As I explored in a previous blog, mindful thought has been increasingly linked to stronger running performance (and sports-based performance in general), and this notion is unsurprising, given the common observation that running is 90 percent mental.

It is true; thoughts and emotions play a significant part in a run or race — in most cases, as we are toeing the threshold between finishing and quitting — and that said, if you find that you are deficient in this regard, it is important to shore up your thought process sooner than later. Otherwise, you may find yourself getting frustrated and even disillusioned to running as a whole.

Visualization is a great avenue for both mental run or race preparation and for general mental muscle memory, so to speak — the process of embracing a negative thought or emotion, then allowing it to fade away in favor of a mantra or repeated positive impulse.

Knowing the course

It is probably easiest to visualize a run or race when you have a clear mental picture of the course. Maybe this is a consistently challenging loop that you like to do on the weekends, or perhaps it is an annual 5k course on which you hope to run a new personal record. Whatever the case, take time to find a quiet location, relax into your breath, and imagine the course from start to finish; walk yourself through it, simulate how it will feel when the run or race begins — the sound of the starting gun, the cheer of spectators, the pulse of adrenaline that sometimes accompanies the first beep of your watch. Going through these motions now will only make them easier to process in the moment; put simply, if you keep telling yourself you can do it, you will eventually believe it.

Knowing what scares you

Typically, we turn to running-based visualization when we are nervous about an aspect of an upcoming run or race. You might be aware of a particularly painful hill in the latter half of the course, or maybe the mere concept of competition frazzles you from the start. At times, weather can also contribute to these feelings — usually extreme cold or hot conditions.

Like the previous section, use visualization to construct these elements or obstacles before they are even in front of you. If needed, exaggerate your thoughts so they fit a worse case scenario (just make sure to avoid psyching yourself out), and determine how you would handle yourself in this state, let alone a milder one. This process will usually harden you to these potentially nightmarish aspects, and in the end you may find that they were not worth the stress to begin with.