Being a good runner is about more than having a strong body, it is also about having a strong mind.
Running mantras are a tool that can be used by any runner to help them push through when the going gets tough.
With running, you can almost always go further, or faster, or steeper, than you think. It is often your mind that gives up before your body does.
Personally speaking, I have cut many a run short because I don’t think that I can keep going. But I have never actually physically not been able to keep going.
Running mantras can help you to push through those mental limits that we all have.
In this article we are going to delve into,
- What a running mantra is,
- how to use running mantras,
- the science behind how running mantras work,
- some elite athletes favourite running mantras,
- and some running mantras that you can use in your own running.
Ready to feel inspired?
What is a Running Mantra?
Stoicism, Buddhism, and Taoism all tell their followers to repeat specific chants -or mantras– to steady the mind.
‘Mantra’ is a Sanskrit word that literally translates to “instrument for thinking“.
A mantra is a vehicle for the mind.
It gives your mind something to focus on, and it gives it a break from your thoughts.
A running mantra is a word or a phrase that, when repeated, helps you to get through the hard times of a race or a workout.
Your brain is constantly coming up with stories about how things are.
Sometimes the stories you tell yourself are right- maybe it really is hot.
But sometimes, the stories are self-sabotaging. ‘I can’t do this’, or ‘I am weak’.
Whether the stories are true or not, they are often not great reasons to stop running.
In come the running mantras!
Running mantras can be used to dial down the noise of the thinking brain, instead offering a powerful motivational hook that can pull you through the tough time.
Related resource: Visualization for Runners Guide
How to Use Running Mantras
- The main point here is to find a running mantra that moves you. Make it personal, make it mean something, and make sure that it makes you feel something.
- Secondly, you want your chosen running mantra’s focus to be on the state which you are trying to achieve, not the struggle which you are trying to overcome. For example, if you are feeling weak on your run, use the mantra “I am strong”.
- And importantly, running mantras are powerful and should be used responsibly.
There is little reason to use a running mantra when the going is easy, when you’re plodding through some slow, easy miles for example. You don’t want to blunt the running mantra’s power.
Instead, save the mantras for when it gets tough, or when it really counts.
Running mantras can be used in a race situation when the mind begins to wonder and you need to pull it back into focus.
Or when you need to push through the final few hard repetitions of a speed session.
Or when you feel like giving up mid-run. Try a running mantra and see if you can change your tune.
The first time you use a mantra you might feel silly, but there’s only one way to find out if it works!
Why Running Mantras Work- The Science
Mantras have quite literally been used for thousands of years, but it was only recently that scientists began to look into the power of this practice.
And, as it turns out, running mantras are indeed science-backed!
A 2015 study conducted research into how effective mantras actually are.
In the study, participants were told to lie down, first time round with no instruction at all. Then, after a few minutes of lying there, they were told to repeat a mantra to themselves.
As they lay there, their brain activity was being measured by a functional MRI machine.
The researchers found that whilst the participants silently repeated the mantra to themselves, their brain activity in the section of the brain responsible for planning decreased.
Whilst when the participants were not instructed to repeat the mantra, this part of their brain recorded normal levels of activity.
But what does this mean?
The study showed that repeating a mantra distracted the wondering mind enough so that it didn’t focus on obsessing and planning. The researchers concluded that this fact accounts for a significant “calming effect”.
Another study, examining over 100 sources, found that positive self-talk correlated to improved endurance performance.
Elite Athletes Favourite Running Mantras
—Bill Rodgers, four times Boston Marathon winner
2. “Calm, calm, calm. Relax, relax, relax”
—Desiree Linden, United States marathon runner
Linden says that she uses this mantra when a race or training run gets tough. But she also applies this mantra to her life outside of running. In high-stress or tense situations, Linden repeats this mantra to herself.
3. “Focus, Focus, Focus”
—Rob Krar, ultramarathon runner and endurance athlete
“I don’t set out with a mantra in mind, they tend to come to me in the moment when I need them most. Last year [in Colorado], at Leadville, when my knee was feeling weak and unstable—it was only about 80 percent recovered from surgery—it was as simple as repeating this, knowing every step could be my last if I let myself daydream.”
4. “You Get to Do This”
—Amelia Boone, obstacle racer and endurance athlete
“I come back to this mantra when I’m dealing with stress, especially prior to or following races.”
5. “Mood Follows Action”
—Rich Roll, ultramarathon runner, endurance athlete, and podcast host
“Applicable in sport and life. Rather than waiting to ‘feel like’ doing something, the surest way to shift out of your discomfort or resistance is to lean into action. It’s in the doing that we alter our perspective and emotional state—not the other way around.”
6. “This Too Shall Pass”
—Sarah True, Olympian and professional triathlete
“I use it both in sport and in life when I’m hurting, as a reminder that the pain is temporary. Whether it’s during a period of intentional overreaching in my training, an episode of depression, or feelings of anxiety when I’m in a crowded, confined space, it’s a reminder that the uncomfortable feelings will fade away with time.”
The Best Running Mantras
The best running mantras are simple, repetitive, and actionable.
Last week we asked the Marathon Handbook community over on Instagram to share some of their favourite running mantras. Below are some of them, so prepare to get inspired by the community!
The Best Everyday Running Mantras
Which direction do you want to move in? Onwards.
- “I can do it”
This one’s simple. But its simplicity means that works quite well to counteract that voice in your head that tells you that you can’t do it.
- “Strong, Confident, Relaxed”
Lean into the run with this mantra and become that strong, confident, and relaxed runner.
- “I am a runner”
Give yourself some validation with this one. It is easy to compare yourself to other runners, but just remember that their prowess does not deny yours.
The Best Mantras For Low Motivation Days
- “The biggest privilege is being able to choose your struggles”
Sometimes you need a reminder that you chose to do this. Being able to get outside and move your body is something that you can be grateful for.
- “Anything is better than nothing”
Going out for a 3k jog is better than not going out at all. You’ll feel better for it, and who knows, maybe you’ll decide to keep running.
- “Any job worth doing is worth doing badly”
Often true in life, often true in running. Botching your speed session, doing half the amount of reps, and doing the ones that you did do very slowly, is better than not doing any reps at all.
- “Just finish”
Some days are just not for going fast. Sometimes setting yourself the simple goal of just finishing is enough.
The Best Mantras For When Running Gets Tough
- “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”
This one gets attributed to John F. Kennedy and if you ever want to feel like a warrior, try this one out when you start to flag.
- “Keep going, Lion” (Keyan Mantra)
Want to feel powerful? Unleash your inner beast with this one.
- “Up and over”
Tough times often come in waves, especially in long-distance running. This one can be a good reminder that a slump is like a hill- you’ll get over it.
- “I’m stronger than I think”
This one summarises mantras. You can always do more than you think you can. Let this mantra push you further than your limits!
…Still looking for more inspiration? Check out this list of 20 Motivational Quotes!