Visualization Tips for the Race End

By Rachel Grunwell

AD) The hardest part of a race is three quarters of the way through. It’s when you question your sanity and ask questions like, “why the eff am I here!”

Firstly, there are many things you need to do to get to the end of a race well. You know, things like having a smart training plan towards the distance you intend to race, practicing fuelling (to know what works well, and what might give you the s****)… to understand a pace you can cope with so you don’t hit “the wall” too soon (ie getting to that point where you are so tired/sore/exhausted/borken/bewildered that you want to give up (and cry for your mum)….

I’ve survived 25 marathons and found some visualization is helpful. If you hate the term wu wu then let’s just call it strategy instead.

With visualisation, you shouldn’t just visualize the end game – you know, that euphoric feeling of the finish line and thinking “yay, I’ve done it whoop!”. You need to most importantly visualize “the bridge”. The bridge is the part where you feel like you are doing this race tough – which is usually about three quarters of the way through a race. You need to get over this “bridge” and get to the end… This is the point where you want to give up, but you need to keep going.

What helps to get over the “bridge” is training your body, nervous system and mind to do these hard miles – so you don’t give up.

So visualize things like what would you do if it was raining, windy and stormy during that race? Or consider what it might be like if you have really sore legs?

So imagine what it’s like to race in hard weather conditions (and practice actually doing this before too by the way!) Also imagine how to dig deep mentally if you are in the afternoon and feel like giving up.

Think about different ideas about how you can get through these tough conditions or being in a hard head space….

One strategy I use when I guide disabled athletes through marathons is for the last 8 kilometers of a marathon I get them to think of people they care about for each kilometer near the end of a race and dedicate that kilometer to that person. I tell them that person will be so proud of them finishing this bucket-list dream. This dedication of miles inspires them to keep running, dig deeper and mentally commit to the race end. Who do they dedicated miles too? Sometimes it can be someone who has helped them to train, financially supported them, or has been a loving and supportive influence in their life. Sometimes it’s a family member, partner or friend.

When you run because someone helped sponsor you, or put your trust in your abilities, this can be a powerful motivator for finishing a race! You want the money for your chosen charity, but you also don’t want to let yourself, or anyone else, down by not finishing a race either.

I tell runners who I help guide through marathons that the pain of not finishing a race will be worse than the pain of not committing to carrying on and completing the race. Pain from sore legs lasts only for a few days. But the pain you’ll feel for not finishing a race you dreamed of completing can last a heck of a lot longer. I can’t imagine going to a race like New York and not coming home with a medal… or to questions from friends asking why that medal isn’t with you!

So visualize and practice pushing through hard miles. Tap into that inner resilience. You don’t have any control over things like the weather on race day, but you can always choose how to approach hard conditions and hard thoughts you might encounter on race day. There’s power in flipping your mindset into the positive.

I’ve run through heat waves on marathons (Hawke’s Bay and Hawaii are two that come to mind!) and I’ve also run through storms (Queenstown and Taupo I remember clearly!) and New York marathon is something I’ve done four times and it’s generally a mix of very hot/very cold weather and the conditions of running this entire race on concrete make it super tough!.It’s hard and it hurts.

ps other strategies for getting through tough miles that I use include focusing on my breathing pattern or cadence pattern. I sometimes repeat a mantra or meditation (I actually like singing one to myself – I don’t sing it out loud!) I also go into a mindfulness or gratitude state where I soak up the beauty of my surroundings and remember how lucky I am to be able to run. I always think “I’m lucky I can do this”. Because some people will never experience this beautiful flow state. I also know the pain will stop at a given point (the end) and I just need to keep moving one step at a time and I will get there. Finally!

What gets you through “the bridge”? Please comment below!

  • the pics below are from some hard miles of co-guiding inspiring Achilles athletes through marathons or half marathons in Rotorua and New York.
With inspiring blind athlete Hannah and co-guiding was Greg Boyed. The hills around the second half of the race can be tough and so too can that long ending through the suburbs!
With blind athletes Mike and Greg co-guiding at Taupo. This race was wet, windy, freezing and tough. But we got through (even with the odd smile!) It’s great running with others – there’s great chat about different things that also acts as a powerful distraction when the legs hurt!
With blind athlete Tamati at the New York Marathon. We’ve run four marathons and many other events together over the years throughout NZ, New York, Sydney etc. New York is a tough marathon – it can be scorching hot one minute and then bitterly cold the next. The start line is super early, hard to get to and it’s cool. You also have to get up for this race about 4am to get to the start line! So yeah, a bit of mental toughness is required. But it’s an amazing race with 50,000 runners and millions of spectators cheering you on.
At the NY finish line with Tamati and Tamati’s other awesome Kiwi
guides! An epic team. We did this together and helped each other through this race. I have magic memories from all my marathon journeys including the amazing people, places and adventures. There’s nothing like that moment when bling goes around your neck. You are bonded with your fellow runners in a special way for life.
  • This post was sponsored by the Rotorua Marathon event. I am the ambassador for this event.
  • My background? I’ve run 25 marathons and have lots of track of the half marathons and 10km event numbers I’ve conquered. I’m a running coach, yoga + meditation teacher, wellness expert and author of the book Balance: Food, Health + Happiness. I’m also a proud ambassador for the charity Achilles, which helps athletes with disabilities to conquer marathons in NZ and around the world.