Visualizing Your Way to Success

“Running is 80 percent mental.” ~ Joan Benoit Samuelson, American marathon runner, gold medal at 1984 Summer Olympics

If you have ever watched a sporting event, live or on television, you have probably seen visualization techniques at work. Gymnasts, figure skaters, and downhill skiers (among others) will often take a few minutes pre-performance to go over their routines or the course, using mental images to trigger muscle memory cues to achieve success. In baseball, the on-deck hitter is taking swings not only to loosen up, but to mentally SEE the ball hit the bat.

Since a successful performance during a marathon depends mostly on endurance, how can the runner use visualization to improve their effort? The secret lies in creating a mental image of easy and efficient running, and of achieving your target goal, whether that goal is based on just completing the event or hitting a specific finishing time.

Here is how to start this process:
– Find a space when you can be undisturbed for about ten minutes.
– Sit in a comfortable chair or lie on the floor, and just RELAX.
– Close your eyes and breathe deeply, in through your nose and deep into your belly. Hold for a count of one-two, and then slowly exhale through your nose. Hold for a count of one-two, and then repeat ten to twenty times. While you’re doing this, notice any muscle that may be feeling tense and will them to relax.
– When you have achieved a level of calm, think back to a time when you had your most enjoyable run. Remember how effortlessly you ran, how the wind and sun felt on your face, and how your body seemed to move almost without effort like a well-oiled machine.
– Now picture yourself at the start line for the Eugene marathon. The gun goes off, and there you are in the crowd, moving with efficiency, gently weaving in and out of the people around you.
– It’s a beautiful morning as you head south and then north on Amazon Drive. See the children cheering for you by the side of the road? Give them a high five!
– Now you’re at mile eight and climbing up East 19th Avenue; but it’s NOT a hill, just a gentle ascent because YOU are unstoppable. That spectator with the Power Button sign? Punch it and keep on cruising!
– Run east along the Willamette river; listen to the water as it flows steadily. Embrace the view and embrace the weather; it does not matter what the conditions may be because you are an awesome marathon runner and can handle anything.
– Now pass through Alton Baker Park past Autzen Stadium, and west along the river with the wind at your back and beneath your wings. You are still running smoothly, light on your feet.
– Here’s the Owosso bridge, up and over the river, acknowledging the spectators with a friendly wave – they are there for YOU.
– Heading south and east along the river now, with folks out for a stroll in Skinner Butte Park, children playing; breathe it all in as you roll past.
– You are at about mile 25.5 when you turn onto Agate Street, still moving well. You pass the mile 26 marker, and take a slight right into Hayward Field.
– You cruise around that last turn, down the straightaway past the grandstands, and your image flashes on the giant screen.
– As you hit the finish line, the crowd goes WILD!
– If you have a time goal in mind, SEE the finish line clock displaying that time as you cross.


You now have a movie, a mental image you can play back as often as you like – and every time, it ends with your success. Whenever you feel nervous about the event or doubt your preparation or readiness, take a few minutes to play back your personal success video.

I used this process for several months prior to my first Eugene marathon, playing parts of the movie – especially the finish – in my head as I fell asleep. I believe it was instrumental in recording a marathon PR by almost 17 minutes, and securing my first Boston Marathon qualifying time.

Please note: while visualization can be a powerful tool to help you succeed, it is not a magic bullet. It does not eliminate or reduce the need for proper physical training, nutrition, and recovery.

Bill Hood

Location: Aloha, OR.

A span of forty-eight hours in March of 2010 took me from a non-runner buying my first pair of running shoes to signing up for a half marathon as a charity runner for the American Cancer Society, inspired by my late sister-in-law’s battle with pancreatic cancer. In very short order, I found myself hooked on running; the feeling of moving under my own power along road and trail, the friendship and support among fellow runners, and the challenges of training and running endurance events have strengthened my sense of self-worth and accomplishment. As an RRCA-certified distance coach, I enjoy helping others to succeed and find the joy this sport can bring. I used to think people who ran marathons were on the other side of insane. I’ve now crossed over to the dark side.

Bill Hood