As I lay in savasana, AKA corpse pose, at the end of a yoga class the other day, I found myself reflecting on an old cross-country ritual called visualization. Much like savasana, it requires you to lie on the ground on your back and let your muscles soften as your mind engages. My coach would lead the exercise every Friday after practice, narrating the next morning’s 5K race step by step. The process went a bit like this…
We rowdy, gangly runners would filter into my coach’s high school classroom after running and stretching. He’d talk race goals and give us a pep talk, then tell us it was time for visualization. We’d giggle and settle into our spots on the floor, poking one another and probably poking fun at our coach, too. Yet as soon as he started talking, everyone would fall silent.
First we would follow his instructions to tense up individual muscle groups—flexing calves, clenching fists, squinting eyes—then we’d let each loose, relaxing completely. That’s when the visualizing began. My coach would walk us through our race day, describing everything from our crack-of-dawn bus ride to our warm-up jog in vivid detail. Weather conditions, pre-race jitters, the size of the starting pack, he covered it all. Eyes shut, I could almost picture the muddy hill he described at mile 1 or the long, unshaded finishing stretch. After mentally crossing the finish line, I always felt prepared to reach it in real life.
Was this process a bit much for a 5K? Maybe for some, but I took my races seriously and appreciated the thorough walk-through. Now that I’m running marathons, I think visualization is even more helpful. At the Chicago Marathon expo in the fall, I plunked down on the carpet amid a throng of fellow racers to watch a video that fast-forwards through all 26.2 miles of the course. Nothing calms my nerves quite like knowing what’s in store on race day—the more I can picture it, the more prepared I feel. Hey, my cross country coach was a pretty smart guy.
YOUR TURN: Have you ever tried visualization or something similar? What rituals prepare you for a big race day?