Motivational Mantra and Mental Toughness

By Terri Rejimbal, RRCA certified coach

We’ve all heard the saying that “running is 90% mental & 10% physical”, right? It’s no secret that in addition to strong legs and lungs, you need a strong mind to achieve your running goals. Your mind can be your weapon or your weakness, says Lenny Wiersma, Ph.D., professor of sports psychology at California State University, Fullerton. 

Attention and concentration can wane over the miles causing the pace to slack and opportunity for negative thoughts to seep in. According to Stephen Walker, Ph.D., a sports psychologist in Boulder, a well-chosen mantra can keep you calm and on target. “Repeating choice words whenever you need to focus helps direct your mind away from negative thoughts and towards a positive experience.” 

A mantra is used in many religions and schools of thought, including Hinduism, Buddhism and Transcendental Meditation. It is a word or sound repeated to aid concentration. In spiritual practices like yoga and meditation, it refers to intention. Mantra – man (mind) tra (transport/vehicle). 

An effective mantra addresses what you want to feel, not the adversity you’re trying to overcome, says Robert J. Bell, Ph.D., a certified consultant for the Association for Applied Sports Psychology. A good mantra diverts your mind from unpleasant thoughts that reinforce pain to thoughts that help you transcend it. It is believed that only positive intentions and actions will fill your mind and eliminate negativity.

So, what makes a good mantra? One that is short, positive, instructive and full of action words. The key is creating one that resonates with you; otherwise, it will not draw the right response from inside of you.

For me, mantras had been fleeting, like pulling a rabbit out of a hat, only used to get me through certain points in a workout or race. Usually, I have to be prepared in advance for those moments to call upon a mantra. I hadn’t really given much thought or put much faith into a mantra until this training cycle for Kulia marathon in March. Often times a song lyric or words said by someone that I looked up to  that I thought of during difficult parts of my training runs. The ones I used were “I’m not going to throw away my shot” or “You’ll be back” from Hamilton, and Eminem’s Loose Yourself. To my surprise, it actually paid off with a PR. 

Even the elites use mantras to keep focus and stay calm in tough workouts or race situations. Shalane Flanagan: Run Without Any Regrets… Desiree Linden: Calm, calm, calm, relax, relax, relax… Bill Rodgers: Relentless… Deana Kastor: Define Yourself… Yoda: Do or do not, there is no try. 

Create one! Practice it! And have Positivity! When your mind begins to wander, recite your mantra and get back on track. I’ll close with a resonating quote from Jedi Master Yoda – Luke: “I can’t believe.” Yoda: “That is why you fail.” 

Happy Running!

Terri Rejimbal is a competitive Masters athlete, a 3-time winner and 8-time Masters champion of the Gasparilla Distance Classic half-marathon; 6-time Disney Masters marathon winner, 7-time Florida USATF Athlete of the Year, and a New Balance product tester. Terri is a RRCA certified running coach and available for consulting or coaching services. Contact Terri at [email protected], on Facebook/terri.rejimbal, Twitter @trejimbal, or Instagram @bayshorerunner.

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