Visualization & My Race Day Playlist

I always thought visualization was a B.S. technique.

The first time I took a real yoga class, the instructor told us to close our eyes and imagine we were in a field filled with pixie dust. Clearly the A-hole in the room, I burst out laughing.

Visualization just isn’t my thing.

But over the weekend, Mrs. Coach Cane sent me an email that I can’t seem to get out of my head:

Start visualizing this week. See yourself getting ready, starting, running, etc. See yourself at points that scare you and see yourself overcoming that stuff.

She’s so wise.

I’ve been picturing myself dominating the rolling hills early in the Hamptons Marathon course, and then picturing myself cruising over that Mile 19 Beast. It’s a fun little game, you see, and it actually is making me feel better and mentally more at ease.

For weeks I’ve been imagining the feeling I’ll get when I cross the finish line, but now I’ve got more concrete thoughts in my head.

Poor Coach Cane, always forced to give me advice and calm me down.

Thanks for the tip, Assistant Coach!

Yeah, she just got that title. Ka-POW.

Yesterday was a rest day for me. I wanted to do a strength training or spin class after work, but Coach Cane texted me that he’d “really rather I not” do that, so I turned around and walked out of the gym. And what do you know: I ran 5 miles this morning and felt good and rested. Fact: My coach knows more than I do.

I had a productive little evening last night and finally made my Race Day playlist. What a daunting task. I take this stuff very seriously, you see.

My playlist is too long — 4.9 hours — and I’m not sure how much I’ll even want to listen to music along the way. But I want to be prepared.

Do you want to know what’s on my playlist? You can make fun of me all you want, because I love me some Celine Dion and Broadway tunes.

These songs are mostly ones that I just kind of love and want to run to, but there’s also a bit of visualization involved here, too, I guess. Certain songs on the list make me think of specific people who inspire me or who I love or who I will be terrified to call and say I ran a crappy marathon…so those songs will make me run faster and harder.

Lastly, yesterday I wrote this whole post of things I’m freaking out about as Race Day nears. Within minutes of posting, my wonderfully supportive non-runner brother emailed me.

Ryan and me way back in 2008. People say we look alike.

“Your problems solved…” the subject line read.

Allow me to share with you some of my “big problems” that he insists aren’t problems at all:

What is going on with my stomach? Why is it freaking out? Because you’re yelling at it — you relax, and it will relax

How in the world am I going to get all my work done by Thursday? I feel like Jessie Spano. There’s never any time. At least I don’t have to study for a geometry test on top of all this. I’m so excited, and I just can’t hide it. We will have an intervention/running detox for you after the race. You probably won’t get your work done by Thursday, just accept it and move on.

Self doubt, self doubt, self doubt. No doubt, no doubt, no doubt

What if I don’t see my family on the race course? What if I’m too slow and they think they missed me so they move locations and I never see them? You really think that’s a possibility? You obviously don’t know us very well. A) Fellers come prepared and B) Fellers aren’t easily missed in a crowd.

Don’t forget the Body Glide. Pack that first. Then the sneakers. Um, gross? But yes, pack your sneakers.

What if I didn’t train hard enough? You did.

What if I hit the wall during the marathon? It’s never happened during my long runs, which means it’s bound to happen during the race, right? There are walls on the course? Is this a marathon or an obstacle course!?

What if I slow down, positive split and disappoint Coach Cane? Doubt that’ll happen….my prediction is a fast first 3 miles, then some slight positive splitting, then negative splitting, then banana splitting.

Why aren’t you supposed to wear white after Labor Day? Because it becomes see-through, and therefore slutty.

Why hasn’t the taper made me crazy like everyone said it would? Because you were crazy to begin with.

I take that last one back. I don’t.

If I do pee a little during the race, should I tell people? Or keep it a secret? I don’t think my boyfriend will understand. I probably won’t get as many post-race hugs if I confess. You might as well tell people, because we will know, you will smell like sweat and urine. Please do not make shirts that say “I heart peeing myself”

How will I feel the day after the marathon? Hungover

I’m going to run a freakin’ marathon. Most people don’t do that. True.

Thanks, bro. Consider my fears eased.

My day today will end at 16 Handles. I’m pretty pumped about that.

TELL ME: Have you ever tried visualization techniques? Do they work for you, or do you avoid them? For some reason when that yoga teacher told me to grow imaginary wings, I thought he was crazy. But when Mrs. Coach Cane advised that I see myself being awesome, I had no problem doing just that.



0 Responses

  1. Your brother is very funny : )

    You won’t have to pee during the marathon, trust me. Adrenaline will get you through. Try to pee right before the race if needed! I pee once an hour and I ran 4+ hour marathons and never stopped. Plus you sweat a lot like me! so that helps.

    PS I’ve run 3 marathons and I’ve NEVER been as prepared as you are. You are going to do fabulous! Wish I could be there to support you. Know I’m there in spirit! xoxo

  2. I am currently laughing and crying after reading this post! You are so lucky to have such an amazing brother, and a clearly very supportive family!!! I can’t even pick a favorite among his responses; just as I would think I had a favorite, I’d read the next one and laugh harder and have to change my mind. Thanks for sharing…that was a really good laugh!

  3. Ali, I have read your blog for sometime and I felt compelled to write today after reading you previous post. You have such a wonderful family (but you know that) You are an extremely hard working runner (You know that too) Your supporters are 110% behind you so I can’t see you faltering.

    I remember your blog post on the Brooklyn Half and I really felt bad for you but at the same time you inspired me to get going when things don’t go as planned (I have been running since 1982 and its not easy) Sometimes I need some inspiring and you help me. BTW, I have used visualization techniques for years so coach Cane is on point, they help calm those fears before race day. My mantra is Stay calm, Stay cool, Stay collected…It works. I still use it today as I prepare for Marathon number 9 on November 20th. All the best on Saturday. Your loved one’s will be so proud, but I know they already are proud of Ali the Human being! I leave you with a quote that will serve you well when you finish your marathon.

    “Happiness does not come from doing easy work but from the afterglow of satisfaction that comes after the achievement of a difficult task that demanded our best.” – Theodore I. Rubin

  4. Seriously Ali, you’re going to do great. So many people believe in you and are supporting you. There will be some tough spots, but dig deep. No joke, sometimes when I used to run in the park with no one around but the sirens in the background, I would raise my arms and actually be both the runner and sports announcer, “Tegla Laroupe repeating as champion of the NYC Marathon.” (I’m not too sane.) So I don’t do that anymore–out loud, but I still pretend. I visualize myself dominating. And when I am on the course hurting, I say to myself “X minutes til glory.” And glory is whatever you want it to be. I do say one more thing, but that’s not fit for print. See you on Friday. Thanks for the kind shoutout!! xo Lastly, no Bruce on your list? Really?

  5. Hey Ali! I love and read your blog but don’t often comment. I’ve run many races including a marathon and hopefully will do another in the future (you are seriously motivating me to train again). The one thing that kept me from psyching myself out was to remember I can go as slow as I want, just keep running and cross the finish line. My coach told me that the race begins at mile 22 and strangely I felt my best those last few miles (clearly I did not push it hard enough that race but only I know that!)…Just get out there and have fun, don’t put so much pressure on yourself and enjoy it! Good luck 🙂

  6. That is just the sweetest and most witty form of encouragement ever! I have to agree with you. I am not into the whole “look inside yourself” hokey visualization BUT I am totally now envisioning myself throughout the marathon course. I like what I see. Thanks for the tip 🙂

  7. Um, your brother is amazing, seriously. He can write me a slightly sarcastic yet extremely calming and motivational email anytime! You are going to ROCK the marathon and we’re all behind you 100%!!

  8. What a fantastic brother you have. Visualization absolutely works, as does having a written race plan (covering physical, mental, nutrition) for the day before the race, race day, and after the race. It sounds ridiculous (“at 6:30 a.m. I will eat 1 bagel with soy nut butter and honey”) but it means you cannot forget a thing. Feel overwhelmed? Consult the plan.

    Also: my favorite piece of last-minute advice: THE HAY IS IN THE BARN. There’s nothing you can do now that will make the outcome drastically different. You can burn the barn down (stay out all night drinking on Fri when you Really Need Good Sleep), but the work has all been done. Now sit back, and think of Sunday as a 26.2 mile party celebrating all your hard work and what you’ve accomplished! Have an amazing day!!!

    1. I second the “hay is in the barn” sentiment. My husband (running his 20th marathon in New York in November) is a huge proponent of that thinking. Do the work (which you have) and the rest will follow.

      I also think your brother is a keeper (even though he’s family and you don’t get to decide to keep him or not, but do, cause he sounds nice and smart).

  9. During my race on Sunday, I visualized myself crossing the finish line, drinking that free victory beer, earning my Qdoba chips and salsa. I think it helps take my mind off of my heavy breathing. And your bro is SO nice! My favorite response was: “Why aren’t you supposed to wear white after Labor Day?” “Because it becomes see-through, and therefore slutty.” Hilarious. I feel like that is something you would say. And yes, you have trained enough. And held yourself back when your coach said to which definitely can’t be easy. You’re ready. And you’ll rock it!

    xo Marie
    Chocolate & Wine

  10. As usual, your post makes me laugh! Clearly, humor is a genetic thing for you!

    I have used visualization in the past and it has really helped me out a lot. Most times, I just think about what I’ll be feeling at each point.

  11. Holy hell your brother is funny. I literally laughed out loud several times during this.

    You are going to do awesome! And I can’t wait to read your post-race recap and be able to say, “I told you so!” 🙂

  12. Ummm there are Andrea Bocelli remixes?!?! How did I not know about this?! Does it ruin it? Or make it even cooler?

    Love the playlist. Ontop of the broadway and celine love, I approve of all things glee cast (this should come as no surprise…) And if the techno “pump it up” song is the song I think it is, AWESOME! That was the song of my summer circa 2004 and is actually still on my ipod.

  13. I actually write my race recap BEFORE the race, just to help me really go through everything mentally. Obviously the race always goes awesome in my recap, and then I have to edit it later to reflect reality, but hey, it still helps!

  14. As you know, last year was my first marathon. My ipod crapped out a week beforehand. I totally panicked. Seeing that they aren’t exactly cheap I decided to just pick up an ipod shuffle. Turns out, I was beyond stressed about running with my new ipod shuffle. I couldn’t help but fear that I would not be able to work it right and get stuck with songs I was not in the mood for or on my last leg it would die or skip songs or something. As fate would have it- I couldn’t have been happier with the last song that played as I sprinted through the finish: Dog Days Are Over. Holy Crap, I couldn’t have picked a more perfect tune! To this day I get the chills when I hear it. I am pumped you have it on your list. You are going to rock this marathon. You trained so hard! Visualize what song you plan to blast as you sprint though the finish giving it everything you got. You will do great. I know it!

  15. Yes! I love visualization! At this point, now that you are ready physically, the mental part is the most important. Leading up to the race I picture myself along the course feeling awesome and how wonderful it will feel crossing the finish line having met my goal! Less than a week 🙂

  16. I am so excited for your race! Yes to visualization- it sounds cheesy at first – very woo woo. But to be honest as I do it more and more what I found is that I am building on the fun, the excitement, the experience. I get to build on how awesome I am for taking the action and it takes the room away from the self-doubt that may creep in.

    You are awesome! Just have fun! You are going to be fantastic

  17. “Fellers aren’t easily missed in a crowd” – Love that! Your brother is so right about everything and yes, please no I Heart Peeing Myself shirts. That is not to say I would not purchase one of such a shirt did exist though. Coach Cane is so smart and I am SO happy you did not take a class last night. You are running a MARATHON on Saturday! I like your playlist, I need some new songs.

  18. Ummm…your brother is so cute!!! I was seriously laughing out loud at some of these.

    You’re gonna rock this weekend Ali!

  19. haha I love ur bro’s wall comment. yes visualization techniques work, as do mantras!

    start thinking of some mantras now…they will help you immensely in those later miles.

    um, so stealing some of those songs for my marathon!

  20. When I went to swim camp we did visualization exercises to help us relax, it was a little weird but it actually kinda worked! I don’t do it all that often anymore but maybe I should try to apply it to running.

    I also LOVE what your brother wrote, you both are really funny. He seems like a very supportive brother 🙂

  21. UM your brother sounds exactly like my brother! Except he takes the time to respond to each and everyone one of your freak outs. My brother bear (that is what I call him) usually gives a generic, sarcastic, yet highly effective response to my freakouts. It ALWAYS calms me down.

    Brothers are the best. They show us how crazy we are and make us laugh at ourselves.

    I’m coming to the Handle tonight! See ya there!

  22. I’m so glad you posted that race day playlist. I’ve been kinda stressin’ over mine lately. In the three marathons I’ve run, I only listeneed to music during one of them. However, that was by far the best race I’ve run so…I’m still debating on race day next month. We’ll see…just glad I’ve got some new download material. Apparently, I have been missing out on GLEE!!!

  23. Haha your brother reminds me so much of my brother. Totally something he would do!

    If I may just suggest my three favorite songs to run to? You’ve got a great playlist but these helped me out. Superbass by nicki minaj, right above it by lil wayne, and hang em high by dropkick murphys. The last one probably the one that gets me most amped!

    I am SO EXCITED to read all about your race!!!!!!!!!

  24. Your brother is pretty awesome!

    Trust your training.
    You will do great!

    I definitely try visualization techniques before big races. It easier for me to do in yoga because I’m not freaking out but I still think it’s helpful to picture yourself crossing the finish line strong!

  25. Love the email from the bro. Aren’t brothers the best? 🙂

    I’d say I kinda sorta visualize things that I want to happen… like (and I think you’ve even said this on twitter or on here before) I visualize certain parts of the race course (little hills, parts with not a lot of spectators, the FINISH LINE) while I’m pushing it in spin class or during a track workout. It helps motivate me not only during the workout, but keeps my mind on the goal… dominating the race!

    And also – the first time I went to yoga I went with a friend and the instructor said something along the same lines as what yours did ( think it was something about deep relaxation?)… and then someone farted. Obviously we laughed out loud. I’m sure that’s bad karma.

  26. I am totally the person who laughs at all the spiritual visualization stuff in yoga class. Usually I have to keep my mouth shut during “Ohmmmmmm” because it’s my only chance in hell of not bursting out laughing. But visualization definitely helped me get through my first half-marathon a few weeks ago — I felt prepared and ready for anything.

    Definitely saw you this AM around the reservoir, and totally stealthily used you to pace my tempo run for a little bit until you got too fast for me 🙂 Apologies for the creepiness, but thanks for great pacing — and good luck on Saturday!

  27. There is actually research with athletes using visualization techniques. Not visualizing pixie dust or sprouting wings! But visualizing running the race or competing in whatever event, and it improves their performance. These techniques do make changes in the brain.

    Also wanted to say that I love your brother!

  28. Aw, what a fabulous brother! Family is the best.

    Mm as for visualization, eh……. I have tried, but I usually roll with a “cautiously optimistic” attitude about experiences/things I’m most nervous about, so that I’m uber positive yet also prepared in case I need a plan B/don’t Become an emotional train wreck. Whoa, I just realized how practical that sounds.. i think my super logical boyfriend has actually rubbed off on me.

  29. I used to think it was such a joke too, but visualization is totally helpful. It sounds silly, but whenever I find that I just need to relax, I’ll “visualize” I’m back in the pool on my honeymoon with unlimited frozen Pina Coladas & Mango Tangos 🙂

    Thanks so much for sharing the playlist, I’ve been looking for some new songs to spice up my list for an upcoming half marathon. I think it’s good your list is longer than you need, that way if you aren’t feeling a particular song that day you can skip through since you have plenty!

  30. Way back when I played soccer I used to do visualization exercises with
    My trainer all the tome. I was a goalkeeper and we would visualize making big saves and how it should look with proper technique.

    Love your play list. Love glee!!

  31. you have such a good big brother! how sweet of him to email you that. a+, big bro.

    i am into this visualization stuff on a certain level. i like the idea of positive affirmations too, and think i’m gonna have to use them to prep for this big licensing exam i have coming up. i often used them when running, just kind of repeating a mantra during a race. i know that sounds silly, but it sorta worked for me sometimes!

  32. your brother is so cute! Love the responses. And I love the song choices. One that got me through during a race was “Happy’ by Leona Lewis. Something about it just felt so anthem-y for me and made me smile. Not to add to your ever-long list, but just a suggestion 😉

  33. YES! I love using visualization techniques. Before you know it, you’re speeding through those miles. I like to picture myself keeping up with my running prodigy brother. Whatever it is, it will help!

  34. Dear Ali, you did not ask this question… but I wanted to suggest a song you might like to get you through a few miles…. infact I listened to it about 10 times in a row for my race Saturday and I don’t even have a nice handsome boyfriend like you…. but it’s so uplifting, motivating… and if you like Celine Dion… I feel like this song is for you 🙂 It’s called ARMS by Christina Perri. Okay that is all… !!

  35. First off, your brother is awesome. Secondly, there’s a total different between the yoga type visualization, and real life visualization 😉 I think a lot about crossing the finish line, or the last 10k in general and I think about how I’ll get through it. I actually did miss my friends at the 10k spot when they were cheering for me in Philly, and I can’t even explain how badly I let that get to me. of course, my boyfriend was half a mile further down, but I was so upset that it really took a few miles for me to shake it off. Please don’t let that happen to you if for some reason you miss your family 😉

  36. That was the most adorable thing I’ve ever read. What a nice bro!

    And you DID train hard enough – you’ve been so dedicated all along the way.

    Also- I hope your marathon pics look as awesome as the ones from the Fitness race!

    Can’t wait to see you tonight!!!

  37. Your brother and Mrs. Coach Cane are wonderful. I’m glad you’re calming down. A week from now, the soreness in your legs will be subsiding and you’ll be thinking of what your next marathon will be. 🙂

  38. Music helps me visualize. Like you, I think of people and moments that are tied in with the song in my head or on my iPod. I daydream and sing to myself during marathons and in those daydreams, I am always running strong and finishing fast!

  39. HAHA!! Your brother is so funny…he reminds me of my friend JJ, who would definitely write something like that! That ought to have eased you just a little, if not only for the minute spent laughing! 🙂 You wil be awesome!

  40. Umm hello have I tried visualization techniqures? Yes. I have to visualize, right down affirmations, physically cross out my bad thoughts written down, everything…like I really need a running therapist. But, I have found all the cheesy mental stuff works!

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about ali

I’m the creator of the Ali on the Run blog and the host of the Ali on the Run Show podcast. I’m also a freelance writer and editor, a race announcer, a runner and marathoner, a mom, and a huge fan of Peanut M&Ms, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (way better than the first one!), and reliving my glory days as a competition dancer in the early 2000s. I’m really happy you’re here.
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