Mental imagery can be a great aid to improve your running and, more importantly, your race performance. We are all limited by the physical and genetic limitations that we were born with, but by using our minds to visualize better performance, it is possible to actually do better. I've been amazed many times on runs as my pace quickened and any effort melted away, just because I started thinking about a particular song or mental image.
One helpful hint that I read somewhere about how to run up hills better was to visualize a tether leading from you to a strong looking runner ahead of you. As you keep your eyes fixed on the runner you have selected, you imagine the runner "pulling" you up the hill. It is a trick that has helped me run hills better in many races.
Lately, I've used a similar mental image to help on regular training runs when my pace starts to slow.The image has developed into a detailed fantasy that runs through my mind as I run. Although the whole idea I'm about to present is a little outrageous, it has worked for me. I hope you enjoy it!
I'm about a third of the way into a tough half marathon. I've got the feeling that it just isn't going to be my day, when suddenly, a rope appears around my chest. It's tied in front, with two long lengths ahead of me leading to two runners up ahead. Side by side, with ropes over their shoulders, they pull me along for the ride. What seemed like a tough pace, suddenly becomes easier.
But who are these two guys up ahead? They look kind of old - at least older than me, but I can see that they are strong runners. They have slight builds but muscular calves and thighs -- obviously those of seasoned long distance runners. I manage to keep pace with them with only a slight tension on the ropes leading ahead.
As we start to climb a grade leading to a tough looking hill, I feel the ropes tighten. The runner up ahead on the left glances over his shoulder at me. Oh my gosh! It's Frank Shorter! As I try my best to stay on pace, Frank looks back again and with a sneer yells "C'mon lardass, get moving!" Lardass? I'm trying my best! I always imagined that Frank would be a nicer guy. Lardass? Oh well, he's helping me keep moving.
So who's the guy on the right? There's something familiar about that gait. With his free hand flailing a bit I suddenly realize that my other running helper is none other than Bill Rodgers. Amazingly, I manage to keep up with the two elites as we climb over the top of the hill.
It's now past the halfway point of the race. With the two "helpers" up ahead, pulling me along, I'm doing OK, but I can feel the heat getting to me. The ropes start to tighten again. Bill looks back and shouts "My grandmother runs this course faster than you!" Well, if I had Bill's family running genetics, I might be able to do better, but I'll do my best to keep up. Frank gives me a menacing glance back again. "C'mon old guy! We're 10 years older than you! You need to keep on pace!"
Old guy? I don't care who these guys are. I'm gonna show them! I feel the ropes slacken. I shorten my stride a bit but quicken my pace. The ropes start to droop more and more. Bill looks back with a grin. Suddenly, the rope is dragging on the ground. I'm gaining on them! I loop a thumb around each rope and start moving up closer to my former helpers. With the ropes now dragging behind me I squeeze between them and start pushing ahead. "Whoa!" shouts Frank. "Look at him go!" adds Bill.
Now I'm ahead of them and the ropes start to tighten behind me. I'm actually starting to pull them along! Suddenly, I feel a jerk on the rope. I look over my shoulder and see that Bill has lost his footing and is being dragged by the rope he insists on holding. After a few yards he gives up and lets go. Frank, a bit more persistent, starts trying to pull me back. "I thought you were trying to help me!" I shout. Frank manages to get his feet out in front of him. With his shoes smoking, he leans rearward to hold me back. I'm feeling more powerful with every stride. Frank finally gives up and lands on his rear behind me. "Who's the lardass now?" I gleefully shout.
I can see the finish in front of me. With ropes whipping wildly behind me, I find my finish line sprint. I raise my arms in victory and cross the line with a new half mary PR. Thanks Frank and Bill. I couldn't have done it without you.
Yea, I know. The whole idea is ridiculous. But it works!