Benefits of Real-World Visualizations for Runners

Using visualizations for runners – or any athlete – is really nothing new. No matter what your sport is, you’ve more than likely been told to “see the win” at some point in your career. This motivational tool is usually used during the training phases to help you prepare for competition and primarily happens inside your head. According to new research, though, physically staying focused on the finish line could make a large difference in how you perform.


Eyes On The Prize

Specifically, the research looked at what was termed “attentional narrowing” – the physical act of focusing your vision on a specific target. The team working on the paper, which appeared in the journal Motivation and Emotion, were spurred on by earlier research that found that overweight individuals perceived distances are being longer than people of average weight did. Based on this, the researchers theorized that focusing your eyes on the finish line would make it seem closer, increase your walking speed and even reduce feelings of exertion.

To test their theory, the researchers came up with two different experiments – both of which included in the one paper.

In the first experiment, 66 adult volunteers were taken to a park in the heat of summer and placed 12 feet away from an open cooler than contained cold drinks and ice. The subjects were then split into two groups: One that focused their attention strictly on the cooler, and another that was allowed to let their attention wander around the area. Both groups walked to the cooler and were then asked to estimate the distance. The group that stayed focused on the cooler thought it was closer than the other group did.

For the second trial, 73 participants were asked to walk 20 feet while wearing ankle weights that equaled 15 percent of their body weight. Again, the subjects were split into the same groups. This time, though, the experimenters timed the walk and then asked the participants to estimate how far they had walked, as well as report how difficult the activity was.

The focused group thought that the finish line was 28 percent closer and walked 23 percent faster than their unfocused counterparts, in addition to finding the whole thing less challenging.

Examined together, these two studies support the team’s original hypothesis the literally keeping your eyes on the prize can reduce your feelings of exertion and actually make you move faster.


Finding Application

So how can you actually use this information on your runs?

Of course, there’s the obvious application that you should simply keep looking at the finish line instead of glancing all over your environment. This can be a little tricky, though, especially on long runs when you might get bored or distracted.

In that case, the solution is frustratingly simple: Will power.

But during long runs, or on tracks that meander, you might not be able to physically see the finish line. What then? Set your own markers and progressively lead yourself to the finish line. This segmented approach isn’t new and is actually one of the reasons that many runners enjoy fartlek training so much. Instead of thinking about having to complete 5 miles, focus on getting to that stop sign, then to that mangled tree and so on. In idea is give yourself a series of checkpoints that gradually bring you to your ultimate finish line.

Have you been able to use attentional narrowing in your training? Please share your experience in the comments.





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About jonathan.thompson

Jonathan Thompson is a Certified Personal Trainer and Running Coach with the American Council on Exercise, specializing in nutrition. In addition to his real-world experience working with clients, his articles and blogs on fitness advice have been published on many websites and magazines.