Painting a Mental Picture During Workouts

It seems that almost every workout I do has what I call a low spot.  Or a hard spot.  A period of difficulty.

Basically, it’s that part of the workout when your legs are screaming, or your heart rate spikes and you feel like you’re going to die.  Sometimes you hit that wall where the constant headwind on a ride becomes so tough that you just want to stop.  It’s those times where you want to slow from a run to a walk.  And maybe even sit down.

Perhaps it’s just me, but it seems like no matter what my level of fitness, I always have a low point somewhere in most of my workouts.

There are lots of tools in my virtual toolbox for overcoming these times.  Sometimes I will make an on-the-fly adjustment to my swim set.  Other times I’ll pick a landmark and focus on cycling cleanly to it – only to pick another once I get there.  I have counted my strides on runs more often that I’d like to think (one time I counted 2000 strides on a run).

I think we all have strategies for taking our mind off the hurt, the pain, or the effort.  Shifting our mind off that stuff tends to allow us to put the pain aside.  Let’s not kid ourselves.  We have the pains or excess effort.  Triathletes often tend to be fairly good about pushing them aside, however.

There is one strategy that I have been using recently – and it might be a little strange in this context – visualization.  Many of us have heard that visualizing a race or a task is often a key to success.  I’ve seen athletes clearly running through the paces of a race before the gun fires.  Recently, while watching the Olympics, I saw skier Bode Miller doing this very thing – imagining the gates he’d have to navigate as part of the downhill or giant slalom or whatever race he was about to attempt.

But that’s not the kind of visualization I’m talking about.

No…my visualization tends to be the mental picture that I create of me in the midst of a race.  Take for example, when I’m out on a run – I’ve been struggling recently getting back into running shape, and to be frank, it’s been a tough battle for me.  Literally, every time I run now, I come across a patch of the run where I want to quit.  I slow way down.  I may walk some.  One way I deal with this is visualize or imagine that I’m in the middle of a race.

Recently, I’ve been picturing myself on the run at Rev3 Florida.  The run course for this race alights the Gulf of Mexico for a while and then tracks alongside a canal.  I can see that course in my mind’s eye just as clearly today as when I actually raced there.  So while I’m running and dealing with the pain associated with the run, I have been picturing myself on particular parts of that course.  I can “see” the spectators.  I “feel” the ocean breeze.  I “smell” the smells of the salt water.

And perhaps it’s a little crazy, but typically my legs feel a little lighter.  My pace pics back up.  My respiration becomes easier.  I feel like I have energy again.  Weird, right?

What do you do to brush the pain aside?  What are your strategies for getting through those tough workouts?