Running is a mental sport, more than anything else.  You’re only as good as your training, and your training is only as good as your thinking.

Lauren Oliver

Running is both physically and mentally challenging.  To achieve your goals, powerful legs and big lungs aren’t enough—you also need a strong head.  Your mental toughness is just as important as your fitness level on race day.  Our group runs will prepare you physically.  But I want to address the mental aspect – the negative thoughts and conversations we have in our heads, and how to overcome them.

Let’s talk about MANTRAS.

Words are powerful.  They can rally crowds, inspire greatness, and get you out of a terrible funk halfway through your training or race.

Athletes have long been taught to replace negative thoughts with positive ones to improve their performance.  Countless research studies in sports psychology have proven the power of positive thinking and self-talk.  Athletes who go into a workout or race with positive thoughts perform significantly better and more consistently than those who approach workouts and races with a negative attitude.  So how do we tap into that and put it into practice?  Many athletes use motivational quotes or short phrases known as “mantras” to help get them through workouts.  The Sanskrit word “mantra” literally means “instrument for thinking.”  As such, these short words or phrases have long been used to focus the mind in meditation.  Mantras have been around for at least 3,000 years, but they are having a mainstream moment.  We meditate on them.  We find them in pop songs that encourage us to “Let It Go” and get “Happy.”  We tape them to our fridges and computers, pin them to our Pinterest boards, InstaQuote them on Instagram.

Think of a mantra as a useful mental tool you can use to get through the toughest, and most challenging part of a workout by spinning negative thoughts into positive ones, which can help control your inner state and stay in the moment.

The mantras that work the best are personal, positive, short, and action-oriented.  An effective mantra addresses what you want to feel, not the adversity you’re trying to overcome.  In fact, when discomfort strikes, the worst thing you can do is embrace the pain.  When you start thinking, “Oh, this hurts,” “Oh, I have a side stitch,” “Oh, my legs are tired”— those negative thoughts pile on.  A good mantra diverts your mind from thoughts that reinforce the pain to thoughts that help you transcend it.

Strength Mantras will connect into your hidden resources that keep you going when tired.  The specific words you choose will help to make subconscious and intuitive connections with muscles and your inner resolve.  As you learn to tap into the right brain, you’ll coin phrases that continue drawing on mental or spiritual resources.  The best ones will be your own mantras that relate to your experiences with words that work.  Action phrases not only keep you going but also help you perform as you find ways to dig deeper into your resources.  The following have been used when under physical and mental stress, but use these only as a primer.  

  • Feet-stay light and quick, keep moving
  • My legs are strong
  • My heart is pumping better
  • More blood in the muscles
  • Lactic acid, go away
  • More oxygen, lungs
  • The strength is in there, I’m feeling it
  • Talk crazy to me, right brain
  • I’m feeling creative–I’m making adjustments
  • I feel comfortable–I’m in control
  • I feel good–I feel strong
  • I’m floating
  • Come to me–endorphins
  • I’m having fun
  • How bad do you want it?
  • It takes strength to do what you love

Funny Mantras get you to laugh, which is a right brain activity.

  • I feel like a clown, ballerina, football player, stooge
  • Float like an anchor, sting like a sponge
  • Where’s the bounce, glide
  • I’m all about that pace … no trippin’ (spinoff of the song by Meghan Trainor)

Creative Mantras

  • I’m building a house, railroad, community, bookcase, etc.
  • What type of novel could that person ahead of me have written?
  • What type of profession could that person on the sidewalk have?
  • What type of movie could be staged here?

Distraction Mantras start by preoccupying your left brain so that it won’t send you so many negative messages.  After saying these over many times you may be able to shift into the right brain.

  • Look at that store, car building, sign, etc.
  • Look at that person, hair, outfit, hat, T-shirt design, etc.
  • One more step, one more step
  • One more block, telephone pole, stop light, etc.
  • Baby steps, baby steps, baby steps
  • I can do anything for [##] minutes/seconds

Vision Mantras help you feel that you’re getting where you want to be.

  • I can see the next mile marker
  • I can feel the pull of the finish line
  • I can feel being pulled along by the runners ahead
  • I can feel myself getting stronger
  • I’m pushing through the wall
  • I’m moving at the right pace to finish with strength

Mantras can help you get through the tough moments in a race when negative thoughts and doubt are so overwhelming, and you need a boost.  Because you never know when a short phrase could be the difference of you crossing the finish line and not.  They even work during fast workouts or long runs – any time that you’re feeling compelled to quit or slow down.  Think about your training during your next race.  If you’ve done the work, trust your workouts.  The race is just an extension of your training.

Don’t defeat yourself mentally before you’ve even started.  Think strong words.  Repeat inspiring phrases.  Run even better. 

You are strong, ready and capable of the challenge ahead.  Repeat to yourself – “I CAN do this!”