Three Beginner Visualization Exercises for Runners

A woman meditates in a park

The mind is powerful. It can visualize a path of success or failure, and manifest the feelings, positive or negative, that accompany each path.

Just as a training session for a 5K or marathon can result in a peak race performance, a visualization routine is a form of mind training that can become more impactful over time.

Aligning your mind and body is key to being the best runner you can be, whether it is on race day, a long run, or your favorite trail.

How runners can benefit from mental training

A woman runs on the trail in the HOKA Challenger

Much research has been conducted around theories of neuroplasticity –the brain's ability to learn and change at any age. With mental training, runners can take advantage of the brain’s ability to continually improve and adapt.

Deena Kastor, Olympic Medalist and American record holder in the marathon, stresses the importance of positive thinking in her mental training practice.

“Positivity is the greatest asset to our striving,” she writes in an email to Fleet Feet. “Gratitude is my favorite and most long-standing positivity practice. I write down three unique things I’m grateful for each day.”

Runners can harness the power of visualization as a regular practice to prime the mind for success, rather than allow it to default into catastrophic thinking.

“Gratitude releases endorphins into your bloodstream,” Kastor says. “When I fatigue at the end of a run or race, I put my mind in a place of gratitude and always feel the rewards that that practice brings.”

Here are a few ways to incorporate mental training into your running practice.

For each exercise, find a quiet space where you can sit or lie down for ten to twenty minutes with your eyes closed in concentration.

1. Visualize your purpose

Identify the “why” behind the motivation to run. Ask yourself if you’re running to improve your health, to reach the finish line first, or to enjoy the wind against your face.


Having a fully formed and visualized reason for running will fuel your running journey. It can motivate you to go out even when you may feel like watching T.V. instead.

How to do it

Allow yourself time to reflect and envision your best run, whatever it may look or feel like. Maybe you can see yourself winding solo through a rhododendron tunnel on a trail in the Appalachians, or running as hard as you can at a 5K. Perhaps you see yourself enjoying the company of others at a local Fleet Fleet group run.

Special Considerations

While you might hope to achieve your idealized vision every time you head out for a run, it’s also important to embrace whatever reality arises. If you visualize yourself as feeling fast and flawless, but your actual run is slower than expected, it doesn’t mean you failed.

It’s a matter of accepting where you are, enjoying the experience for what it is, and staying committed to working toward your ultimate goal. Remember, it’s a slow and deliberate process to manifest any vision into a physical reality, which may mean adjusting your expectations along the way, and in some cases your vision.

2. Master the breath, master the run

A man meditates while sitting on a rock

Running is an aerobic exercise, where the body learns to become more efficient with the oxygen it uses. While endurance training slowly makes it easier to breathe while running, the feeling of breathlessness can create a sense of uncertainty and fear, especially for beginners who are new to pacing.


Visualization can help you get in touch with your breath. The practice can help you calmly slow your breathing instead of panicking when the breath becomes labored.

How to do it:

Take a few minutes to become aware of your breath, as it flows in and out of your nose.

Now, mentally place yourself in a situation that causes your breathing to increase more rapidly, such as running up a hill or increasing your pace. As you come to that point in your visualization you may actually begin breathing faster. Just don’t get carried away and hyperventilate.

At the moment where your breathing begins to veer out of your comfort zone, see yourself backing off and gently slowing down. Let the breath become more manageable, as opposed to stopping altogether, huffing and puffing, hands on knees. As you inhale and exhale, imagine the air as pure, cool, fresh, energy-filled, and oxygen-rich.

3. Create a pre-sleep visualization routine

Bedtime is a perfect time for visualization exercises because you’re more likely to be relaxed rather than distracted.


Dreams are the mind’s natural simulation training ground. What you visualize before bed is likely to feel natural and continue into your dreams.

How to do it

Start your exercise 10 or fifteen minutes prior to when you normally fall asleep. Lie down and mentally run through your favorite course with perfect form and at your ideal pace. This can be in preparation for a big race, or simply for a training run.

Visualize everything in as much detail as possible. See if you can feel the wind on your skin, or smell the flora you’ll pass. Activate every sense that will rise on your inner journey. “The more real you can make it the better,” says Kastor, who uses this tactic to prepare for competition.

Kastor says she will feel the cold wind and growing fatigue, taste a dry mouth and sense a competitor’s move before she makes it.

Try this exercise night after night, and don’t be surprised if you are soon running in your dreams, able to practice and achieve any running goal within this mental construct.

Be patient with your progress. Remember, visualization is a way to manifest inner desires by first “seeing” what we want, and practicing to achieve it while doing the work to bring that vision to life.

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