The Power of the Mantra

Posted: January 14, 2011 in Motivation
Tags: , , , ,

I have been reading Runner’s World for quite some time now.  I think I subscribed to the magazine sometime back in 2009, but had been picking up copies at airports when I have been traveling for work for about 4 years.

Some months there are great articles about training and racing.  Other months there are personal interest stories that grab my attention.  And every once in awhile I flip through the 125 pages or so and nothing really jumps out at me.

It was entertaining perhaps, but I’m not sure that I really “took anything away” from the “read” so to speak.  That’s o.k.; we all need entertainment too right?

But this month there was an article that really hit home as I am sharpening the sword getting ready for Austin in 5 weeks.  Not all the hay is in the barn at this point, but that day is rapidly approaching.

Next week will be my final high-mileage, 50+ mile run week with a Sunday run of 20 miles.  Then it will be a reduced week leading up to the 3M Half Marathon on January 30th and the three week taper on the way to the starting line at Austin.

When I look at the 24 workouts that remain, only two are really “looming”.  Race day on January 30th, which to be completely honest will be pretty darn fun.  It’s always a great day when you are racing.  The other will be that final 20-miler which although it will be a challenging run is always a marathon training run that feels great to complete.  It is after that final 20-miler that I feel, “trained” and ready to rock.

So what will the other 22 runs spread over the next 5 weeks be about?

They are about continuing to build upon the base training to this point, all of the hill work, speed work, racing, endurance and stamina training and getting mentally right for race day.

The marathon is of course a physical test.  Racing for 26.2 miles for more than 3 hours certainly contains a physical element to it.  But there comes a time in the marathon where the physical test transitions to a mental one.

Mental toughness is what allows the runner to continue to hold pace mile after mile, hour after hour without faltering.  The time it takes to cover that next mile may remain the same, but the effort to maintain that pace becomes more and more difficult.  It becomes a mental test to stay in the moment or “stay in the mile” and not allow yourself the opportunity to look too far ahead and become discouraged.

If you have a poor mile at number 17 that is one thing.

If you allow that poor mile to “beat you” and turn one poor mile into 9 poor miles you are defeated.  You don’t stand a chance.  Just like the 18 or in my case 20 weeks of training leading up to race day, the marathon has its ups and downs.

There are good miles, bad miles, easy miles and difficult ones.  The key to success is staying even-keeled, focused and determined.  Not ceding an inch to the race.  When times get really tough, leaning on something to keep you motivated to push harder.

The article in RW this month talked about developing your own “Mantra” for just those occasions.

Their point was to achieve your running goals, powerful legs and big lungs aren’t enough.  You also need a strong head.  To borrow from the article – “Repeating choice words whenever you need to focus helps direct your mind away from negative thoughts and toward a positive experience”.

Now, you have probably been reading Run for Dom long enough to know that I am not some new-age Jedi-mind-trick evolutionist.  I believe that hard work and dedication yield rewards.  If you want it and you dream it, if you work hard for it, you can achieve it.

But I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I am a huge believer in the race day mantra.

There is a lot of “noise” on race day.  A whole host of things to distract you from the mission at hand.  I let a lot of things “get in my head” last year at Boston and it cost me.  I also did not work as hard as I had in the past to prepare for the race from a mental standpoint than I had for say Pittsburgh in 2009.

I got caught up not only in the two marathons in 13 day challenge and the thoughts of success or failure for Dom, but I didn’t really hone in on April 19th.  26.2 Miles.  Hopkinton to Boston.  One step at a time, one mile at a time.  I wasn’t 100% ready physically, coming back from my injury.  But I was even further away mentally and it cost me.The RW article provides some examples that have been used in the past by RW staff members:

When starting out easy:

“Pass No one.”

Overcoming inclines:

“Hills are my friend.”

Summoning a kick:

“The strong get stronger”

Conquering 26.2:

“Fast or slow, it hurts just the same”

Back in 2009 at Pittsburgh I believed that for me to be successful and qualify for Boston I would have to lean on all of the core training that I had done prior to the race to keep my posture and not slouch when I got fatigued over the latter stages of the race.

Slouching is a common problem for marathoners, as when you tire and lose your posture, you become “shorter”.  Your stride shortens, and each step that you take covers less and less ground.

Your “effort” of running at 7:30 min./mile pace may stay the same, it is just as “hard”, but you are not able to cover the same amount of real estate in 7 minutes and 30 seconds.  You begin “running shorter” and slowing down vs. the clock.

My Mantra at Pittsburgh that I shared recently with a friend running at the Walt Disney World Marathon last weekend was:

“Stay tall, stay smooth, stay fast”

That must have been a good one, as my friend Mark ran a 16 minute PR using that Mantra last Sunday.

So over the next 5 weeks I will be not only putting the finishing touches on the physical part of my training, but locking in my pace goal, setting my mile by mile strategy for the Austin course.  I will also be developing my race day Mantra.

To race well on February 20th, everything is going to have to fall into place just right.

Steel sharpens Steel after all.


Steel sharpens Steel.  Not bad.  Not bad at all.

  1. Naomi says:

    i love the mantras. i wrote these down and put them on my fridge to commit them to memory. thanks!

  2. Jodi Higgins says:

    Thanks so much for this post! My calves were burning after my treadmill “hill” repeats and 20 minute jump roping session. I could have used one of these mantras. My Runner’s World is sitting on my counter. I haven’t had a chance to get to it because I was reading The Long Run and I couldn’t put it down. You are going to rock Austin Joe!!

  3. Chanthana says:

    Great post, Joe! Like Naomi, I love mantras too. Racing is an all-encompassing activity that engages our body and mind. One of my favorites for running into the wind is “I’m a hot knife running through butter.” 🙂 Looking forward to seeing you crush it in Austin!!

  4. Cortney says:

    You’re going to do great! My mantra is always, “Finish it!”

  5. I love this idea and I love your mantra. My mantra comes from a quote from Born to Run. The quote is “Think Easy, Light, Smooth, and Fast. You start with easy, because if that’s all you get, that’s not so bad. Then work on light. Make it effortless, like you don’t give a sh*t how high the hill is or how far you’ve got to go.”

    So the mantra is “Easy, light, smooth, and fast.”

  6. Ariana says:

    Excellent post and perfect timing! Thank you! I am totally using stay tall, stay smooth, stay fast!

  7. Brian Cass says:

    I’m not so “fast” so it’s stay smooth, stay tall, stay tough for me…great follow-up post to a fun article.

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