Modius: train your brain for athletic success

It’s 5am in the morning in San Diego, California, the crisp air fills my lungs as I step outside and the see the beginnings of a sunrise. Daylight comes to greet me as my mind and body prepare for the challenge ahead. It’s 5:45 am now, but thanks to daylight savings time my body actually thinks it’s 4:45am. As absurd as this early hour is there’s energy pumping through my veins as I begin to visualize running up the Washington Street Hill. In T minus 1.25 hours the race gun will go off and I’ll start on a 13.1 mile journey through the streets of San Diego. It’s that time of year again: The SD Half Marathon.

Not only do I love studying what exercise does to the brain, but I also love doing it! It makes me feel alive and brightens the world around me, especially when me and 7,999 other people are running together. That’s right, there were 8,000 people running this year’s race! Talk about a crowded race course. Luckily we started the run in various waves, dispersing the space between the runners.

The Before

The race started off smoothly. Mile 1 through 6 felt like a breeze. Me and my running buddies started off in a slower heat so we were able to build up our speed and slowly pass people, instead of expending too much energy and being passed. The first half of the race was flat and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect. I swear San Diego has outdoor air conditioning sometimes. Not too hot, not too cold, a little ocean breeze, and the marine layer. Perfect for the runner.

Then came miles 7 through 11. The uphill battle began. Mile 7 & 8 had some small, but manageable hills. Mile 9, however, presented the ultimate challenge: The Washington Street Hill. Thank goodness I was running with my friends, their motivation pulled me up that hill. But, it wasn’t only their motivation that helped. I had trained for this uphill. I knew it was coming and I had not only trained for it by running hills and stairs, but also by practicing yoga, breathing techniques, and visualization meditations.

The During

Through my studies of neuroscience and yoga, I know that the mind can be trained to endure tough physical situations through learning how to respond to pain properly. This is done through techniques like visualizing success, training the breath, and learning how to get in the zone in a yoga practice. There are physiological differences for people who practice these techniques, including increased gray matter in the brain, particularly in the insula, increased oxygen carrying capacity of red blood cells, and more neuronal connectivity overall! Not to mention that your chances of meeting your goals are higher!

So, in the weeks leading up to the race I focused not only on increasing my running mileage, but also on building my mental strength and physiological response under pressure and pain. I practiced vinyasa yoga 3 times a week, restorative yoga twice a week, meditation everyday for at least 10 minutes a day, and breathing exercises every day during an additional meditation or when I was working at my desk. The meditations included free awareness meditations and visualizations, where I imagined myself getting to the top of the hill and still feeling strong, like the rest of the race would be a piece of cake.The purpose of breathing practices was to simulate running up a hill, creating an oxygen deficiency in order to build up the efficiency of my red blood cells in carrying and using oxygen. And the yoga, the yoga helped me train my mind and body to get in the zone and stay there, to focus on bodily sensations and not let the mind get in the way while at the same time improving my balance and body awareness.

Sure enough, the hill proved to be a bear of a challenge, but just as sure, I felt amazing once I got to the top. I felt like I had just conquered a mountain and the rest of the run was mine. For the last three miles me and my friends were able to pick up the pace and speed past the finish line, completing the race in under 2 hour.

The After

The euphoria of the race lasted for the rest of the day, which consisted of restorative yoga, brunch with the running mates, laying on the beach, and a celebratory mimosa or two 🙂

I can’t wait for the next race. Until then, I’ll be resting up and training my brain for the next challenge.

What can you do today to train your body and brain to meet your goals?

If you have any questions, be like the neuron: reach out and make a connection.

From my heart & brain to yours,



Hannah Heimer
Hannah Heimer

I’m a brain enthusiast and yoga fanatic. I work as a researcher at the University of California, San Diego while also running a yoga business on the side.

I use brain research and yoga as a springboard to blog about lifestyle, health, happiness, and how it all relates to your brain.

Just like the nerve cells in our brains, I love making new connections. So, feel free to reach out. For more info on yoga and the brain, take some time to explore