“Did I train hard enough?”
It’s a good bet you’ve thought this at every race start.
Chances are you did everything you could do until race day.
While pre-race jitters are a normal part of racing, experiencing paralyzing fear and doubt wreaks your ability to perform up to your physical potential.
And if you want to maximize your training and race performance, incorporating mental imagery exercises into your training plan will help you remain in control, confident, and reassured at the starting line.
What are mental imagery exercises?
So here’s the deal. There’s little difference between what you think and experience.
If you recall a memory, or predict a future event, in a small way, you’re experiencing that moment.
For example, think about your last interval workout. You remember the burning sensation and the pain, which probably makes you reconsider doing another speed session.
Mental imagery is a mental simulation of what you want to experience.
When you use mental imagery exercises to rehearse your emotions on race day, you’ll be in control, empowered, and reassured.
Canadian swimmer Alex Baumann credits his use of mental imagery exercises to help win Olympic gold medals and set world records.
The best way I have learned to prepare mentally for competitions is to visualize the race in my mind and to put down a split time.
The splits I use in my imagery are determined by my coach and me for each part of the race.
For example, in the 200 individual medley, splits are made up for each 50 meters because after 50 meters the stroke changes. These splits are based on training times and what we feel I am capable of doing.
In my imagery, I concentrate on attaining the splits I have set out to do.
About 15 minutes before the race I always visualize the race in my mind and “see” how it will go. I see where everybody else is, and then I really focus on myself.
I do not worry about anybody else. I think about my own race and nothing else.
I try to get those splits in my mind, and after that I am ready to go.
That is what really got me the world record and Olympic medals….I started visualizing six years before the Olympics. My visualization has been refined more and more as the years went on.
I see myself swimming the race before the race really happens, and I try to be on the splits. I am really swimming the race.
In my mind I go up and down the pool, rehearsing all parts of the race, visualizing how I actually feel in the water.
– In Pursuit of Excellence – 4th Edition, by Terry Orlick
Here’s what you need to do to reduce your pre-race anxiety.
Your mental imagery exercises must include rich detail – what you’ll see, how you’ll feel, and what you’ll hear on race day – to be effective.
Much like physical training, mental imagery exercises require practice. Choose a time that works for you – whether it’s first thing in the morning or just before your run, ride, or swim.
Remember to stay loose and relaxed during your mental imagery exercise.
1// Review your race day gear. What equipment will you have with you? What are you wearing? What will you bring and wear if the weather changes?
2// See yourself at your race location. Where is it? Does the course have turns or hills? Will it be crowded? Where are the water stations?
3// Picture your desired emotions race day. Want to summon confidence? Imagine reviewing your training logs to remind yourself that you’ve prepared well for this.
4// Rehearse what you’ll say to yourself when you find yourself in a negative space. Do you head toward a downward spiral when others are racing past you? Tell yourself that you’re in your own race.
Your mental imagery will become detailed and richer over time. And one thing is for sure – you’ll be cool, calm, and collected on race day.
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Olympians Use Imagery as Mental Training, New York Times
Imagery Interventions in Sport, Jennifer Cumming, Richard Ramsey
The Mindful Athlete, George Mumford