week we hear from Eric Orton of TrainWithEric.com. Eric is an elite-level
coach who trains some of the top MTB racers in the U.S. Eric is the former
Director of Fitness at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, a
certified Functional Training Specialist, a Certified Sports Hypnotist, and
holds coaching certifications from both USA Triathlon and USA Cycling.
I often race against this one other girl. We are both closely matched but she
seems to come out on top at most of our races. Now, when she passes me in a
race I can't help getting demoralized and thinking that she is going to beat me
again. How can I stay positive and more focused in this situation?
I love this question because it gives me the opportunity to talk about one of
the easiest and most powerful forms of performance enhancement: visualization.
We have all heard of visualization and have probably at some point watched
Olympic skiers preparing for their run down the hill doing visualization.
Their head is bobbing back and forth, going in crazy circles, all with their
eyes closed. They are visualizing every corner, bump, turn, and
"seeing” exactly how they want to perform.
is not often talked about in endurance sports and I would go even further and
say it can and should be used in any type of desired outcome, sporting or in
life. This is because to achieve goals, you have to see yourself doing
so. To improve, or in your case, be able to bridge a gap in your race and
over take your competitor, you have to be able to clearly picture what you need
to do, how you need to react, and how you will perform in a certain race
situation. And this includes how you deal with your pre-race mental talk,
now that your rival has that mental edge.
overwhelming scientific and anecdotal evidence which demonstrates the
undeniable fact that visualization can improve your sports performances - there
are numerous scientific studies which have shown its effectiveness.
I'd like to share
one classic example of the power of visualization with you. During the Vietnam
War, there was a Colonel who was captured and incarcerated in a POW camp for
seven years - five and a half of which were spent in solitary confinement.
Prior to the war, this Colonel was a golfer with a handicap of four. To
keep himself from going crazy in prison, every day he would visualize playing a
round of golf. He would play each shot, and each hole in his mind, and every
day he'd play a different golf course.
When he was
finally released and returned to the USA, shortly afterward he was invited to
play in a celebrity Pro-Am tournament, and despite being underweight and
suffering from malnutrition from his ordeal, he hit a round of 76 ... right on
his handicap, despite not having held a golf club for over seven years!
works because it has a measurable, physiological effect on our body. In fact,
neurologically, your body can't tell the difference between a 'real'
experience, and a vividly imagined one. You consciously know one experience is
real and the other is imagined, but at the cellular level, your body can't tell
the difference. So you can literally practice bridging that gap in a race
scenario, in a chair! You can practice how you WANT to respond when she
accelerates and tries to make a break.
Because there is a
muscular response to visualized activity, it makes it possible to 'program in'
desired racing scenarios and even emotional responses prior to your race when
you know she will be toeing the line with you. In other words you can 'program
in' to your body at a cellular level, a 'muscle memory' of how you want your
body and mind to perform come race day.
is not hard and there is really no way to do it wrong, you can just get better
at it. Effective visualization takes patience, consistency, and great
attention to detail. I instruct my athletes to sit in a comfortable
chair, close their eyes and create a "movie” in their mind’s eye.
This movie starts at your pre-race warm-up or whenever you feel is necessary to
deal with your negative self-talk. (You can even make a movie for your
training sessions.) As your eyes remain closed, with your mind’s eye, see
yourself at the race acting, performing, AND thinking in a positive manner.
Make it as real as possible and detailed as possible. Hear the gears change as
you attack. Feel the lactate build in your legs as you respond and
overcome her attack. Experience your breathing, see yourself bridging the
gap, and create the success you want in this movie. Again, start from
pre-race, all the way to the finish line, seeing every part of the race that
results in your desired outcome. As you are doing this, notice the
feeling you get inside yourself, of what it feels like to perform well and to
achieve everything you want. As you get comfortable with this feeling,
attach a mantra to this feeling and repeat these words whenever you need to be
effective in training, racing and in future visualization sessions. It is
very important to always use the SAME mantra because your body can now respond
in real life to this emotional feeling that took place during visualization.
This technique is very powerful, so make it fun so you look forward to
doing it. You now have the ability to create whatever outcome you desire.
I will end with another true story. I was coaching an Olympic Distance
triathlete trying to qualify for the World Championships and during her
visualization movie, I specifically told her to see her goal time on the clock
as she crossed the finished line. She performed this "movie” in her
mind for a week leading up to her race. On race day she qualified for
Worlds with the exact time she saw in her visualization sessions.