One of the areas I learned to focus on quite a few years ago when training for endurance events was visualisation. I would sit down quietly in the corner of the room, close my eyes and focus on a part of my training or a race that would be competing in soon. I would focus and visualise on how I feel, my technique, feeling strong, my power output, and my pace. It was something I felt really worked and allowed me to concentrate on the mental aspect rather than the physical aspect of training. It also gave me that sense of belief.
I’m currently training for a 50 km ultra trail run and a vision keeps on appearing in my mind – I am running smoothly along the trail, my pace is good as I leave a forested section of the trail, it is warm, it is sunny, and I can see the next 5-6 miles of trail ahead of me. I’m feeling strong and motivated and know if I complete this section of trail I will be much closer to the finish line, all I need to do is keep moving forwards. I am aware of the surroundings of my environment even though I am solely focused on reaching the finish line.
I was out for a run on Saturday morning. I didn’t have a mileage in mind apart from the need to do my longest run of the year so far. I set out, and it was pretty blustery in places, then a change in direction and a solid headwind. It is tough and although the pace had dropped the effort had increased to push forwards. I’m fully focused and the visualisation comes into my mind and running along that trail towards the finish line. The next couple of miles seem to flash by. By the time I get back, I’ve run just over 11 miles (my longest run this year) and I feel like I could have run much further than I had.
I reflected on that run a bit later in the day. I seemed to zone out for a large part of the run – I was focused on moving forward, running at a steady pace, was focused on my breathing. How fast and how long I had run wasn’t an issue and not something I’d thought about during the run. That sense of belief came flooding through – no longer was it a case of getting to the start line of the 50k ultra, it had now shifted to how I would feel crossing that finish line of the 50k ultra.
When we set ourselves goals or targets that sense of self-belief is important. Visualisation plays a huge part in that. Do you see yourself in that mental picture of what you are setting out to achieve? What does the journey look like? How do you feel when making that journey? Do you rehearse any of the journey? What are some of the pitfalls or obstacles and how you might overcome them? If we can visualise ourselves achieving something, we are more likely to achieve it in reality. It positively reinforces our sense of self-belief.
For me personally visualisation is key. It builds the self-belief, it creates that confidence, it feeds the self-motivation, and builds the resilience required. I know that when the going gets tough I have the mental strength available to keep going. I keep going because I have that inner belief. I keep going because I tell myself over and over that quitting is not an option available.
I know the nature of endurance events throws up many challenges and some of those are way out of my control. I know that the preparation I do is more than the physical training – the miles run – it is the mental training as well, being prepared mentally, being able to be fully focused, being able to deal with set-backs, being able to tough it out, being able to shut out those negative thoughts, and having that unbreakable sense of motivation to get to the finish line. Like the physical aspect of training it requires constant work, constant practice, and constant fine-tuning until it becomes a behaviour and mind-set.
Richard Guy, 47 years of age, born and grew up in London and have lived in Portsmouth since 2017.