lots of data.
The swim is my most common visualisation, but every aspect of my race will be run through numerous time during these final few weeks. I can literally feel my stroke long and strong, the cold water filtering inside my wetsuit, the slight rub I get on the back of my neck (because my head is to high), the splash of another competitor beside me, the bubbles of another competitors kick in front of me. I can literally close my eyes for a couple of minutes, see and feel what the swim leg is going to be like on race day. Including the nervous butterflies in my belly at the start line waiting for the gun to start the race, to the adrenaline rush of the first 100m sprint to clear water, to rounding the yacht/boat at the half way point, to existing the water onto the fake grass ramp out of the lake, looking down and touching the lap button on my Garmin 920XT, to seeing the time for my swim, to entering transition listening to the volunteers accents and thoroughly enjoying every moment with a massive smile on my face.
Every aspect of your race can be visualised in this manner at any time of the day while you are literally doing almost anything. It’s not time-consuming, but the benefits are measurable.
Does my visualisation actually help me race faster, I’m not entirely sure. But, by exploring as many situations as I can during my visualisation come race day there are no surprises, no shocks, I can take everything in my stride, nothing rocks me from my purpose on the day. And you know what, if something does pop up that I haven’t, I am better equipped to deal with it because of this visualisation habit/technique.
If you’re not active at the moment & need some inspiration, follow me on Strava, Instagram and like my facebook page and let’s get back out there swim, bike or running. Make sure you subscribe to my blog so you never miss a post from me! The biggest regret we can have in life is to not TRI!
Till next time build consistency, keep smiling and live to Tri!
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