An admitted shoe geek waxes philosophical about running, triathlon, and life in general.
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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Going mental -- training inside my head

In an ongoing theme, I've become reacquainted with something I used to do a lot of, but had kind of forgotten over the years of leaving endurance sports for a while and then re-entering that world. Mental training. Imagery.

We've all heard about the study where basketball players were divided into two groups -- one practiced free throws, the other only mentally practiced free throws -- the surprising result being that the group that only did mental practice improved more than the group that actually handled the ball.

I remember hearing about that study in psychology class (didn't everyone who went to college take Psych 101?), and I decided to practice mental imagery in my own training regimen. But basketball is a skill sport, tri isn't... Uh, right. There's a whole lot more to the mental side of tri and running than one would think, and if you're making a transition to bareform running, there's a whole lot of skill involved that isn't going to be automatic for quite a while.

A lot of my mental training was in the late evening, when I was laying in bed drifting off to sleep. I'd picture in my mind the perfect swim stroke, the perfect pedaling circle, the perfect run stride, feeling effortless in speed, relaxing everything that wasn't involved directly in making that speed. But the key isn't just imagining what it looks like, but how it feels, sounds, from inside. That smooth stride, where vision isn't bouncing at all, how everything feels like it's floating, barely touching the ground. Fluidity.

What is it that brought this to mind? Well, on my run yesterday in the Trail Gloves, where we had what seemed like the total gamut of weather (and where I looked skyward and said "Is THIS the best you've got?"), I was on pavement, and everything just hit right. Light foot contact, smooth stride, effortless propulsion, breathing easy... And I thought "this is what I'm supposed to be doing ALL the time." So I'm going to be retreating into my mind (and hopefully not getting lost) more often, visiting that place where performance is perfect.

I remembered the way to get there more often, and eventually all the time.

Get there mentally first.

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