Wednesday, September 22, 2010


In my 'no holds barred' approach to improving my mental running game, I have settled on a few tools to help me overcome some of the ways my brain limits my performance.  My last post introduced the Fearless athlete workbook, which I continue to work through on a daily basis.  It's helping me understand some of my issues, and I hope will help me discover new ways to deal with them.

I'm also exploring a more touchy-feely method involving hypnosis and visualization.  I would not have considered trying this approach if it weren't for my brother.  A while back, he divulged to me that he had used hypnosis to help him prepare for big football games in college.  I believe he read about how to do this in a book.  This news kind of surprised me since I don't really see my brother as the type that would consider such things (think big, beefy, football player with a tough exterior).  It also intrigued me enough to look for similar books and tools related to running.

While searching the web for such a thing, I found a website with a program designed for middle and long distance runners.  I downloaded the mp3 version of this a while back, but finally used it for the first time on Monday.  Let me just say that I was blown away by what happened during the 30-minute hypnotic visualization exercise.

To start, Craig Townsend (cred. = Diploma in Hypnotherapy), who has a pretty cool accent, lured me into a hypnotic state with focus on my breathing and a countdown from 5 to 1.  I didn't feel like I was hypnotized at any time during this process, though I'm not sure I would know what that feeling is anyway.  After I was under, he started telling me what a great runner I was--how I was fast and strong, etc.  This went on for some time and then we started an exercise where I focused on my upcoming marathon.  It seemed like this part lasted forever, but I worked on staying relaxed and really tried to visualize what the race would look and feel like.

Using his guided imagery cues, I was at the starting line and focused on feeling the excitement.  I've run Chicago before, so I have the advantage of really being able to envision the starting line and the parts of the course that I can remember.  I felt the people's shoulders rubbing against me and felt myself hopping around to stay warm as we all listened to the music and announcer waiting for the gun.  Then, I was starting the race, running along the packed streets of Chicago, taking in the energy and enthusiasm of the other runners and spectators.  I was with a pack of runners and my running felt really smooth and easy.  I focused on feeling the rhythm of the pace while not being at all concerned with the actual pace I was running.  In fact, I don't even recall whether I was wearing my Garmin.

Eventually, he directed me to think about being at the half-way point and I pictured the big clock as I crossed over the timing mat.  It read 1:21:45, the same time I passed the halfway point in the Twin Cities Marathon last October.  I felt great and was still with a large pack of women.  A little later, he said I was 3/4 way through the race, and I thought about that point being about the time I would take my last gu.  I always see that act as a big relief and milestone in a marathon.  I took my gu and swigged some water and had nothing else to worry about.

He then told me that there was a competitor up ahead that I could catch if I worked hard.  I started focusing on her and began to increase my effort slightly.  I finally caught and passed her and was feeling strong.  Soon, it was time for him to guide me through that final push to the finish.  At this point, my mind was so engaged in the exercise that I was really there at the race.

I saw the final turn into Grant Park ahead and could see and hear the cheering crowds as I approached.  I had completely lost track of my time and was eager to see the finish clock as I started pumping my arms to start my finishing kick.  As I rounded the corner, I saw the clock and it read 2:42:30.  I literally watched the seconds tick away on that clock as I ran toward the finish line.  I felt the crowd's excitement as I watched the clock tick off the seconds--40, 41, 42.  The emotion rushed over my body in a huge wave as I finally realized what I was accomplishing in that moment.  I raised my arms as I crossed the finish mat in 2:42:53.  I dropped my arms and held my face in my hands as spontaneous tears welled up in my eyes, and I began to cry with absolute delight and bewilderment.  I saw my Mom and The Genius come running up to me and hugged them both, still sobbing.

It was then that I realized I was actually crying my eyes out, laying on my bed with my pink iPod Nano plugged into my head.  Craig Townsend talked me out of the hypnotic state, and I sat there for a few minutes pondering what had just happened.  It was all so real and crazy.

Visualization has never worked for me before, and I think that's because I wasn't sure how to get into the right mind state.  I have no idea whether this exercise, which I will do on a daily basis up until race day, is going to help me, but running a 2:42:53 marathon, even in my dreams, was pretty damned cool.                        


  1. Wow! I love this - and through your writing, I felt like I was right there with you (and that's about as close to that fast of a finish as I will EVER be, LOL).

  2. Hey girl! That sounds really awesome, so would you recommend that? Worth the $? I checked out the site and was thinking of giving it a shot..

  3. J, very in interesting. Thanks for sharing. As a Division 1 collegiate running coach I've tried various mental training techniques with student-athletes but have never gone as far as pod-casts.

    I feel this line summed up crossing the finish line of a marathon so perfectly " began to cry with absolute delight and bewilderment." It is in that moment alone that we decidedly vow to take on 26.2 again.

    I can't wait to watch you cross the line on 10.10.10! May this time shine brightly for you on the clock that day. Best, L

  4. Monicac2, well, it may be as close as I'll come as well, but thinking that way will only ensure that I won't get there. So, the sky's the limit for us both!

    Ariana, well it's a $30 investment, so you have to weigh whether or not that's too steep. I felt like it was worth the money to try it out. The narrator states that it takes about a month for most people to see results, but I have to say that I felt lucky to have this little "breakthrough" in my first session. So, I say give it a try. It can't hurt, right?

    L, the more I disclose this experience to others, the more I find that these types of "scripted" visualization exercises are widely used particularly for high school and college athletes. Having been neither, I had no way of knowing. The marathon is powerful and emotional. I feel lucky to experience that every time I run one and now, even when I just dream about running one;)

    Thanks for your positive vibes!

  5. That was something! Sounded like you were right there running the race. A bit like the movie Inception where the dreams seem real. I'll be interested to see how you go with this. I can just imagine you seeing those numbers on the clock as you approach the finish in Chicago.

  6. Wow, this is very cool. I believe in the power of visualization but am a cynical soul so it's hard for me to get down and do it. Sounds like this tape is a real winner, especially since it's so wonderfully focused for the sport (use that last gu, catch that babe up front). Might just have to get it.

  7. Thanks for the post! I'm not a cynic on the power of hypnosis, as for many individuals it's extremely effective. While I haven't yet tried it as yet (though am strongly considering it based on your experience) my mother successfully and permanently quit smoking 25-years ago thanks to a single one hour session with a good hypno-therapist.