Mental preparation is a crucial part of accomplishing running goals.
I forget things. Maddening little habit, isn't it. But forget I do. In fact, there was actually a day a couple of years ago that I literally forgot whether I had run earlier in the day. A 34-year veteran runner and I could not recall whether I had laced 'em up that day. Maddening.
I've been working on my little "short-coming" very hard lately. I cannot blame this on age, since I've always been a little scatter-brained (no comments!). But I've decided to really work on my focus and my "mind's eye." And when it's working, it works pretty well.
Here's what I do; I visualize whatever it is I'm trying to recall or remember. I mean REALLY visualize it. I literally watch myself do something that I am supposed to do. For example, I have a habit of forgetting my wallet. But when I both say out loud "Remember your wallet" AND daydream picking up my wallet and shoving it in my back left pocket, it seems my percentage of remembering improves a decent amount. Not always, but better.
So how does this relate to running? Have you ever heard the expression "it's 50 percent physical and 90 percent mental?" Almost all professional athletes spend hours in the physical pursuit of their sport, but not nearly all spend even a fraction of that time visualizing the ball hitting the bat or the swoosh of the three-point shot as it clears the net.
Runners are similar in how they approach physical and mental preparation. We usually have the physical part down pretty well. But to mentally prepare for a run or a race is to use that "mind's eye" to put you in the thick of the kick, in the lean at the tape, or in the drive past the marathon Wall. Running a "personal best" is much the same pursuit as me remembering my wallet. Visualize it. Daydream it. Create an environment that allows the body to see it happening.
I am not talking about spending hours a week in some zen state, lying on your back with your legs firmly tucked behind your neck while sounds of whales gently permeate the interior of your home – unless you're into that sort of thing. But what I am talking about is some old-fashioned healthy daydreaming about what you want to have happen. Nothing wrong with that!
When Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute mile barrier on May 6, 1954, he opened the flood-gates of people who finally believed it was possible to run that fast. Australian John Landy soon destroyed Bannister's mark, just 45 days later, by more than a full second. He believed it and visualized it because it had been done. The feat has been achieved countless times since then. The current world best mile mark is 3:43.13. That's a whole lotta believing.
Could you or I visualize ourselves to a sub 3:43? I doubt it. Visualization only works well when you are daydreaming in the world of probabilities. Hey, I'd love to be Prince Charming, but have you seen my horse? What I do know and do readily practice is to use my mind's eye to get me where my body can go, but my mind doesn't quite accept yet. The more I see myself doing it, and then think I did it, the more my body will accept that as realistic feedback and actual ability. That 90 percent mental thing? It really works.
So whether it's remembering to grab your wallet, keys, or glasses, or it's that you can finish a 5k in under 30-minutes or scale the marathon Wall, your mind's eye is there to help you see it and then do it. But don't discount a healthy dose of whale singing. They have some nice harmonies – if you're into that sort of thing.
Former Lock Haven University stand-out runner Andrew Shearer is the Middletown Athletic Club secretary/treasurer. Shearer has been running since 1978.