Howdy! I’m Diane Chesla and am Co-Race Director of the Niagara Falls International Marathon (NFIM), exploring the mind-body connection of running and how lessons learned can be applied to life.
In my last article I explored pure enjoyment as a key in experiencing runner’s high. I’m going to venture far off the beaten path for this article and explore something that isn’t written about in all the literature on runner’s high or states of flow. Maybe it’s relevant—or maybe I’m truly off my rocker.
While I’ve shared the story of how I went VERY deep into one of these “alternative” states of mind while running, the truth is that I’ve experienced this phenomenon many times over since I was young. I’m exposing myself here, but maybe some readers will be able to relate or maybe it will help others get into these elusive states of mind and improve either their athletic performance or their lives outside of running.
What I’m referring to has to do with visualization. It really started as far back as when I was 13 and decided to “imagine” that I was going to ace my moves in my first soccer tournament. And I did by envisioning these “moves” en route to my games in the backseat of my family’s blue Cutlass. I have used this technique over and over again ever since. Let me give you an example of how I’ve used visualization that I believe has helped me experience runner’s high.
I love running—or should I say pounding a downhill on a run. The steeper and more technical the better. There must have been a starting point where I experienced a bit of downhill that fuelled my love of the terrain, but I can’t recall it. I also love running in the heat and humidity. No idea why. What I have daydreamed about over and over again in life is letting loose on a mountainous descent while the thickness of the air seems to “hold” me in place and my legs spin in perfect stride, much like those of a professional runners.
I recall one actual experience, among many that I easily slipped into this state where time completely stood still and my perception was that it was just me, the terrain, the thick air and an acute awareness of approaching feet. It was like I was floating in this heavenly space of silence. I often think it’s a space where animals can perceive their prey or communicate with sounds to each other. For the record, two of these mirror experiences were in California, which I often fantasized about growing up from my indulgence in great movies that painted a picture in my mind of a hip, laid back utopia.
What I can tell you is that every time I have one of these experiences running I have this sense of deja vu. When I stopped one day to ponder why I felt this way, I realized that I was experiencing ideas I had fantasized about in my mind. Here’s what I think is really key and what makes visualization a potential tool to experience runner’s high—the ability to trigger your senses while visualizing.
Can this sensory visualization technique help us “perform” in life outside of running? Absolutely. More weirdness stories from my life: When I started putting together a concrete plan to produce my first race I imagined it first. I imagined and “felt” what the atmosphere of the race would actually be like in the midst of my own 50k race in the beating sun of the June-based Niagara Ultra.
It’s been nearly 20 years and I’m still directing races.
Again, for my next article I truly have no idea yet what angle I’ll explore because I’m super into experiencing flow/runners high again and too much thinking is counter-productive for these states of mind. At this point, I’m wondering how I can help people live better lives by tapping into alternative states of mind, as I have. I would love to hear readers’ experiences with intense, sensory-based visualization exercises in running and in “real” life.