Mantras in Motion

Guest Blog Post from Samantha Bower, Elite Runner

You know those moments in a run where things get tough? I mean, so tough that you don’t think you can take another step. You are not alone! This happens to everyone, even the most elite of professional athletes. However, athletes like Simone Biles, Stephen Curry, and Tom Brady all have a personal mantra that pushes them get through difficult times in workouts and competition.

A mantra is a word or phrase that you repeat to yourself frequently to guide your thoughts. It can be something that you say to get yourself started, to keep yourself going, or to finish strong in practice, a race, or just in daily life.

While it sounds easy enough to have a phrase that is both meaningful and powerful to you, it is often more difficult to find something that WORKS! While professional athletes often share their mantras with their fan base to unite them, but that doesn’t mean that what works for them will work for you. For years, I followed a common mantra that I had found on a very popular poster: Just Do It! For the most part, it got the job done, but it didn’t feel like something that was ALL MINE. As I re-evaluated, I kept the three things below in mind:

Keep it positive: That last thing you want to chant to yourself in the last moments of the big game or your big race is something negative. So, when making your mantra, include positive words. Instead of “Don’t give up” say “Keep going.” Instead of something like “You’re no quitter” try instead “You are a champion!”

Keep it short: While it might seem tempting to think that the longer the mantra, the more powerful, but it is exactly the opposite. When you are huffing and puffing and can hardly think beyond the tiredness overcoming your body, the last thing you want to do is summon a long-phrase to chant and think about. So, keep it short! Maybe a single word that is powerful and pushes you forward or a few words that help propel you to the finish. While I’ve had mantras that have varied in length over my racing career, I’ve found that 3-5 words is about the right length to remind yourself.

Keep it personal: Now, I can’t tell you how to keep something personal, but I can give you some ideas for where to pull the inspiration from in your own journey. For me, as I mentioned earlier, I was telling myself “Just Do It,” because I thought my Nike shoes helped me look cool and run fast. While that got me through my first few years of racing, it wasn’t quite enough as the races got longer and harder. I needed something that was more personal, more meaningful, and more connected to the reason I was out there running in the first place.

For me, a lot of the reason I started racing was because of my father. He raced local 5k and 10k races for years, and I just wanted to be out there running just like him. As my running career took off, our roles reversed from me trying to catch up to him, to him chasing me. Just before the start of a Fourth of July 5k race, where my dad knew I was going to beat him, he leaned over and said to me “Just run faster than the person in front of you.” It just seemed so simple. And it worked!

While that mantra came from my father’s pre-race advice, I’ve also taken bits and pieces from things coaches and teammates cheer during races, combined them with lyrics from songs that make me happy and even included things from my favorite books over the years. Any place that brings YOU happiness and sends a positive message is a great place to find inspiration for a Mantra.


When do you say it?
Although most people will repeat it silently or aloud during a tough patch in a race, there is no right or wrong time to say your mantra. Maybe before you start of a big race or game. Perhaps during a workout when you’d rather be sitting on the couch or playing video games with your friends than doing the last hard sprint. Or even when you are going through a tough time at school. There is no wrong time to give yourself a positive reminder.

Can you change it?
Anytime you want! Every season, training cycle, race distance, and big event bring on different challenges, and you might need a little different motivation to get you through it. Depending on my goal for each race, I might have a different mantra. For some courses I’ve raced before, I have a mantra just for that place. I even have a mantra for different parts of the marathon. At the start, I have to remind myself to go slow, and I chant “WOO-SAH” to myself. In the middle of the race, I tell myself “SMILE,” so I remember to enjoy the race. After all the hard work, I often forget to be grateful for the experience. And towards the end, when the going gets tough, it is something more positive, more specific to that training cycle. During the London marathon, I kept reminding myself “You can give more,” as a way to tap into my potential.

Do you have to keep it to yourself?
That is totally your decision. Sometimes, I think keeping it to myself makes it more powerful. I’m the one who knows what motivates me, and I control my power that way. However, it can also be nice to have a friend, coach, or family member cheering your on with your mantra to help give you an extra boost.

So, let’s hear them! What gets you motivated to get out there, and what keeps you going?

Samantha Bower was born and raised in Greensburg, PA. As a college athlete at Bucknell, Samantha competed in cross country and track, setting personal bests of 10:34 in the 3000 and 11:11 in the 3k steeple. Post-collegiately, Samantha set her personal road bests of 1:20:30 in the half marathon, 2:48:30 in the marathon, and her track best with a 62.00 in the 400m. Of her notable accomplishments, Samantha won the 2012 Brooklyn Marathon, where she broke the previous record, as well as the 2017 3k Steeple at the USATF Club Nationals. In 2018, she moved back to Pittsburgh and won the Great Race, setting her 10k personal best of 35:30.