Can Runners Really Benefit from a Mantra?

Ashley Lauretta
by Ashley Lauretta
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Can Runners Really Benefit from a Mantra?

Recently there has been a lot of talk about mindfulness. It’s not just prevalent in the world of yoga or running, but also in daily discussions. Lately, it’s often mentioned in terms of ways to become more productive and even to find a new way to eat healthy. Mindfulness is just one of the many tools we use daily to be present and focus on the tasks ahead — and it is proving to be a helpful one.

When it comes to the focus and determination found in mindfulness, a mantra is a device often touted — especially for runners — as the go-to method for pushing beyond the barriers placed on our body and accomplishing what is deemed as impossible. However, mantras weren’t always what we now consider them to be.

“Technically speaking, a mantra is mental device to enter state of relaxation.”

“The term mantra has become pretty widespread recently, and we now use it in a way far removed from it’s original meaning,” explains performance psychologist, Simon Marshall, PhD, co-founder of Braveheart Health & Fitness and author ofThe Brave Athlete: Calm the F*ck Down and Rise to the Occasion.” “Technically speaking, a mantra is mental device to enter state of relaxation. It derives from ‘man-’ meaning ‘of the mind’ or ‘to think’ and ‘tra’ denoting instrument or tool. Thus, it’s an instrument of the mind to elicit a state of deep relaxation.”

Marshall shares that now mantras are considered mind instruments used to elicit any state of feeling or thinking we want to experience. If mantras serve many different functions and are surrounded by hype, do you really need one of your own?


A mantra is usually a word or phrase that evokes a feeling in the person using it. In running, this usually comes during a tough a workout or race. The question is: How do you know if a mantra will work for you?

“I don’t think every runner needs a mantra, but I think every runner can benefit from a mantra, even if it is not in the traditional sense of a motivating phrase or power word,” reveals Tina Muir, a retired professional runner and creator of Running for Real. “It can be something as simple as the name of someone who inspires you or means a lot to you, something you have done to get yourself ready for this race or the biggest one of all, your ‘why’ for doing this.”


When it comes to using a mantra, you can think of it more than just added motivation. When it comes to using a mantra, you have to really take the time to look at what feelings you want to evoke and call upon as you need them. For example, when it comes to using a mantra to push through discomfort, you need to ask yourself what thoughts and feelings you want to push aside during the toughest parts of a workout or race.

“In one sense, a potential mantra to help this could be considered motivational because we need to help the athlete ‘persist with intensity toward a goal,’ but in another sense it’s really about attentional control,” shares Marshall. “For pain tolerance, it’s best to avoid complex statements that require lots of mental bandwidth, which is in very short supply when you’re in the hurt locker. We are aiming for repetitive, metronomic cues that convey forward progress and don’t require conscious thought.”


You can use the advice above when creating your own mantra and, in the provided example, Marshall suggests something as simple as obsessively counting or repeating the chorus to a song over and over again.

Really, your mantra is about what speaks to you, and you can even have a new mantra for every mile of the race or for times you feel tired or sore. Your mantra is really anything that helps you through your moment of need.

“Think about words or people that really speak to you. Ask yourself some of these questions:

  • Who has been influential in you getting to this race line healthy?
  • Who has supported you in moments of need?
  • What have you overcome to get to this moment?
  • What words make you feel strong and powerful?

Those words should be somehow incorporated into your mantras or become one themselves,” adds Muir. “You might also find during training that a certain phrase just grabs your attention, write them down as you go and the day before your race, read through them all, finding the ones that really stick.”


Of course what works for one runner won’t always work for another and mantras are no exception. If you have tried it over the series of races and workouts and just aren’t seeing any benefit, you aren’t doomed.

“If self-talking your way to success isn’t cutting it, try faking it,” reveals Marshall. “Increasing evidence points to using embodied cognition — which means using behaviors to change our thoughts and feelings — as a strategy to change our mindset. Yes, believe it or not, ‘fake it till you make it’ is now an evidence-based statement.”

Of course mindfulness, meditation and mantras aren’t for everyone.

“If a mantra doesn’t work, there are other things to try,” suggests Debbie Woodruff, a personal trainer and RRCA coach. “Sign up for a race so that you have a specific goal. Create a running plan — or have a coach one prepare one — that you can follow. Join a running club or find some friends to run with. If you like statistics, use an app like MapMyRun to track your improvements. Every runner is different and needs to develop different types of self-motivational tools for those times when they need to dig deep.”


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About the Author

Ashley Lauretta
Ashley Lauretta

Ashley is a journalist based in Austin, Texas. She is the assistant editor at LAVA and her work appears in The Atlantic, ELLE, GOOD Sports, espnW, VICE Sports, Health, Men’s Journal, Women’s Running and more. Find her on Twitter at @ashley_lauretta.


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