For those of you who’ve read my blog before, it’ll come as no surprise when I tell you that my mind often wanders off on its own when I’m running. We generally get home at about the same time afterwards, so it’s not too much of a big deal. One thing I sometimes find myself doing when I feel tired or my legs start to get heavy is to use visualisation as a way of spurring me on a bit. It’s not something that I consciously steer my mind towards, it just pops up at opportune moments to give me a nudge in the right direction, like a sweaty Obi Wan Kenobi. I think this is something most of us do to some extent, whether we realise it or not, so I thought it might be nice to talk about it, seeing as we’re such great friends now.
On the home stretch of a recent 10k I was enjoying myself but finding that a few impromptu hills had sapped a little bit of my pace. I wasn’t down to a slow jog, but I’d lost just a bit of the zip, zap, shibby and ping* from my stride. It was at that point that I became aware of a cyclist over my right shoulder, heading in the same direction as me but around 50ft behind. Now, I should make it clear from the start that said cyclist was a lady in her twilight years, pedalling at the “mind how you go” pace associated with sitcom vicars and village bobbies. But the fact that she wasn’t a lithe MAMIL*** didn’t prevent me from feeling just a teensy bit pleased with myself when I realised that she was only very gradually closing the gap. But gradual or not, the gap was closing. I couldn’t have that – what if she was a sitcom vicar? I’ve seen enough sitcoms to know that the moment she drew level with me and offered a cheerful “good morning”, my trousers would fall down and I’d find myself inadvertently making a series of increasingly mortifying comments about her fat, bearded mother.
Anyway, it was at this point that I started using visualisation as a way of helping me escape my impending social doom (or maybe I just wanted to stay ahead of the cyclist to see if I could. You decide). As I plodded on, I suddenly found myself imagining that it wasn’t a bike that I was racing against but in fact a horse, a speeding mare galloping along behind me like a clippety-cloppety missile, an equine exocet. As motivational images go I’m not sure why this is any better than a bike, but it worked, and I suddenly found a new turn of speed in my previously heavy legs. As I powered through the gears (eh? Now I’m a bike? Even I’m getting confused by me now) I felt myself draw further away from the imaginary sound of thundering hooves, until after a quarter of a mile or so I turned left and headed down a footpath, leaving my four-legged (two-wheeled) pursuer to carry on their journey to eat some hay (posh biscuits). Typing it out now, it seems like a very silly little piece of brain-theatre even by my standards, but at the time it worked. It helped me to access untapped stores of energy and power through the last bit of my run where it would otherwise have ended in a slowish jog.
I’ve used these techniques for as long as I can remember. When I first started running, my usual route for quite a while was 1.5 miles out-and-back, which usually took me something like 17 minutes. I was new to the running lark, and my legs weren’t happy about my choice of hobby (they’d much rather I stayed at home and played backgammon or learned to speak Esperanto). More often than not they’d turn to stone halfway through my run just to teach me a lesson, and I’d be on the verge of slowing to a walk. But there were a few occasions when my brain leapt to the rescue, and suddenly from the waist down I was a steam-train****, my beleaguered legs suddenly replaced by gleaming pistons, tirelessly carrying me the rest of my journey.
Sure, these visualisations are all a bit silly and outlandish, but that’s what makes them work. Somehow I don’t think imagining that my legs were 5% less tired or that I’d eaten one less piece of fudge the previous weekend would have the same effect.
Next week I’ll imagine the horse to have pointy teeth and a foul temper, and see if I can snare a PB.
Now, readers, it’s over to you. I may live to regret this, but I’d love to hear some of the weird and wonderful things you conjure up to help you on a run. Or maybe, like that whole “eating trifle in the bath” fiasco, it’s just me.
*All real words** ** Okay, except “ping”. I made that one up. *** Middle-Aged Man In Lycra. See, cycling has its own acronyms too. They’re just as odd as us lot, just with much more expensive toys and slightly sillier shoes. **** Not in a rudey way.
PS: This weekend I’ll be at the Adidas Thunder Run 24, staggering and wetting myself around as many laps of the 10k course as I can manage, along with my chums from the Runners Forum 24hr Trotters. I’ll be there from Friday night through to (probably) Monday morning, so if you see me about please come and say hi or give me some money.
I’m not collecting for charity or anything – I just like money.
Don’t forget, you can follow my further antics on twitter @borntoplodblog or delve into more foolishness at www.borntoplod.com