Why You Need to Change Your Mantra (if You Want to Run to Your Potential)


They are one of the best mental tricks you can use as a runner. I actually wrote about it in a post on 9 mental strategies for Runners Connect. Mantras are the word or short phrase that gets you through a moment in a run or race where your mind is screaming at you to stop.

Ever since I started running I have used mantras….actually now I think about it, I have not shared my running story with you, idea for a new post? Let me know in the comments!

Anyway, back to my point, mantras have always been a part of my running life. When I first started running my mantra was one word, “dig”. I am not sure who came up with that, probably my coach Brad, but I remember that used to be effective, to remind me to dig deep, and give my best. I have never really been afraid to push myself to my limit, so this one worked out for my school career.

running (8)

It was a few years later, I was introduced to the Rocky movies. For some reason, those really hit (no pun intended) home with me. I have no idea why as I HATE fighting, and I think boxing should be banned, but punching in the face aside, I loved the idea of the underdog winning through sheer grit and determination.

Over the next few years decade, my mantra was associated with these movies. It started with “no easy way out”. I would listen to my iPod on a lot of my “longer” runs of 5 miles (:p), and I would take off into a sprint whenever I heard it. Not quite the point of a mantra, but it also helped me in a race when I needed it to. I then moved on to “hearts on fire”. I still LOVE this one, and I could listen to the song everyday for the rest of my life, without hating it, I am sure.

In my last year of college, while Rocky was still very much a part of my life, and I would watch the movies regularly, I moved through my gangster rap stage of mantra. My mantra became “remember the name”, yes, the Fort Minor song. Look at this photo of me standing on the start line of a race (second from the left), I think this stance became somewhat in-famous in our running community…..and not really in a good way. But it worked, and I was running well, so it was worth it.

Cross Country Nationals 2009 (3)
Why so serious?

As I began my journey as a post-collegiate elite runner, Steve and I returned to Rocky, and we honed in on “keep moving forward” or “it ain’t about how hard you hit”. This one really impacted me more than any of the others, this really summarized what I was going through, and I could always rely on it to get me through the struggles.

Steve and I always thought of me as Rocky in Rocky 6. I know many of you are laughing right now, YES, there is a Rocky 6, and YES, in my opinion it is the best one. I actually even went to the cinema ON MY OWN the day it came out in the movies! How cool is that? 😉

Anyway, we saw my training as Rocky’s in that movie; all the odds are against you, but, ” what we’ll be calling on is good ol’ fashion blunt force trauma. Horsepower. Heavy-duty, cast-iron, piledriving punches (or workouts in my case) that will have to hurt so much they’ll rattle his ancestors (help me run fast).”….”Let’s start building some hurtin’ bombs!” Steve particularly liked that last part. We likened that to my powerful legs and grit pushing me past people who had better resources, places to run, and well, quite frankly, ripped-ness. (You know I am ALL about Be Brave, Be Strong, Be You!).

We chose “keep moving forward” as my mantra, and it worked so well. I could always rely on it to go hard, and cross that finish line knowing I gave my all. We also used it when things would go wrong, to reassure me that if I put my head down, and kept keep working, I would will get the result I deserved in the end.

Promise I am wrapping this story up here. It was not meant to be this long, but there is a reason!

Last week, I did a track workout without Steve being there. It was just me and my thoughts.

Later that day when Steve asked how it went, I responded that it went very well, and I kept telling myself “quick feet” (something he had been telling me in the last few weeks during workouts), and that seemed to help propel me forward with my form being how we wanted it to be. This is very different to any mantra I have used before, especially as it is focusing on form, rather than battling those mental demons.

I then thought about it a bit, and in the build up to Chicago a few years ago, as you know, I had repeated “Take what your body gives you”, in the build up to London a few years ago, I had been thinking about “Enjoy the journey”.

It was then I realized that my mantras have changed. My mantras used to be very negative, for most of my running life, they were about pushing hard, about pushing through that pain barrier. You know, the traditional kind of motivation that we see everywhere on Pinterest and Instagram, the one that makes you want to take off in a sprint, or lift heavy weights making a ARGHGHGHHHH noise, but over the past few years, mine have become more positive, and more focused on doing what is right.

My focus used to be to run as HARD as I could, no matter what...even if I looked like this!
My focus used to be to run as HARD as I could, no matter what…I did not care what my form did (or how much time I wasted with my inefficiency, as long as I pushed through the pain!

Rather than pushing through, no matter what, forcing my body into a place it was not yet ready for. Now I want to do things right. If that means running a little slower, taking a little longer to get to where I want to go, that is what we will do.

This post ended up in a completely different direction to which I initially intended, but with all the motivational messages we are bombarded with on a daily basis, I just thought it would be a good time to remind you (and me), that your mantra does not have to be aggressive, it does not have to be about pushing yourself so hard you throw up every time, but about enjoying the journey, and being deeply satisfied about how you are going about your life.

I think I have made my point pretty clear, but just in case, here is another example:

You could reach the top of the career chain while climbing over (and hurting) everyone else to get there, but you are unlikely to stay there, as your past actions will come back to bite you, and besides, that is NOT the kind of person most of us want to be.

Your running career does not have to be about getting to your destination as quickly as you can. As they say, the journey is what counts, and as long as you celebrate the small accomplishments on your way, do what you can to give yourself the best chance of success, and most important of all, enjoy it, then you WILL get there, and you will probably feel much better when you do reach it, because you did it right. And to make sure you did it right, I have a specified course to work on your mental game for your next race.

Okay, I will get off my soapbox now. Thank you for letting me share my thoughts, and allow them to tumble onto the page keyboard how they came out of my head. This post was not planned. I just felt like sharing.

I hope it reminds you that you do not have to listen to those “no pain, no gain” messages all around us. Those were made for other sports, but our sport is different. Our sport requires more thought than that. Keep listening to your body (I wrote about how to do that for easy running last week), and the result will take care of itself.

Train Smarter, Not Harder.

What is your mantra? How has your perspective changed over time?

confidence, mantras

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  • Lisa@runningoutofwine
    July 22, 2015 5:19 am

    This is definitely a great message! I never liked the concept of “no pain no gain” and I hate that its all over social media. I like “run strong” because it can mean so many different things including mental and physical strength and as well as good form.

  • Michele Rosen
    July 22, 2015 5:28 am

    I love this shift in perspective and I can relate to the mantras of the past! I think most of us start out that way, thinking about overcoming the pain, but it’s not sustainable for years on end, this is so true! I’m going to think about this on my run this morning, thanks!

  • carla birnberg
    July 22, 2015 5:30 am

    YES!!! this is so very true for me with fitness and with life. to paraphrase Hafiz: the words we chant create the house we live in.

  • Jessica Sarah Bennett
    July 22, 2015 5:40 am

    Love your posts, Tina! And I found this one particularly relevant to my own artistic journey as an actor and singer in NYC. It’s so important to have mantras and mental toughness to “pound the pavement,” as we say here! I’m definitely realizing it’s not about angrily pushing myself so hard through the pain to get (insert whatever word: fame, wealth, results, notoriety). It’s so not about that. It’s completely about listening to my body, my intuition, and easing up when necessary and then working hard when I have the strength to fight! It’s totally a balance. Anyways–thanks for your insights, I always love keeping up with what you’re up to! xo, Jess

  • Amy Barnaby
    July 22, 2015 6:48 am

    I agree. Growing up with coaches who imparted the “no pain, no gain” philosophy took years to erase. I realized my ego was running the race and leading me down a road of injuries. I love your idea of using form tips. Thanks for another thoughtful post. I’m off to hip arthroscopy surgery. I’ll need new mantras to get through my rehab and back on the road. Keep up the great work.

  • Oh I’m so guilty of the “no pain, no gain” mentality…but I’ve realised I enjoy the process more than the result. And the process doesn’t have to involve pain. Hard work yes, but not necessarily pain. I enjoy running and I never want to let that enjoyment be beaten out of it.
    Great post!

  • Great post – yes, I need to get working on those mantras. I never really needed them previously, but I think, particularly as I continue with the marathon buildup, it might be a good idea.

  • Julie Wunder
    July 22, 2015 8:50 am

    I’m a huge fan of mantras too. Flipping it around to a positive mantra is such a delightful way to think!

  • Olivia Crew
    July 22, 2015 9:09 am

    this post is so inspirational. and i love that you went to the cinema on your own 🙂 for the record, i would have gone with you! i love rocky and even visited the rocky steps when i went to philadelphia for my brother’s graduation. keep up the good work tina

  • Runner Katy
    July 22, 2015 9:15 am

    Thank you for the refreshingly honest post today! I am trying to shift my thought process to those of pure enjoyment of the sport right now as I train for my longest ultra (while easing back on the shorter races). Normally each season it’s all about getting faster (my fast, not near yours) but I want to be running in my 80’s, so I have to ease up a bit and enjoy it to make it last. Love your new mantra’s, and I might have to steal “enjoy the journey”. Thanks again!

  • I’ve never really had a mantra that stuck w me. My trainer always reminds me to train smarter and not just do more.

  • Oh, such wise words, Tina! I needed to hear those today.

  • Michelle@Running with Attitude
    July 22, 2015 9:45 am

    Love this Tina and how your perspective has shifted over time. The “no guts no glory” type of mantras have never set well with me.

  • This is a great post and thank you for sharing. I’m currently in a part of my training that feels stale. I haven’t improved a whole heck of a lot so I’m starting to try new things.

  • Love this message! My mantras change all the time, which I guess makes them not really mantras. Right now, it’s “Can, Will, Am”…you know the whole, I can, I will, and I am, which helps me when my body is trying to tell me I just can’t do any more.
    And I’m completely with you on the Rocky soundtracks. “No Easy Way Out” is one of my favorite workout songs, ever. 🙂

  • I’m actually currently working on mine, because my perspective has definitely changed over the years as I change. I am finding that my mantra is not as intense as it used to be, which for at this point in my life it is what I need. It is more about nourishing, believing, and inspiring not only me, but others. We’ll see what I come up with. Great post friend! xoxo

  • This is a great message. I hate that a lot of the “fitspiration” and all out there is negative connotations and pushing through pain. My mantra (besides breathe deeply and smile) for running has been stronger than you know, and lots of “you’ve got this lauren, keep moving” haha. Also I LOVE how much Rocky is in this post!

  • Yes! Train smarter, not harder! Fitspo on Pinterest and social media has always unsettled me, especially the ones like “don’t stop until you vomit or pass out.” Those have a very disordered and unhealthy mentality. Right now “strong and controlled” and “gratitude” are my mantras for running.

  • Martina Di Marco
    July 22, 2015 3:09 pm

    Awww Tina, tell Steve you can’t marry him anymore cause I want to marry you 😉 Jokes apart, I loved this post so much. I especially loved the part about shifting from negative mantras to positive ones. I DESPISE the “no pain, no gain” mantra. People kept repeating that to me when telling them how tough it was for me to do workouts in the heat. I convinced myself that I was probably just being a baby about it and that I needed to be mentally stronger. Comes the next workout, I suffered a heat stroke. “No pain. no gain” needs to be replaced by “listen to your body.” You know your body better than anybody else and you have to respect it.
    Before the NJ marathon, my friend (who was running the race as well) texted me this: “only positive thoughts for tomorrow.” So when I’d start to slow down every now and then or when things would start getting harder during the race, I kept repeating that to myself and it helped me running more relaxed. I think we tend to push ourselves too much during races when it would be much more beneficial to actually just relax sometimes. Another favorite mantra? “focus on YOUR run/race/training.” Too often we fall in the trap of comparing ourselves to other runners. What for? We are one of a kind. Some of us are better in the heat, others are better in the cold; some people are better at shorter races, other people are better in the marathon… the list goes on and on. Focus on YOUR journey! Be brave, be strong, be YOU 😉

  • Thanks for sharing this, Tina; love this perspective! My most oft-used mantra is “run your race;” I have a tendency to get caught up in what others are doing, what I *wish* I could do, etc., and this helps me to remember that, in the moment, what I can do is what I need to focus on…running *my* race, not someone else’s.

  • There’s a lot to take away from this, but I’m just going to say one thing – I am SO glad that you think that Rocky Balboa, aka Rocky 6, is the best Rocky movie!!! 🙂

    A mantra I’ve been using lately this year is “run to explore”. It’s really helped to paint a lot of the easy paced and long runs in a positive light for me, to give them a purpose, something I struggled with until last year.

  • My mantra is simply “run happy” and yes I know that’s Brooks’ motto. But it epitomizes everything I want running to be.

  • “One Step At A Time” is my mantra for 2015. I am sure I’ll add another one next year, but right now – this is perfect for me.
    You can fight and whine about the process… or look straight ahead, dig deep (thanks!) and take it one step at a time. For me it’s such a peaceful feeling, and I am excited about this journey and where it will take me. As always, a great post friend.

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