Trail running is not just a physical challenge; it is also a mental journey through diverse terrains, elevations, obstacles and, if you are into ultra trail running, also spending many hours in the mountains. Visualization, the practice of creating vivid mental images, can significantly enhance a trail runner’s performance and overall experience. Here’s how visualization can be a powerful tool for trail runners:
1. Mental rehearsal:
Whenever I am at the start of a trail, I also try to see how the route will go. If the route is too long to see, I will look at Komoot (an app I use to make my routes) to prepare myself mentally on what is to come. I will look for steep ascents/ descents, where the more technical terrain might be and which parts will be more ‘flowing’. By mentally rehearsing these scenarios, I prepare my mind to respond calmly and confidently when for example I get to face more difficult terrain.
2. Enhanced focus and concentration:
Knowing what to expect on your path can help to split your training in different parts and to stay focused. It speaks for itself that it is easier to stay focused and remember small parts than a big one.
For example, I will also look if there are any cabins on my route. If there are, I will look for what I can expect on the trails until the cabin and once I reach the cabin I will take a little break and look for the next part.
3. Building confidence:
Especially when you are running in high alpine areas and you have loads of descents/ ascents to conquer, I highly recommend visualisation. When you are struggling or are having a tough time, take a small break and look for the path and how it goes up/ down the mountain. Visualising yourself running up/ down this path will give you the motivation and energy to keep pushing until you have reached your goal.
4. Managing Pain and Fatigue:
Lets hope you will never (or at least not too much, because we are still talking about trail running and a bit of suffering now and then is inevitable) experience pain/ suffering on the trails. But if you do, the mind-body connection can help runners cope with pain and fatigue. By imagining their muscles working efficiently, feeling light and strong, runners can create a mind-body connection that diminishes the perception of pain, allowing them to push through challenging moments.
5. Post-Run Reflection:
Analysing your trail run when you are done can really help you become a better trail runner. I am not talking about writing a long report of what you did or make a presentation with the photos you took, but think (or write down) both successful moments and areas for improvement. This reflective practice aids in learning and growth and will help you become a better trail runner.