“To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” Steve Prefontaine
Visualization: formation of mental visual images; act or process of interpreting in visual terms.
Today’s workout for my 14-year old son was 5 x 800 meters on the track at 2:50 (5:40 mile pace) with a 6 minute active (walking) recovery (about 1:1 work to recovery ratio). Temperature was about 40F. With his first indoor track meet in two weeks, but his championship meets not until late February, we wanted to rebuild from all the cross country racing with aerobic and threshold runs, as well as some speed development work. Today’s workout was a threshold (AT) workout.
Running 2:50 for the 800 requires 85 splits, and as my son passed 400 in 87, negative thoughts flashed through his head “oh no, here we go again,” and he struggled on the second lap in 90 to finish the first repetition in 2:57, seven seconds off the target pace.
During the recovery walk, I told him that his fitness was better than 6 minute mile pace, and that he should focus mentally even if he’s not feeling well or tired, and push himself in practice. We again spoke about visualization. And I told him that he’s capable of running these in 2:50. I did reduce the workout from 5 to 4 repetitions.
Running the second 800, he passed the 400 in 86, and he noticed a few kids and adults watching his workout. He picked up the pace and ran an 81 to complete the 800 in 2:47. More impressive than the absolute time – three seconds faster then his target 2:50 – was the huge negative split.
As we walked for recovery, I reminded him that his fitness level was the same as on the first repetition, and asked him what happened. He explained that the people watching his workout at the edge of the track reminded him of a couple of epic mile races the past two outdoor track seasons, as he was head-to-head with nationally ranked runners and his teammates were cheering him down the finish stretch. I shared with him how I used to visualize during middle and high school workouts, and “fill” empty stadiums with friends and competitors alike, and “stage” workouts or races in my mind. The images were so powerful I did not feel the pain of workouts and was able to push through any perceived limits.
He ran the third 800 in 2:48 (84/84 even splits). On the fourth and final 800, he again crossed the 400 at 84, and while running, he stripped his gloves and hat and tossed them on the infield. He was determined to run faster. And he ran an 84/83 negative split for a 2:47.
In summary, after a 2:57 with a positive split and negative mental imagery, he averaged 2:47 on the next three with negative or even splits and positive mental imagery. And he turned around what could have been confidence-eroding workout into a confidence-boosting session, all with the power of visualization.