Staying motivated to do your best during a race can be challenging. Overcoming mental barriers is no small feat. Some runners use visualization during races to conquer negative thoughts before they even start. I tried visualization for the first time during a 10k, and it was an experience that I will not easily forget.
About a mile or so into the road race, I noticed that a police car was driving next to me. I didn’t think much about it at the time other than feeling slightly awkward running next to the moving car.
At first, I just assumed that the officer was driving the route to keep an eye on the race since the roads were not closed to traffic. As the police car maintained its slow pace, I began to wonder if he was there for another reason. Maybe I was the last runner. Maybe that was why he was staying with me. I wondered what it meant to be the last runner in a race. Immediately, my anxiety rose with the thought of this new added pressure. Would he be driving next to me or right behind me during the remainder of the race?
Several minutes later, my worry subsided when the police car sped up on the winding road and disappeared. By this time, the runners in front of me had thinned out. Being unfamiliar with the course, I began to think that I might lose my way if I lost sight of them completely. I kicked up my pace to keep them in view.
Before long, the police car was there again. As I ran closer to it, I decided to use the police car to help me. I visualized a tether from the car to me, as if it was pulling me along to maintain the pace. I tried to keep the distance constant between me and the car. At times, I had to speed up to make this happen. As I visualized the car tugging me along, it became almost like a comfort item. I imagined that the cop was there to support me. He was like an old friend, riding along just to keep me going. Engrossed in my visualization, the miles passed quickly.
As I was nearing the last leg of the race and approaching a turn, the police car slowed to a stop. I decided to maintain my pace and pass the car. Just then, I overheard the cop yell to a race volunteer who was directing the runners, “There’s just a few more stragglers.”
Excuse me? What did he just say? I couldn’t believe it! I knew what straggler meant. It’s synonymous with snail, dawdler, and slowpoke. Who was he calling a straggler? Immediately, my adrenaline soured as I came to grips with my anger. I was not a straggler, and neither was anyone else in this race!
I was crushed. For miles, I had used this police officer and his car as my motivation to keep going. With one thoughtless sentence, my confidence was shaken. Why did he have to use the word stragglers? He could have just said “runners.”
Anyway, at that moment I had a choice to make. I could either believe the lie that I was not a real runner, that I was nothing more than a snail and slowly make my way to the finish line utterly defeated. Or, I could remind myself of the truth, that I was a real runner, and finish the race strong. I chose the latter and I suspect that my slightly bruised ego gave me a little push to get to the finish line faster.
So, maybe my visualization did not end exactly as I would have liked that day but using it kept me focused and made the race more enjoyable. In the end, I ran a personal best. Perhaps the key to using visualizations in races is to remember that they are just that, visualizations. In your heart, you still need to believe in yourself. Whether you are running in the front of the pack or the back, you have just as much value as anyone else participating in the race. You are not a snail. You are a runner, and that is an amazing thing.