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How to make a running mantra

For when you need a little motivational self-talk to get you to the finish line

Running is as much mental as it is physical. When you reach the inevitable part in a workout or race when your body wants to give up, it’s your mind that gets you to the end. Developing mental strength is no easy task, and requires constant work to maintain. Creating a running mantra can help silence negative thoughts and encourage you to push through tough spots, but not just any random combination of words will do. Not sure how to create a mantra of your own? We’re here to help.

Is mental fatigue slowing you down?

Why do mantras work?

It’s very easy for negative thoughts to creep in when you’re completing a hard workout or running a race. As you start to fatigue, thoughts telling you you’re too tired, you’re not good enough, you won’t reach your goal or that you should quit can get louder and louder to the point where it’s difficult to hear anything else. That’s when a mantra comes to your rescue. Having a mantra ready and waiting for when you need it most requires very little thinking or mental energy, but repeating it can drown out the negative thoughts going on in your head.

In fact, a 2017 study found runners who were completing a 60-mile (95Km) overnight race reported that using a mantra was helpful both in training and racing, and continued to use their mantras even after the study was complete.

The anatomy of a good mantra

A mantra can be whatever you want it to be, but there are a few things to keep in mind if you want it to be effective. Use these guidelines to create your own personalized motivational mantra:

  1. It should be short. You want your mantra to be easy to remember and easy to repeat, so a long-winded phrase is not a great option here. Usually one or two affirmative words that bolster your confidence is all you need.
  2. Use your struggles as inspiration. Do you lack confidence in yourself in the later stages of a race? Do you get stressed or begin to panic when it starts to get difficult? These are the things you want your mantra to address. If you lack confidence, a simple phrase like “I am strong” or “I can do hard things” can remind you what you’re capable of. If you start to feel stressed during the race, something like “stay calm, stay relaxed” could be exactly what you need to turn those feelings around.
  3. Remind yourself why you’re doing this in the first place. When you get to the hard part of a run, workout or race, you might find yourself asking why you do this at all. In this case, you could use your mantra to remind you why you’re out putting one foot in front of the other. For example, “I’m loving this challenge,” or even simple, “I am a runner,” can remind you that you love the sport, and turn it around in your mind to be a fun experience.

Examples of elite mantras

Photo by Courtney White

If you’re having trouble figuring out a mantra that resonates with you, take inspiration from one of these elite runners instead:

  1. Shalane Flanagan: Run without any regrets
  2. Kara Goucher: Fighter
  3. Deena Kastor: Go Faster. Push Harder. Today, Define Yourself.
  4. Bill Rodgers: Relentless

Eight mental tricks to get you through tough training

It may take some trial and error for you to find a mantra that works for you. Start practicing them in your harder workouts and runs so that by the time race day arrives, you’re armed with the words to get you to the finish line.