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The benefits of visualization and positive self-talk for endurance runners

by | Feb 1, 2023

This article was read 3590 times. Enjoy!

The Benefits of Visualization and Positive Self-Talk for Endurance Runners

Improving Performance and Enhancing Mental Toughness

As an experienced endurance runner, I know firsthand the physical and mental demands of long-distance running. Running a marathon or an ultra-marathon requires not only physical endurance but also mental toughness. Mental toughness is the ability to remain focused, motivated, and positive in the face of physical and mental fatigue, discomfort, and pain. Endurance runners who develop mental toughness are more likely to finish races and achieve their goals. Two mental techniques that can help runners develop mental toughness are visualization and positive self-talk. In this article, I will explain how visualization and positive self-talk work and provide scientific evidence of their benefits.


Visualization, also called mental imagery or mental rehearsal, is the process of creating a mental picture of a desired outcome or a specific activity. Visualization can be used to enhance performance, reduce anxiety, and increase motivation. In the context of endurance running, visualization can help runners prepare for races, overcome obstacles, and maintain focus during long runs.

The benefits of visualization have been demonstrated in several studies. For example, a study published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine found that runners who visualized their race performance before a half-marathon race had lower anxiety and faster race times than runners who did not visualize. Another study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology found that basketball players who visualized free throws had better shooting accuracy than players who did not visualize.

The Steps of Visualization:
  1. Choose a specific activity or outcome to visualize
  2. Find a quiet place to sit or lie down
  3. Close your eyes and relax your body and mind
  4. Visualize yourself performing the activity or achieving the outcome
  5. Use as many senses as possible to make the visualization vivid and realistic
  6. Repeat the visualization regularly, ideally daily
Positive Self-Talk

Positive self-talk is the process of using positive affirmations or statements to boost confidence, motivation, and focus. Positive self-talk can help runners overcome negative thoughts, doubts, and fears and replace them with positive and empowering thoughts. Positive self-talk can also help runners maintain a growth mindset and learn from setbacks and failures.

The benefits of positive self-talk have been demonstrated in several studies. For example, a study published in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology found that runners who used positive self-talk during a treadmill test had lower levels of perceived exertion and higher endurance than runners who used negative self-talk or no self-talk. Another study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology found that swimmers who used positive self-talk before a swim meet had higher levels of self-confidence and better performance than swimmers who did not use positive self-talk.

The Keys to Effective Positive Self-Talk:
  1. Choose short and specific affirmations or statements
  2. Use present tense and positive language
  3. Avoid negative or self-critical language
  4. Repeat the affirmations or statements regularly, ideally daily
  5. Combine visualization and Positive Self-Talk

Visualization and positive self-talk can be used together to create a powerful mental tool for endurance runners. By visualizing positive outcomes and using positive self-talk to reinforce those outcomes, runners can create a virtuous cycle of mental and physical performance. For example, a runner can visualize herself crossing the finish line of a marathon with a smile on her face while repeating the affirmation “I am strong and capable”. This mental rehearsal can help the runner overcome fatigue, pain, and self-doubt during the actual race and finish with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

The Science of Visualization and Positive Self-Talk

The benefits of visualization and positive self-talk are supported by scientific research in psychology, neuroscience, and sports science. Studies have shown that visualization can activate the same brain regions and motor pathways as physical practice, leading to improved motor learning and performance. Positive self-talk can also affect brain activity and neural pathways, leading to increased confidence, resilience, and creativity. These mental techniques can also modulate the autonomic nervous system and reduce physiological stress responses such as cortisol and heart rate variability.


Visualization and positive self-talk are powerful mental techniques that can help endurance runners improve performance, enhance mental toughness, and enjoy the sport of running. By using visualization and positive self-talk regularly and consistently, runners can create a positive and empowering mindset that can carry over to other areas of life. The scientific evidence supports the efficacy of these techniques, but ultimately it is up to the individual runner to experiment and find what works best for them. As an experienced endurance runner, I can attest to the benefits of visualization and positive self-talk and encourage others to try them out.

Patrick Michel

Endurance Runner – Marketing Strategist

Patrick Michel is a Montreal-based endurance runner specializing in long-distance multi-stage charity ultra runs. For almost two decades, he has inspired many to engage in running, get fit and grow stronger physically and mentally. He has also written many articles about running.