When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get A Mantra
I had just left my pace group as they headed right on the marathon course, and I continued left with the rest of the half-marathoners. I was passing mile 9 and just slightly ahead of my goal pace.
“It’s OK if it gets tough now.”
“Stay strong, stay steady.”
“This is what you trained for.”
“Focus on this mile.”
These were the mantras I trusted to get me through the last 5K of the Derby Festival MiniMarathon, and cross the finish for a sub 1:35. Some, I thought of during my training, and planned to use them as needed when I felt any doubt creep in during the race. Then there are those mantras that inserted themselves in my thoughts – as if from nowhere – that I clung onto like a life-saver.
As Christie Aschwanden writes in Runner’s World, “To achieve your running goals, powerful legs and big lungs aren’t enough—you also need a strong head. Doubts and distractions can derail your attempts, but a well-chosen mantra can keep you calm and on target.” Quoting sports psychologist Stephen Walker, Ph.D, “‘Repeating choice words whenever you need to focus helps direct your mind away from negative thoughts and toward a positive experience.'”
Running is an incredibly mental sport. We’ve all had that feeling of wanting nothing more than to slow down, then a favorite song infiltrates our ears and suddenly we unknowingly pick up the pace. We’ve experienced the all elusive “runner’s high”, that never seems to correlate with our training, but certainly is tied to our mood.
Getting your head in the race is just as important as the shoes you lace up and the electrolytes you ingest. Having a few mantras in your pocket for when you don’t see how finishing is possible, can be your ticket to an enjoyable race.
Mantras are free and as open as your imagination. I still remember during a hot training run, “you can stop when you’re done,” made it’s way into my brain and got me that last mile to my front door. True, it doesn’t really make sense, but I latched on to it like spandex on thighs. What does wonders for one, may have no effect on you, so just like your nutritional choices, try a few out during training runs and see what works for you.
Here are some things to consider when crafting a motivating mantra:
Keep it Short
Mantras are often used as repeatable chants, so keep it simple and short. It should stick in your memory easily, after all, you aren’t trying to create more work for your brain when you’re huffing it up a hill at mile 18.
Accentuate the Positive
A mantra should fill your head and heart with, “I can!”, so go with positive words. Think of what you struggle with, and put a counterpoint into your mantra. For example, if your legs start to feel like lead in the last miles of a run, repeating, “my legs are pistons”, can help counteract those thoughts and – in turn – feelings.
Make it Energetic and Actionable
Your chant should put what you want to do/feel directly into your brain. Stay away from convoluted phrases who’s meanings you have to search for, and stick with actions and feelings that instantly lift you up. Words like, “strong”, “fast”, “steady”, “breathe”, are all great to include.
Don’t Overthink It
Lastly, don’t dwell on finding the perfect mantra. Sketch out a few to try out, but don’t rule out those thoughts that pop up during a run.
During my first marathon my legs started to ache around mile 18, and although I hadn’t read anything about mantras or had the slightest foresight to have one ready, a sticker I read a few weeks before made its way to the forefront of my mind, “What was tough to bear, is sweet to remember.”
You probably realize this mantra takes into account very little of the points I just laid out, and if I was making one ahead of time I wouldn’t have come up with this. But, despite all of that, I repeated this in my head the next 8 miles, feeling better with each mile marker. I thought about how the discomfort I felt now, and would likely feel the next X miles, had nothing on the memory of my first marathon that I would carry the rest of my life.
Need some inspiration? Here are a few to test out during your next run!
“I believe in myself, I believe in my run.”
“Run the mile you’re in.”
“You trained for this moment.”
“I feel good, I feel great, I feel wonderful.” (Anyone else love What About Bob?)
“One more mile.”
“Trust the training.”
“Clear your head of can’t, fill your heart with can.”
“I am stronger than this race.”
“Don’t trip, don’t trip, don’t trip.” (OK, that’s not positive but I end up chanting it over the last 2 miles of every marathon!)
“I’m a machine.”
“Keep going.” (I wrote this on my fingernails for my first big race!)
“Focus on the finish.”
“It’s not supposed to be easy.”
“You can stop when it’s done.”