Over the past few months, I’ve been unable to do any physical training due to a stress fracture. So since I couldn’t train my body, I decided to make the most of it by training my brain. I talked to HPP director Brent Langbakk and he gave me several great mental exercises to prepare me for the orienteering season. Here are some tips to get you started.
For the first few weeks, practice pure relaxation. While sitting up or standing take a deep breath in through your nose and tense up one muscle group (forehead, jaw, neck, shoulders, etc. all the way down to your toes). Then breathe out through your mouth and relax that muscle group. After several sessions, try tensing your whole body at once on the inhale then relaxing your whole body on the exhale. Think of it as a wave of warm water washing over from your head to your toes. After several more sessions of that do the same thing, but don’t tense your body on the inhale, just relax your body on the exhale.
On the exhale say a key word (i.e. relax, nice and easy, etc.). It doesn’t really matter what it is but the idea is to link this word with the idea of relaxation so that when you’re feeling stressed during a race or elsewhere, all you need to do is say that word and you’ll calm down. I did this for about eight minutes once a day.
Once you feel that you’ve mastered this, then it’s on to visualization. Start off with objects around your house, look at them for a bit, then close your eyes and try to visualize them. The shape, colour, texture, weight. Try to rotate them in your mind to look at them from different angles. My room is full of little trinkets and souvenirs so I had no problem finding something. However if you’re having trouble, here are some ideas, a watch, your favourite book’s cover, your pet’s face, TV remote. After about a week of this, try to visualize things outside of your room. A good but challenging thing to try is people’s faces (I find the nose is the most difficult feature to get right).
|Some of my trinkets.|
Now you finally get to look at some maps! If you can, find a novice course or an urban sprint and just practice visualizing each control circle from different directions. Then add movement, how does the feature change as you approach it? At first the movements may seem to be in slow motion but as you progress, your mind will be able to picture everything around you faster. By the end, aim to have a 1:1 speed, that is, the time it takes to visualize a whole race should be the same time it would take you to actually run the race.
|Urban maps are good to start on because the features are generally more organised and easier to visualize, while the features in forest maps are more random.|
Complete a few easy courses in your mind then progress to longer, more technically challenging courses. If you would still like to make it more realistic, add other senses such as sound, smell, muscle fatigue, adrenaline, sweat, other competitors, various weather conditions, etc. Add anything you might feel during the race to make it as realistic as possible.
Mental training is a very powerful tool to have because there are no limitations. You won’t get tired or injured from over-training, you can do courses that are halfway across the world, even in the middle of winter you can train.