Running Hypnosis: Run Faster By Unleashing Your Inner Cheetah
This weekend I was out as usual for my long slow run. For one reason and another it’s been a while but I’m now back over the ten mile mark and pretty pleased with that, especially given the freezing weather and strong winds we’ve been faced with for many weeks. Roll on spring and some warmer times and sunshine!
During my long runs I employ all sorts of psychological running strategies to help me keep going and complete my scheduled distances. I call upon everything from really associating with what I am doing, to dissociating and letting my mind wander, thinking about specific challenges, setting and imagining goals, breaking it down into each individual mile, calculating how much of my run I’ve completed and a whole host of other techniques depending on how I am running and what is the most useful at the time.
As long runs get longer, and getting comfortable with being uncomfortable and fatigue become things, I’ve always found it important to be able to manage that little voice in my head that comes out and can start to plant some negative seeds in my mind if left unabated.
Throughout my running over the last twenty years or more, I don’t think I’ve ever particularly regarded myself as a speed merchant (although I’m happy to share my sprint finish victory story and how fast I ran when chased by a chicken). My style of running and my body seem to be more suited to slower, longer stuff. That said, I’ve hit some faster milestones that I’m pleased with for myself, such as a sub-20 minute 5km, sub 40 minute 10k and sub 90 minute half marathon. I’m pretty pleased with those personal bests.
Running fast is a personal thing. It isn’t necessarily about being faster than everyone else; it’s about running harder and faster (in a safe fashion) to reach what you personally are capable of. It requires effort, persistence and the right mindset to push on (even when it gets uncomfortable).
In this article I’m covering a sports psychology strategy involving mental imagery that has been used by a world champion. It’s something I’ve used myself when I need a hard, fast burst, like when we run at bootcamp and there’s an element of competition. There will always be plenty who can run faster than me (and plenty I can run faster than, for that matter), yet it’s about doing the best with where you are and what you’ve got, to achieve that and run faster. As well as taking care of the physical aspects of running and training, you also need to work on the mindset and psychological side if you want to achieve your best.
Learning From a World Champion
A while back I was watching a documentary about the 1991 World Athletics Championships and the intense rivalry and level of competition between long jumpers Mike Powell and Carl Lewis.
I can still remember watching Carl Lewis on the TV back then. He was a formidable athlete and seemed to win just about everything he entered. Going into the long jump at the Championships he was a two time Olympic Gold Medalist, two time World Champion and had been undefeated in the long jump for ten years. He had even set a 100 metre world record a few day earlier. That’s some impressive record of running and jumping right there!
In the long jump final, Lewis led for the first four rounds (of 6) and had set a new championship record along the way. Then, in the fifth round Powell jumped 8.95m to break a world record that had stood for over twenty years. Wow! At the time I’m writing this his world record still stands (that is, no athlete in the last thirty years has managed to better it).
In the documentary, Powell described how he would use visualisation (mental imagery) to produce his gold medal, world record long jump performance. To prepare himself mentally and to get in the zone for peak performance, Powell would imagine the entire jump in his mind, assigning different animals to the different elements of the run and jump.
He would imagine starting his run up powerfully charging like a bull, then galloping like a horse, then accelerating like a cheetah to build up speed into his take off. It clearly worked because in that jump he not only took first place but set a new world record of 8.95m. A pretty powerful and successful us of the mind, and mental imagery, to perform.
I think this also demonstrates the importance of psychology and your mindset in producing the best performances you are capable of. Most runners I know spend a lot of time on the physical aspects (like actual training, stretching and so forth), and even spend a lot of time on selecting the right kit (who doesn’t love a running gadget) but, the amount of time spent on developing mindset and the psychological aspects of running, training and competing often get overlooked (even though every successful runner and sports person describes the importance of mindset).
Now this sort of mental imagery isn’t just for world champions and record holders. I think all runners can gain from developing this psychological strategies for peak performance. And that means, whatever you current running level, there is cope for you to get better and faster by deliberate practice and focus.
Run Faster Like A Cheetah
When you think of an animal that can run fast, a cheetah is probably the one that comes to mind. We’ve all seen images of cheetahs accelerating and sprinting as they chase prey and go in for the kill. As the fastest land mammal, a cheetah is capable of accelerating in seconds and running at more than 50 miles per hour.
Now, even world champion Mike Powell didn’t reach those speeds on his route to gold, but by capturing the power, acceleration and speed of the cheetah in his mind, you can harness your ability to run faster when you need a burst of speed. It may not have the endurance of some other animals, but if you want to run fast then you want to use your mind to harness some of that speed in your own performances.
So here’s how to use mental imagery to unleash your inner cheetah and run faster.
1. Before you do this exercise, head over to You Tube and have look at some footage of a cheetah running. Have a watch and get the awareness and image of the power, strength and speed of a cheetah as it runs at its finest. There are many videos there of a cheetah running in slow motion too which are worth a watch, as well as those in real time that show the power, strength and speed it has. Having done that move on to the next step.
2. Sit somewhere quiet, take a deep breath and close your eyes. If you know self-hypnosis or meditation techniques you could incorporate these here. Start to extend your out breath and say the word ‘relax’ to yourself on every breath out. You could tense and relax each part of your body or tell yourself that each part of your body is relaxing. You could imagine a calm colour or sensation spreading through you or fill your mind with a relaxing sound. You could engage your imagination and imagine being in a remembered or created place of calmness, seeing the sights and hearing the sounds. Or you can draw upon and utilise any other way that allow you to feel comfortable, calm and relaxed. Your aim here is just to feel as safe, calm and comfortable as you can right now.
3. Having done that, inside your mind now bring to mind, picture and imagine, a cheetah running in slow motion. Replay it in your mind from the videos and footage you watched prior to beginning.
Notice its flexibility, how it strides strongly and smoothly and the explosive power and strength in its legs and leg muscles. With every stride it’s like it releases coiled springs that power and accelerate it forward smoothly and lightly. And as you play it in your mind also notice how its head stays steady as it runs and its eyes stay focused ahead. It really is the perfect, natural, running machine.
As you imagine the cheetah in your mind, really be aware of it running smoothly and with such awesome strength and power, notice how the legs are strong, dynamic and powerful when being exerted, but when they are drawn back for the next step, they are also loose and relaxed physically.
4. With that awareness of the power, strength and focus of the cheetah in your mind, now, imagine being in that running environment where you desire to run faster. Imagine being there and engage with the surroundings. Really imagine being there in that running environment. See the sights of the place, the colours, the shades of light, the details. Hear the sounds in detail too, those close by and those further away, and just tune into what you notice around you as vividly as you can.
5. As you imagine being in that running environment, move your awareness to just at that point where you want to pick up the speed and run faster. Depending on your running scenario, this could be during a run where you are already moving, at the start of a speed interval or the start line of a race. Wherever that point is for you, imagine being just at that moment and, with the imagery of the slow motion cheetah in your mind, imagine integrating those movements into yourself. In your mind and body, take on the characteristics, the movement, the strength and the focus of the cheetah.
6. When you have that clearly in your mind, the smoothness, strength and power of the cheetah in your legs and the focus inside your mind, begin to run through it as you let the footage of the cheetah get faster and faster inside your mind as you imagine being in your running environment getting faster and faster.
As you start to accelerate, you feel your leg muscles propelling you forward with increasing explosive power, like coiled springs releasing energy as you stride on faster and faster. Feel the smoothness in the power coming from your arms, working smoothly and forcefully for you. Notice a sense of lightness and smoothness, powerful yet relaxed, as you imagine running faster with the movement, strength and focus of the cheetah.
Enjoy the speed as you embrace the power, strength and speed yet also the smoothness and ease while you imagine running faster. As you run, you may imagine the air on your face, the power in your legs and arms, the steadiness of your head and how your laser beam focus ahead of you. Sense and feel the power in your muscles and body as you imagine running faster and faster, to the best of your capability and with real determination and belief.
As you imagine running faster, if speed, strength and power have colour, fill your muscles with that colour. If they have a sound, hear that sound and really feel how you have taken on the power, strength and speed and how it benefits you as you run.
7. As you keep imagining running with speed, strength and power, tell yourself how from today, when you want to run faster, you can picture and imagine the cheetah powerfully running in your mind, you integrate it into yourself and you run with the power, strength, speed and focus of the cheetah. Then take a deep breath, count up from 1 up to 3 inside your mind and then open your eyes and reorient yourself to your surroundings.
Repeat this exercise regularly, make it a part of your running, have fun with it and enjoy the benefits of running faster thanks to your inner cheetah.
To your running success,
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