Power of a running mantra

In the final three weeks leading up to Boston, I spent a lot of time mentally preparing for the race. After all, I was technically supposed to be tapering, and I was still injured, so I couldn’t really do any more physical preparation. The real battle, I had a feeling, was going to be the mental component of the marathon.

I know it’s trite and overused to say something like “sports are 90% mental” and obviously this isn’t quite true, but what’s going on in your head can have a real, discernible impact on your physical performance. Visualization is one technique that I like to use (imagine crossing the finish line, or getting that medal around your neck), as well as dividing miles into smaller chunks, picking miles off one at a time, or picking a person ahead of you and making it a goal to pass them.

But what really helped me during Boston was using a mantra, a word or brief phrase you repeat to yourself to direct your mind away from negative thoughts and focus on the positive. According to this Runner’s World article, mantra is Sanskrit for “instrument for thinking” and it’s just as effective a tool for increasing performance as a foam roller or a good pair of shoes. The article goes on to say that a good mantra is short, positive, instructive and full of action words, but I think an effective mantra really varies from person to person.


Honestly I think the only thing going through my head in this pic was “dear God where is the finish line???”

That or “I want hot chocolate”

These are the ones I used in Boston:

– Run with joy. (Short, simple and reminds me to SMILE 🙂 It’s also a good reminder to run like a child – free and happy and unfettered. Just run.)

– One foot in front of the other (simultaneously the hardest and easiest thing in the world to do!)

– Clear eyes, full heart (any other FNL devotees reading this? Also, this is one with a great cadence because of the short, monosyllabic words that mimic your footsteps)

– I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13. This is a Bible verse I’ve seen written on many singlets and bibs at races, and it’s Meb Keflezighi’s favourite quote. I love it!)

And for when it really hurts… “Pain is temporary” or “this too shall pass” (although technically mantras are supposed to be positive and these ones fall more on the brutally realistic side – might not be the most comforting when you’re pushing up a hill, but at least you’ll know there is a light at the end of the tunnel).

For some reason I also tend to hear Jillian Michaels’ voice in my head sometimes lecturing, “Don’t phone it in! Don’t phone it in!” (thanks 30 Day Shred)

Back to the Runner’s World article … here’s a collection of some elite runners’ favourite mantras:

– “This is what you came for”: ultramarathoner Scott Jurek

– “Define yourself”: Chicago Marathon winner Deena Kastor

– “Think strong, be strong, finish strong”: Renee Metivier Baillie, winner of 2010 USATF indoor 3000 m.

– “Be water”: Olympian Bolota Asmerom adopted this Bruce Lee mantra

Do you think mantras work? What ones do you rely on during a race or tough run?


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