Over the eight weeks’ final build up to the London Marathon I am blogging some ideas you can use to stay on track and ensure your mind is as prepared for the race as your body is. This post, with two weeks to go, suggests you create your marathon mantra.

As you approach your taper and start to focus on the marathon itself it is a great time to reflect on your motivation for running the marathon and what you want to achieve, whether it is to finish, to finish in a certain time, to finish having enjoyed yourself so much you want to do it again. With this in mind you can create your mantra. This is a short phrase or even a single word that you repeat over and over again to keep positive thoughts in your head. It will often be about your goal or your motivation for your race and it works best when it is personal to you to remind you why you are doing the marathon. Repeating this mantra over and over when you start to feel the nerves on the start line, or even struggle during the race, will keep your mind positive and you motivated and stops those negative voices creeping into your head.

The justification for incorporating a mantra into your race tool kit comes from the well researched benefits of self-talk. Self-talk is the way we all unconsciously talk to ourselves in our heads. What we say to ourselves can impact our behaviours and if we consciously make our self-talk positive we can behave it a way which is much more beneficial to our racing ambitions. It has been found to boost confidence and increase your perseverance.

A great piece of research presented recently came from Alister McCormick who was at the University of Kent. He worked with a group of ultra runners training for a 60 mile race. He taught half the group to use self-talk and half a different skill. The self-talk group finished their ultra race 25 minutes quicker than the other group. They had no additional training. Just used this one technique.

You can create your mantra from one of three areas:

  • Something which reminds you of your motivation for racing (‘I’m running for those who can’t’ or ‘I’m running to raise load of money for my charity’)
  • Something which reminds you of your goal (‘That medal is mine’ or ‘I will get that PB’)
  • Something technical and helps keep your technique on track (‘Pick up your feet’ or ‘shoulders back airways open’).

In all three areas it has been found to have positive impact. You can have something you use every race, or something which helps you in specific types of races.

So how to pick your mantra?

  • It needs to be personal to you.
  • It needs to be positive.
  • It needs to be memorable – so it is front of mind and easy to remember when you need it.
  • It needs to be short – so you can write it down when you may need a reminder; on your gel packets, on your hand, on your drinks bottle.

A wonderful example which is short, memorable, motivational and personal comes from an athlete who attended a workshop I ran last year. He had previously been overweight and unfit. He had worked really hard to lose the weight, build up his fitness and enter a triathlon. As he ran past his dad who was watching him race he overheard his dad proudly boast to another spectator: “that’s my son.” This pride he heard in his dad’s voice made him realise he could never quit the journey he was on and that with each race he was achieving more and more.  Every race he now runs, when he starts to struggle, he hears the words ‘that’s my son’ in his head and knows he will always make it to the end.