Running may be a physical activity, but serious runners will attest to the fact that succeeding at this sport also involves training your brain. Running mantras can help.
Running mantras are not exactly new news. They are as classic and timeless as a Burberry trench coat. But much cheaper and more portable. You can use them to help transform sad, negative self talk (like "I suck") into happy, upbeat vibes (like "I'm a stud!") Before you roll your eyes, positive self talk is not all new-age woo-hoo. A study actually proves that positive self talk can quell the perceived effects of physical exertion.
The concept behind using running mantras is quite simple. You pick a motivational phrase or affirmation, and repeat it, as needed, to get you through a workout, to navigate spotty patches during a run, or to power you through racing. You use it in the same way that you take a drink of water when you're thirsty.
Running mantras are as vast and different as the sea of runners you will encounter at the start line of any race. Some are stout. Others are minimal. Some are hippy-dippy. Others are more militant.
I am a huge fan of running mantras. I use them mostly during races but also as needed during speed work and long runs that seem like they will never end. My method involves picking one or two phrases that are pertinent about a week before a race, then I will lean on that phrase during the race whenever I am feeling a niggle, fatigued or mentally exhausted.
Some of my past running mantras
The stories behind some of my previous running mantras range from silly and sadistic, to sweet and sappy. Some past mantras that come to mind include:
- "Run like a Kenyan." When I was first starting racing 6 years ago, I felt super awkward and self conscious – literally afraid I would finish dead last. Determined to replace my anxiety with a sense of Walter-Mitty-like escapism, I leaned on the mantra "Run like a Kenyan" to get me through my first Broad Street Run 10-Miler, which also happened to be my first race, ever. In the end, in case you're wondering, I did not run like a Kenyan in terms of either time or form. But I did triumphantly finish my first race.
- "Run like a gazelle." An ex boyfriend, who served as my de facto coach and taught me so much about running, said on a few occasions that I "run like a gazelle." Gazelles are fast, light and graceful: a nice compliment. Thinking about this balletic animal as I ran a half marathon helped me focus on my form and run more efficiently.
- "Suck it up, Buttercup." This cheeky mantra actually goes against the notion of positive self-talk. It's negative, like saying, "Toughen up," or "Stop whining." But part of improving as a runner means knowing when to exercise discipline and when to ease up. At this particular point, I needed to toughen up. I used this mantra in a few 5Ks when I was just learning to run fast and push through pain. It helped, and I haven't used such a snarky mantra since.
- "Execute." I was never more prepared for any race than I was for the New York City Marathon. I had done all the work. I was more than ready. All I needed to do was suit up, show up and run the race according to plan. I used the Navy-Seal-esque phrase "Execute." It was simple, to the point and easy to remember and repeat. This remains one of my favorite racing mantras. I still pull it out of my bag of tricks from time to time.
- "Run calm." A spinning teacher at my gym, who is a real workhorse, often talks about settling into your breath and working hard to raise your heart rate with "no drama." This resonated with me. So when I ran Boston last year, after just coming off an injury, I vowed to "Run calm." It worked. I had a great time.
- "Fast cadence." I used this when I first started racing to remind myself to speed up my leg turnover.
If you're interested in learning more about the mental aspects of running, I recommend How Bad Do You Want It? by Matt Fitzgerald. I'm almost through this book – a great read with many real-life examples and stories from various endurance sports.
On January 1, a very dear friend and mentor of mine passed away suddenly. It left a huge negative space in this world for all the people who loved him. And the next day when I ran, all I could feel besides the sadness at his passing was gratitude for being alive, for having friends and family who love me, and for being able to run, period. As I ran that week, the phrase, "Carpe Diem" kept wafting in and out of my brain. Seize the day. A good mantra for any run, for anything in life, in fact.
Run happy and healthy, friends.