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Improve Your Mental Toughness with a Race Day Mantra

Route 66 Marathon

If you’ve been running for a while and are watching the miles rack up without a corresponding drop in your race times, the issue may be in your mind rather than your legs. While runners spend hours each week training their bodies, many neglect to train their minds. As the saying goes, running is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical, so why don’t we focus more on our brains? One simple way to develop mental toughness and push yourself to race day glory is by developing a race day mantra.

So, what exactly is a race day mantra? By definition, a mantra is a word or phrase repeated over and over again to aid in concentration or focus. Shalane Flanagan has used phrases like “Run without any regrets” or “cold execution” during her races, while Sara Hall repeats “relax and roll” during marathons. A mantra is repeated, either internally or out loud, during the tough parts of a race when you need to dig deep. It is something to focus on that takes your mind off the pain in your legs while reminding you of your goals and driving you to the finish.

If you’ve ever tried to work on your mental toughness, you’re probably aware that it isn’t exactly easy. After all, there’s a reason most people skip it! Developing a race day mantra can be a great way to start building your mental strength, because while it may seem a little silly at first, it’s pretty easy to do.

If you’re struggling to develop a race or workout mantra of your own, try these tips:

  1. State your goal: What is your goal for the race or workout? It can be a time goal, a feeling, or simply to complete the distance – whatever you want! Think “I’m going to PR” or “I want to finish feeling strong.”
  2. Assess barriers to success: This is the part where you figure out what is stopping you from achieving your goal. Are you going out too fast and fading during the latter half of a race? Are you struggling with feeling of defeat when someone passes you? Maybe you get intimidated by the paces on your watch when you see them. Nail down exactly where you struggle.
  3. Develop a path forward: Perhaps your goal is to break 2 hours in the half marathon, which you stated in Step 1. You now know what is stopping you from achieving that goal, as you identified in Step 2. Now it’s time to determine what action you need to take to overcome the obstacles in Step 2. Maybe  you need to start the race slowly and gradually increase your pace, or perhaps taking pre-determined walk breaks to conserve energy would help. Whatever the case, determine a course of action and state it out loud.
  4. Find the action words: For ease of use, mantras should be short in order to be effective. Perhaps you start out with something like “I am strong. I need to keep my pace steady. I will not quit in the last three miles of this race.” Clearly, three sentences is a little long. This mantra could be whittled down to “I am strong, I can stay steady” and then to just “strong and steady,” reminding you of the action you need to take and your goal for the race.
  5. Mix it up: Not every race, workout, or training season has the same goal. By clearly stating your goal, assessing barriers to success, and developing a path forward, you can develop a mantra much faster than you might think. Try it and see how it changes your next race!
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