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How Michelangelo and the sistine chapel helped me become a runner...

Interesting title isn’t it? Don’t worry I’ll explain (but:if you have a busy life and want to get straight to the visualisation techniques I have them clearly listed further down).

I am one of those people who started running during the first lockdown. Well, no, that’s not entirely true: I would have run a lot in my early twenties but at some point I convinced myself it was all too hard and tiring for me. However at that stage my gym was gone, my job was gone, my wedding was gone and I was really angry. And by that I mean REALLY angry. Anger is definitely my strongest emotion, and by that I mean: I get sad, I get happy, I get stressed but oh my do I get angry. It overpowers me completely.

Over the years I have adopted a few strategies to keep the monster under control, including journalling and martial arts but during the lockdown I only had journalling. Now journalling is great but for me it only works through the mental part of my anger. For that bright and burning physical rage in my body I needed something else. That’s how I started running. And to my surprise I was okay at it. Even better: it hit the spot and my anger went down. I ran it down. So I kept running. I got better at it and challenged myself further. It got hard. And when things started getting hard my mind this hero started using imagery to get me through the hard times. Here are a few of them. Visualisation 1: the creation of Adam When things get hard, and I mean very hard , I rely on “the creation of Adam”. And by that I mean I imagine I am getting pushed by two hands in the small of my back: they push gently at the bottom of the hill, become a bit more forceful in the middle and literally punch me up at the end. An important part of the whole thing is that I actually spend a lot of time seeing those hands in my mind. But beware! Those hands are not any hands: I always clearly see the hands of God and Adam as painted by Michelangelo in the Creation of Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel! This is a very interesting example of the way the subconscious mind works. The thing to know here is that I have a degree in art history and a passion for painting: when my subconscious mind decided to help me get over that hill it searched through my memories and experiences of “hands” and probably decided those two had the most emotional power to help me up! Fascinating isn’t it? Now if you start thinking about hands when things get hard in your run your subconscious mind will show you exactly the ones you need!

Visualisation 2: the power of the body I find this one a bit less powerful than my two hands but I would use it in those long stretches of flat work when I know deep down I could keep going quite easily but at the same time it is so boring and so flat and I cannot see the end…STOP…STOP your mind going in circle about how this really sucks. Get back to the body: focus on your breath. With every inhale feel your body filling itself up with energy. Maybe picture that energy as that little battery design you get on your phone when you charge it. And with your exhale say and see the word STRONG in your mind. Now “strong” is the word I like using but nothing stops you from relying on something like PRESENT or FOCUSED or anything else that works for you. What I find interesting about this technique is how it reminds me of martial arts and the Muay Thai training I used to do. Every kick or punch we would throw would have been associated with a sound. Always the same sound and always on the out breath. It worked wonder on those pyramids we had to do, as it switched the focus away from the “this is hell” narrative in our minds. *As a variant, I also like to imagine my heart pumping oxygenised blood to my body with every exhale I take. The timing is definitely not anatomically correct but that focused emptying of lungs on the exhale reminds me of the expulsion of the blood by the heart.

Visualisation 3: Your goal picture Now this is the one I would use to get myself away from the couch and out of the house. Like I said I am (hopefully at some point but who knows at that stage) getting married. And like a lot of brides-to-be I want to look good in that very expensive dress. I know: not very original! But a VERY VERY VERY powerful personal motivation when it comes down to doing it. You know what your motivation is and here is how you can use it by following this visualisation template: see, hear (sometimes smell, taste and touch), think and feel the visualisation (here I stick to my wedding example!).

  • See the dress clearly in your mind. See yourself looking fantastic in that dress, especially those areas you want to get under control. Every run you do makes those arms look smaller.

  • Feel how the dress will fall on your body and how comfortable and confident you will be. Every run you do makes you 1% more confident.

  • Hear people telling you how amazingly gorgeous you look (and I mean go ahead: full on 10 out of 10 compliments here). Every run you do is one more fantastic compliment on the day.

  • Think what you will think: cecile you were so right to wake up on that rainy day to go for your run. A real hero, wonder woman in action. Every run you do makes you prouder of who you are.

Visualisation 4: the classic! Nowadays the use of imagery in sports is widespread. The techniques can vary in approach but they usually teach you to imagine your experience as you would like it to be using all your senses to get as close as possible to the physical experience. This includes the struggles you may face and how you overcome them, along with the feeling you will get when it is all done and dusted. You can practice your imagery when you are brushing your teeth, walking the dog or any other down (and safe) time you may have! I personally do not really use "the classic" as I do not feel present in that level of intention and commitment...yet! At that point in time, all I need is something to get me out and keep me going while I am going! Happy running!



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