Lately, I’ve been keeping perfect images of running in my head while I’m out running. Lately, I’m obsessed with running (as you know). I’m pushing myself pretty hard with my first attempt at 100-mile race coming up. So, as I get tired, I pull up images of beautiful, efficient runners in my head. I try to emulate their movements, to allow my body to mimic theirs.
Recently, I’ve seen two great examples that have helped me – and not just in running.
A few weeks ago, I ran a 30K trail race. There were several other distances happening at the same time. We had a staggered start in order to space us out on the trail somewhat. We ran on a 10-mile loop. Because of how we were spaced, it was possible to pass or loop (or be looped) by people running a different distance race who’s pace was wildly different. In my last loop, as I was struggling down a very steep, muddy, technical section, I heard a pounding behind me. I turned to see a runner flying past. He wasn’t carefully picking his way through the rocks and muck. He wasn’t carefully placing each step to avoid slipping in the mud. He was just running and allowing his body to react. It reminded me of a great skier reacting to moguls.
The other image is from Africa. While riding in a taxi in Arusha, we passed a runner. I stared in amazement; I had never seen such beauty in running. He was tall and lean, and ran with a straight back and easy arms. I felt like I was watching him run in slow motion although his pace was quite fast. He spent so much time hanging in the air with each step. The effect was of lift and air and time. He looked suspended, like a marionette.
Both of these images are in stark contrast to how I usually feel. I am decidedly terrestrial.
Now, I know that just imagining perfection does not make me perfect! Thinking about great runners does not make me a great runner. But when I keep those images in my mind, my body reacts. My steps lighten just slightly, my torso becomes more upright, my chest opens and my shoulders drop. I may not be a great runner, but at least for a few moments I’m a better runner.
And I like these examples for other aspects of my life as well. When I’m exhausted, when I feel beaten down by obstacles, when I’m confused about picking exactly the right path, I call up these two images. I think about being light on my feet and simply reacting to what I encounter, rather than being paralyzed by trying to control every detail. I think about standing tall with my shoulders back so that I can breathe easy. I think about relentlessly moving forward with ease, about moving toward the destination without worrying about every single step.
No, they’re not perfect analogies, but from time to time they help me, both on the trail and off. What images do you call up when you need a boost?