Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Visualization: A Lesson from my Dad

If I had to train at peak volumes, stay extremely rested with good sleep, pack for an Ironman trip, tie up loose ends at work, and spend some time visualizing for race day, my head would implode and I’d never reach the start line. Luckily, my workouts have been a piece of cake lately, there’s been no need to get up too early, and I’ve taken advantage of those luxurious moments by keeping my feet up sitting on my balcony, my couch, or my friends’ dock. And during this time, I’ve been able to think a lot about race day.

Visualization has always been an important part of my athletic success. Throughout my years of junior golf and well into college, I was taught to visualize the shot I wanted to hit. Yes, golf was my main athletic focus from age 12-22, though toward the end it started to fade as I decided I liked running better. Don't tell my dad or my college golf coach; I digress. I remember being pretty young (probably 9 or 10) and my dad teaching me this lesson: “What do you do if I tell you not to think about pink elephants? You’ll think about pink elephants! Instead of thinking ‘don’t hit the ball in the water’ which will probably make you hit the ball in the water, think of hitting your ball on the green. Picture what you want to do.” That sort of positive thinking helped me win several golf tournaments over the years.
Before I’d tee off, I’d picture myself hitting my drive into the fairway. But I’d be really specific – I wouldn’t just look at the big green fairway, I’d focus on what side of the fairway, clearing the bunker, just past that dead patch of grass, over that mound, left of the 150 steak or wherever it was that would set me up for a good second shot. I can still picture shots I’d want to hit on some of my old courses. If I was on the green and had a long putt, I’d read the break and visualize my ball rolling into the hole. And if it was a short putt, I’d see my ball hit dead center into the bottom of the cup.

So again for the next few days, I will spend some time being very specific visualizing my race. From where I’m going to line up for the swim, getting from one buoy to the next, exiting the water, the quick motions in T1 (shoes, race belt, GU flask, helmet, glasses), mounting my bike, specific parts of the bike course, dismounting my bike, getting through T2 quickly, every single turn on the run course, and all the way through to the finish line. The first year I qualified for Kona, I didn’t tell people this, but I pictured myself on the podium winning my age group. And guess what happened? Within a mile of the run, I was in first place (the memory of my coach telling me this still gives me chills)! I won my age group by 9 minutes and got to walk up to the top of the podium just like I imagined.

I’m not saying this works out so successfully every time, but it does help. Envisioning race day and how I want it to turn out has also helped alleviate some pre-race anxiety. Granted, I know there are things I cannot predict, but I feel confident in my experience and training to be adequately prepared on Saturday.

Best of luck to everyone racing this weekend! Take a few moments this week to focus on the positive and then let it all unfold on your big day. Dream on.

Picturing my next Ironman finish using images from CdA 2011
I'm the one in orange and yes, I passed that guy.


  1. Woo hoo! Good luck this weekend and kick some butt! I'll be stalking your progress from Seattle and rooting for you all day. You're my hero...I try to be non-Single White Female about it but sometimes I can't help myself (just visualize the restraining order among all your other positive thoughts).

  2. Haha! Thanks Rebecca! I'll try to put together a good race for you to stalk on Saturday. And then let's hang when I get back to Seattle!

  3. I too will be following you and sending fast thoughts on Saturday!! This is your race to own, chica! I too spend a lot of time visualizing and prepping the mental game. Definitely can be a game changer in terms of confidence on the course. Go get 'em!!

  4. Good luck! You are going to do great. I'm also a huge fan of visualization, I used to do it naturally in high school then I learned more about it in my sports psyche class in college and became better at it. I've been practicing it all this week to calm my nerves for the weekend. Sending you lots of positive vibes for the weekend!

  5. Cathleen, So nice to meet you on Sunday morning at the awards ceremony in St. George. Hopefully, I'll be able to move back to the Great Northwest soon. Not sure how to find your email address on your blog, but I'll reach out to you this way if I need any Seattle triathlon insight. Any chance you are doing Rev3 Portland in July? I'm thinking of heading over to my favorite city for that one! Best to you and congrats on a great race! --Kendra

    1. Great to meet you too! You’re my first reader I’ve met in person (that wasn’t already a teammate or friend or my mom)! I think I was just so shocked when someone I don’t know found my blog that I incorrectly answered your question about having my email available on my homepage. Here it is: cathleen.knutson@gmail.com I also failed to ask about your race, but it looks like we were close to sharing the podium together, so way to stay tough on such a difficult day. No Rev3 for me this year. I think I might do Troika in Spokane this August; otherwise it’s nothing crazy until Ironman Wisconsin. Keep in touch with any PNW questions. -ck

  6. Visualization is SO important. We did that in swimming too. Knowing exactly how many strokes to the wall, kicks off the wall, when to breathe, visualizing with stopwatches in our hands and nailing our swim to the hundreth of a second.

    It really works! And it worked for you....you rocked ST George! So proud of you girl!