Mantra Madness

How to find the right one (and it's not "are we there yet?")


I am nearing the end of the road here. Less than a month until the big day and I am nervous, excited, and starting to feel ready (or at least as ready as a person can be to run 26.2 miles).

Over the past few weeks, I have learned so much about running and about my body, things that my previous seven years spent running never taught me. Phrases like negative splits (running the first half of a race slower than the second) and hitting the wall (the final 6.2 miles, which are often thought to be the hardest) are now entering my vocabulary.

I have perfected the art of negative splits over my last two long runs and my pace is much improved. I need to keep an 8:23 pace and this week's 19-miler was 8:31. Although it is still 8 seconds short, I am confident that on race day, if all goes well, the adrenaline will help push the pace. At least I hope.

As for motivation (and distraction) techniques, I am still searching. I have found by focusing on the faces of people I love—my husband, my mother, my children—I am in less pain, but the math equations and mental puzzles that help others only serve to make my pain worse.

Most of all, I am in need of a mantra, a simple phrase veteran marathoners repeat again and again to themselves in order to make it through the last, most grueling part of their long races.

As yet, I have none.

To be sure, I talk to myself, sometimes crying, sometimes screaming, "push it mother !@#&!(&" (and yes, I run mostly abandoned roads at 8 a.m. on Sunday morning lest people think I am insane). But I have yet to find my rallying cry, the words that will help get me from the 20-mile warm-up to the end of the final 10k.

I have tried a few, most of which involve cursing (those I will not mention):

You Can Do It: too trite and at this point overused to the point where I can not avoid using Rob Schneider’s Cajun accent even in my head because of Water Boy (thanks, Adam Sandler).

You've Got This One: Doesn't quite do it for me or roll off the tongue. Does not motivate when I am pushing myself to run an 8:10 pace when I feel like walking.

Push It: this one actually seems like it could work, although it reminds me a little of labor and a lot of Salt n' Pepa. Still, it is a frontrunner.

Keep It Coming: I have to thank KC and the Sunshine Band for this gem. I actually like it a lot except somehow I inevitably end up bopping my head and swinging my arms while singing, "don’t stop it now, don't stop it no," which is adorable and all, but expends valuable energy and may annoy my fellow marathoners.

In the Bag: This one just makes no sense, but 15 miles into a run in the blazing sun with several hills left to climb, random thoughts start to fire. You can see the results.

None of these has quite reached mantra quality yet. I am still seeking that perfect one, but with only four weeks left, I have to get cracking.

This week I did discover that labor breathing is actually a great way to overcome some of the harder points of the run. I was doing a lot of rhythmic breathing, relaxing my jaw and unclenching my fists—all techniques cribbed from my doula—and they work, especially the breathing.

This week's 19-miler was my fastest yet and I owe it all to my final two miles spent pushing three breaths out through pursed lips and then three through the open mouth.

Somehow it always comes back to labor. And I can do it. Yes, I can.

Sasha Brown-Worsham is a writer, a mother and an unabashed, unashamed runaholic. Check her progress each week as she trains to qualify for the Boston Marathon.