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Runner's World South Africa - - CONTENTS - BY PAUL TONKINSON

Cometh The Hour, Cometh The Mantra


ideas that I’ve come to slowly as a run­ner, no­tions that, if em­braced ear­lier, would have made my life slightly eas­ier. The half­way point in the marathon, for in­stance – for years I laboured un­der the il­lu­sion that this was reached at 21.1km. I know – lu­nacy. The event is far less con­fus­ing now that I know beyond doubt that half­way in the marathon is the 32km point. Sim­i­larly, once I dropped my child­ish aver­sion to gels I found my­self run­ning stronger for longer.

I was the same when it came to mantras: when old pros used to talk to me about their ne­ces­sity, my eyes would glaze over. What’s the big deal? I’d think: just run. How hard can it be? The an­swer, of course, is that it can get very hard; and for those mo­ments, you need a mantra. For me, mantras are for the spe­cial events, the big race. It’s a glo­ri­ous day of self­cre­ated drama in which we are the main play­ers. We must pre­pare for the role thor­oughly, leav­ing no stone un­turned in our quest for ex­cel­lence. We do the train­ing, eat the broc­coli, rest up; and on the day, we run hard. About three quar­ters of the way in, if we’ve done ev­ery­thing right, we will be knack­ered; and engaged in a bat­tle to main­tain or even in­crease pace, our mind an in­ferno of con­tra­dic­tory urges. Slow down! Speed up! Ease off for a few strides. No, push! And all the while the cen­tral gover­nor in our brains is re­mon­strat­ing: we’ve got just enough en­ergy to get to the fin­ish; don’t dis­obey me by ac­cel­er­at­ing. This is the drama you signed up for. And it is at this very sec­ond you need a strong mantra. A guid­ing light in the dark­ness. A bolt of rea­son amid the chaos.

What ex­actly is a mantra? I would de­scribe it as a short phrase or bun­dle of words that, when ut­tered out loud, in­spires you. Again, ev­ery­body is dif­fer­ent. Some peo­ple like med­i­ta­tive mantras. Oth­ers go for a fiery mes­sage. Sim­ple is best. You don’t want to spend too much en­ergy think­ing about what your mantra means mid-race. It has to unify your con­scious and sub­con­scious mind. It has to be mean­ing­ful to you, and as such, it’s highly per­sonal and might be un­suit­able for an in­spi­ra­tional poster. As I’m fond of say­ing, we are an ex­per­i­ment of one. You have to find this stuff out your­self. My mantra is punchy, ag­gres­sive. It makes me ex­cited to say it, yet fills me with de­ter­mi­na­tion at the same time.

My friend and fel­low pod­caster Rob Deer­ing is a gen­tle soul and a strong run­ner. Rob had been look­ing for a mantra for years, and he’d tried other ones to lit­tle ef­fect. But when run­ning a marathon a few months ago, he set­tled on ‘Ev­ery­thing is green, all sys­tems are go’. At first this seemed al­most com­i­cally over-elab­o­rate to me, but it made sense to Rob. In­deed, the more he talked about it, the more I liked it. It’s a quote from one of his favourite films, Capricorn One. For Rob, it keyed in to the sense he has of ef­fi­ciency when run­ning long dis­tances, the idea of the hu­man body as a smoothly reg­u­lated ma­chine; and it also suits his metro­nomic run­ning style. Ba­si­cally, he cracked it mantra-wise, and it pro­pelled him to a great run.

Now he’s fi­nally found a mantra that works, I can see it’s slightly changed his re­la­tion­ship with run­ning. That’s the other thing a good mantra gives you; it keys in to the root causes of your mot­va­tion for run­ning it­self. For me, it arose as a child. It was an act of ego, will, a way of ex­ert­ing con­trol in a life that was a tad chaotic. For Rob it’s the joy of us­ing his body well, the won­drous feel­ing of be­ing in the zone, the lovely tick­ing over you get in the mid­dle of a good run.

So then, have I con­vinced you to get one? Good. Try it out at the next big race. And good luck. Run well. Re­mem­ber – ev­ery­thing is green, all sys­tems are go.

And if other peo­ple don’t like your mantra, use mine: F**k ‘em!

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