Sunday, April 5, 2015

18 Miles of Running Mantras

As I dip my toes into the ocean of distance running, I've begun to spend a lot of time alone with my brain and body. I'm learning that I can either let my brain be the boss of my body, or I can use my brain to be the boss of my body.

There is often a moment in a long run where it feels a little terrible and a lot impossible.
It's that low point where my legs start to feel like lead and a sneaky voice hiding in my brain seeps in with negative thoughts, telling my body:

You can't hold this pace.
Slow down.
You can't do this.

Why do you do this to yourself anyway? You should quit.

The voice does its best to fill me with doubt and worry when I'm tired and scared of the unknown.

The Oatmeal comic artist/ ultramarathoner Matthew Inman refers to this voice The Blerch.

When endless piles of knee-deep snow forced my first month of long marathon training runs to the treadmill in the basement of the YMCA this winter, I couldn't imagine how I could possibly make it through the miles of staring at a concrete wall on a human hamster wheel. Enter The Blerch. But, then, I started to discover that I could Beat The Blerch if I took control of my own voice. If I made my voice keep repeating the things I wanted to hear, my body listened. I reminded myself that running is something I do because it feels good. The Blerch faded to white noise. And so, my cheesy love of running mantras was born.

My running mantras tend to fall into one of three categories:
  1. Body Cues
  2. Dedications
  3. Motivators
Body Cues are the least emotional and most rational type of mantra I use. I repeatedly tell my body what I want it to do, in simple and specific terms. This helps me find and maintain form and rhythm. I use a body cue mantra to start off my run and then later if I start to feel my form breaking down. Body cues are also especially helpful when I'm really struggling to be positive. Yeah, maybe I feel like crap. And maybe I can't fool myself with a half-hearted, "You're almost there!" mantra. At least I can muster a concrete and logical physical instruction. Some of my go-to body cues include:

Quick, light steps. 
Elbows back.
Shoulders over hips. Hips over knees.
Breathe In. Breathe Out. This one's a tried-and-true classic, with good reason. It's the easiest to focus on.

Dedications are the for the miles where I step outside what my body is experiencing for a moment to think about the people I love. Running is a pretty selfish pursuit of mine. More often than not, I do it alone, on my own terms, because it  makes only me feel good. Well, dedicating miles to others is admittedly self-serving, too. Thinking about the awesome people I have in my corner inspires me to keep moving forward. And dogs. Duncan pretty much always gets a mental shout out when I'm running.

Motivators are my positive self-talk mantras. They're often on the touchy-feely side. Sometimes they're silly. Other times they're pop culture references. And sometimes (okay, a lot of times) my motivators are merely thoughts of the good food I will eat when I get home, because I most certainly feel motivated by imagining myself shoveling a slice of pizza in my face. Whichever words I choose to repeat, I've found that thinking about what I want to happen is far more effective than thinking about avoiding what I don't want to happen, so it's imperative that I phrase things in the positive. "Bring it home." is more motivating to me than "Don't give up." Though they're saying essentially the same thing, "Don't give up." lets The Blerch tell my body that quitting is a possibility. Some of my current favorite motivating mantras include:

Hit Cruise Control. Despite having read a thousand running articles advising me to start longer races conservatively to save fuel for negative splits in the latter miles, I inevitably bound off when the gun fires and start running faster than I should. So at mile 3 or 4, I make it a point to find a settled pace and cruise. Extra bonus if I plan my Spotify playlist well enough that Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers  Runnin' Down A Dream comes on while I'm repeating this mantra.

Stay on Target. This is how I tell myself to maintain a steady pace when I kinda start to drag. Yes, that's right. I am referring to this:

You can stand anything for 10 seconds. 
This is a new mantra I've just adopted from the quotable Netflix show The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Kimmy's motto is to take everything in life 10 seconds at a time. Then, if you make it through 10 seconds, start a new 10 seconds! Kimmy developed her 10 seconds mantra for survival while kidnapped in an underground bunker...but it works for me when I feel overwhelmed (in running or life).


Release the Kraken! This catchphrase is called out by Zeus in the 1981 film The Clash Of The Titans (and by Liam Neeson in the 2010 3D remake). I shout it silently to myself near the end miles of the run or race when I allow myself to cut the reins and run no-holds-barred. It's usually the most exhilarating part of my run.

Bring it Home. I end each run by bossing my body with The Boss in mind.

Decide what to be and go be it. This lyric from the Avett Brothers song Head Full of Doubt, Road Full of Promise finds its way into my brain every single time I'm running. Of all of the mantras I use, this is my favorite and the one that makes me feel the most feelings. It also gets me out the door when my alarm goes off at 5:00 am and it's cold and raining and I don't feel like running. Repeating it to myself reminds me that all the things I choose to do are, in fact, my own choices. I decide. Most of what I hope to accomplish will take a lot of work. I can do work.

To tackle my first-ever 18-miler on Friday, I wrote down a planned mantra for each mile on a piece of paper and shoved it in the zipper pocket of my handheld water bottle. As you can from the cross outs, some of the mantras went by the wayside while I ran. Miles 9-11 are frequently my tough miles. At mile 9, my body felt fine, but my brain was struggling. The funny thing is, now that I've been practicing this strategy for a few months, the saying my body needs to hear just pops into my head when I need it.

For more on running mantras:

A Runner's World piece on Magic Mantras
A podcast from Marathon Training Academy about Marathon Pacing (credit to this podcast for giving me the mantras "Release the Kraken" and "I eat hills for breakfast.")

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