There was an interesting article in the Deseret News about Lindsey Anderson, Beijing Olympic qualifier in the women's steeplechase. Lindsey has had a roller-coaster career that has now seen her emerge as one of the best steeplers in the country. This article outlines how she uses visualization techniques to eliminate self-doubt and the fear of failure, as well as prepare herself mentally to achieve her goals. She works just as hard at preparing her mind as she does at preparing her body.
One of the things Lindsey did before the Olympic Trials was to write down her goal every day: "I will run 9:30. I will make the Olympic Team." Every day. She wrote it, she said it, she externalized it. She committed herself to it. And slowly, in line with her workouts, she believed it. Despite it being a nine second PR, she reached a point where she knew she could do it. When she stepped on the line at the Olympic Trials, she had already seen herself run 9:30 every day leading up to it.
Visualization is a key part of preparing to achieve a goal. If you can achieve a goal without having to mentally prepare for it, then you chose a bad goal. Any goal worth achieving will require painstaking mental preparation on top of whatever physical preparation is required. Part of that preparation is convincing your mind not to give in before your body does.
Not all athletes approach visualization techniques as systematically as Lindsey. But elite athletes definitely utilize visualization in their training. My recommendation is to try and be systematic the way Lindsey is, and if it doesn't work, modify it. But build it into your training. Take that 15 minutes everyday to block out the distractions and see yourself achieving what you hope to achieve. Come race day, you may find yourself simply executing a replay of a race you've already known was going to happen.
By the way, Lindsey's new goal: "I will make the Olympic Finals. I will run 9:25." Any doubts she'll be mentally ready to do it?