Cometh The Hour, Cometh The Mantra
THERE HAVE BEEN A FEW
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!