Why Creative Visualization Enhances Your Performance
Have you ever maybe even unconsciously applied creative visualization in certain moments during an ultramarathon?
Everything went smoothly for the first few hours and then you suddenly hit a point where the mind and body connection wasn't aligned anymore? What happened?
You eventually managed to lift yourself out of that low and realised how much energy those moments took from your performance and running experience. In the worst case it took so much effort to motivate yourself repeatedly that you eventually quit.
It's scientifically been proven that the mind has a profound influence on your performance. Not just in sport, but in many other areas of life.
What must be changed in order to deal with mental and physical lows if it's not just a matter of pure physical training?
Creative visualization is a goal setting activity that helps you overcome obstacles in an ultra race and needs to be practiced in training. It's a powerful tool to even enhance your performance.
Again, the best physically trained athlete can still be first loser if he can't pull himself back together during mentally tiring moments. And they hit each of us at different points in time. From experience, there is no way around mental and physical lows in ultrarunning training and racing.
It's all in the attitude of how you deal with the lows.
Referring to the picture on the previous page, imagine you are the fish in the water that excels in a race and rises above your boundaries to run in a complete state of flow.
Creative visualization is one way to let you experience real breakthroughs.
Ultrarunning being such an intense and rewarding sport we need to turn our focus inwardly and search for resources that let us achieve what we really want.
The outcome is to enjoy a long distance marathon to the fullest and not just scratch on the surface.
Let's take a thorough look at this empiric study on Olympic athletes that demonstrates why creative visualization is also a crucial part in the ultrarunner's routine:
- The 1st group of athletes did 100% of physical training and no mental training at all
- The 2nd group did 75% of physical and 25% of mental training
- The 3rd group did 50% of physical and 50% of mental training
- The 4th group did 25% of physical and 75% of mental training
The athletes from the 4th group performed best in the race.
Prior to the Marathon des Sables, I remember running on the treadmill imagining how I was crossing the finish line and receiving the finisher's medal in the middle of the desert. I felt so emotional just visualising that I thought I was already experiencing the situation in real life. Realising how creative visualization works opened new doors. I soon started to incorporate various goal setting activities into my training.
Creative visualization helps everyone preparing for their next ultra. The technique is the same for every runner yet the pictures you create are yours, your individual visions and ideas.
Explore the guidelines now and find out what triggers your motivation.
Decide which races you feel most passionate about. You create images in your mind that function as a strong force on the road to success. The more you are prepared in your mind, the less of a burden you'll have to carry along en route.
Creative visualization is by definition an interesting and creative task. You need a pin board in A3 or A4 format, some pens, magazines, postcards and a few file cards. Ideally, spend one or two hours of your free time on this exercise.
When you look at certain pictures in magazines (i.e. travel, outdoors sports, running, different hobbies, gardening, even cooking) which ones do you instinctively turn to?
Images that are colorful, ones that show stunning landscapes and photographs that have many details?
You might be a very visual person that prefers to run in nature and pays attention to the surroundings like buildings, trees and people. On the other hand, races with lots of people may be distractive because it's too loud. You're herewith faced with a combination of both a visual and an auditive perception.
Or are you drawn to images of the ocean or waterfalls? You can literally hear the waves and seagulls. You often like running with music in your ears and depending on the song you're listening to, it can give you a real lift.
What about finding pictures that show a person's emotion, like seeing a runner cross the finish line and his/her face filled with joy and relief? Is that something you can identify with and lets you feel similar emotions?
In a magazine about cooking, for example, pictures of a well-presented dish can let you smell and taste the food. Or you discover an image of a flowerfield and suddenly think you can smell the freshness of the flowers.
Four sensory channels play a part in our unconsciousness:
- The visual channel
- The auditive channel
- The kinesthetic channel
- The olfactory channel
Based on your perceptions it's fairly easy to create your vision board.
Whatever you put on the board will begin to manifest into reality. Greatest effects either show on the first day after putting up the vision board or on Day 15.
In addition to pictures out of magazines and postcards positive affirmations can be written on file cards. The vision board can only have a few things on it, no need for clutter. Starting with the basics and adding more items over time is a good guideline. You'll find that after a while, a certain symbol or image might have manifested itself enough and you can move on.
Once you're finished with a first draft of your vision board, place it somewhere where you can always see it. Your desk, a small table in the living room or the walls of your kitchen can all be places to put up a pin board.
I give you an example of my specific race preparation regarding creative visualization.
I signed up for the Swiss Jura stage race in December 2008 and first of all put the race information on the pin board.
Since I work on the PC a lot, I placed the board on my desk so I would always look at it. Everytime I caught a glimpse of it, I would smile and get excited about the project.
Next, I found a postcard that showed a row of stones next to each other. The soothing colours had a grounding effect on me whereas the stones symbolised straightforwardness.
One day, my daughters asked me why I had put so many different things on the board. They understood my explanation immediately and pinned their drawings onto the board as well. They illustrated me running over mountains, for example.
Another postcard I put on the board had the saying "Dreams are more powerful than facts" on it. I started to live the dream of crossing the finish line. It took shape over many months and formed into reality.
About eight weeks prior to the race I wrote short sentences on file cards. It's important to write in the present tense and first person. "I feel strong", "I feel healthy", "I cross the line and smile", "I stay healthy and fit" are all examples of what you could write on those cards.
The file cards reflect your beliefs and immerse into the subconsciousness. You can't help it but take the right steps forward.
Working with a vision board adds to the intensity of ultramarathon training, organising sponsors, equipment and living a healthy diet.
What matters most to you is on that board and automatically a priority in daily life. Suddenly, there is time for some extra strengthening exercises and additional runs that may have caused distress before.
Creating your vision board has a snowball effect. The ball slowly starts rolling and every piece of the puzzle you need virtually comes to you.
Creative visualization is a very powerful tool that can help you to achieve your ultramarathon goals easier and faster.
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