Ask any runner and they’ll tell you, sometimes you have to dig deep.

Whether you’re 3 hours into a marathon or 15 minutes into a 5k, running can hurt.  And pain can make you want to quit.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you just aren’t running hard enough.

When the going gets though and those evil little demons start showing their face, it’s hard not to listen.  I’ve experienced this plenty of times:

  • There was the Rock n Roll USA marathon back in 2012 when I walked a good half mile with only 3 miles to go.
  • That training run when I literally laid down, in the middle of the trail, closed my eyes, and tried to pretend I never started running in the first place.
  • And the time 50k earlier this year when I was so tired and so cold that I would have quit, had I not still be 4 miles from an aid station.

The running demons can be terrible, but thankfully we have ways to stop them.  And one of the best is a running mantra.

Back in March of this year I reached out to ultrarunners, triathletes, Boston qualifiers, and running coaches, to hear what they had to say about running mantras.  The crazy part?  Every single person I reached out to said they have used one when things got tough.

What came from those discussions was an awesome collection of stories and tips for leveraging a mantra to achieve greater running success, which I’ve been giving away for free, when you sign up here.

The stories are powerful and the tips are proven, so I’ve decided to share a few of them with you today.

The first, by Matt Frazier of No Meat Athlete, is a story about embracing the bad situation, and looking at it in a new way:

Just a Walk in the Woods by Matt Frazier

Matt Frazier imageThe last ultramarathon I ran nearly broke me.

Going in, I didn’t know much about the 50K course, and I hoped to finish in under five hours for the first time. But eight miles into the race — close to two hours after I had started — I understood what I had gotten myself into. One of my eight miles had taken me 20 minutes and another one took 17, on hills so steep that I had often had to pull myself up by grabbing ahold of trees. That I had even considered a PR a possibility was laughable.

I was left with two options. One: Quit, utterly humiliated. Two: suffer more than I had ever suffered in a race (even more than in a 50-miler) … and finish.

With 75 percent of the race still to go and my legs already spent, I chose Door #2.

The funny thing is, as soon as I made my decision, the real suffering ended. Sure, my legs still hurt. But the feelings of overwhelm, of fear — of how the hell am I going to move myself 23 more miles? — melted away in the face of what would become my ultramarathon mantra.

I can keep moving forward. When I can’t run another step, I can walk until I can run again. Even if it takes me eight more hours to finish, it’s an eight-hour walk in the woods. Things could be much, much worse than that.

On how many busy, stressful days, stuck inside at a keyboard or a desk, have I craved this very thing that seemed so impossible?

Just a walk in the woods. Time to think. To meditate. Hell, to listen to an iPod if that’s what it came to. Quiet, peaceful time to myself, time that’s so important and yet time that I never seem to carve out.

It didn’t occur to me that there might be a cut-off, and that too much time walking would earn me a big, fat DNF. But even if they’d have made me stop, I would know that I hadn’t been the one to quit.

With my new mantra and the strange calm that came with it, I finished. I even ran a bunch of the last 10 miles, after taking my time during the middle third of the race. When all was said and done, it took me over 7 hours, my slowest 50K by an hour and a half … but I made it. (For the record, even the winner was up near 5 hours!)

It wasn’t the walking itself that gave me the courage to keep going. Instead, it was the knowledge that even walking is forward progress, something utterly distinct from quitting.

Just about anyone can go for a walk in the woods.

Matt Frazier is a vegan marathoner and ultrarunner who lives in Asheville, North Carolina. He blogs at No Meat Athlete, where you can sign up for his free e-course on plant-based nutrition for endurance sports.

But maybe trying to convince yourself something is easy just isn’t enough to calm the demons. Maybe you need to fight them.  That is Susan Lacke’s approach:

Man the F*ck Up by Susan Lacke

zazoosh_990134571-smjpegMy running mantra is not polite, so if you’re sensitive to curse words, hide yo’ kids, hide yo’ wife…here’s what I use when things get really tough:

Man the Fuck Up.

This mantra was a gift from my partner, Neil. Before my first Ironman triathlon, Neil somehow managed to covertly place a printed label on the stem of my bike. On race day, after I got out of the water and exited transition with my bike, I looked down and saw those four words. The surprise made me laugh and inspired me – it was exactly what I needed to get through a grueling bike leg.

Since then, it’s become a standard response for all things training and racing in our household:

“I don’t want to do hill repeats today.” “I want you to man the fuck up. “

“The water’s too cold! How about we go to the indoor pool to swim?” “How ‘bout you man the fuck up?”

“This race looks hard. I don’t know if I want to register.” “Let’s talk about it over a nice cup of man the fuck up.”

On race day, when things get tough, I hear Neil’s voice in my head telling me to man the fuck up. It makes me chuckle, but it also reminds me to be strong, to dig deep and persevere. Those emotions sound like they’d contradict each other, but humor and tenacity can coexist. In fact, I’m a better racer when I can correctly harness both.

Though Neil’s label on my bike has since worn off, the mantra lives on. And yes, I made sure to return the favor at Neil’s triathlon, where I cheered him on wearing a t-shirt I had specially made for the occasion:

A love poem for my Ironman:

Roses are red,

Violets are blue,

Man the fuck up.

Susan Lacke is a writer from Phoenix, Arizona who isn’t afraid to kick ass and take names.  When she isn’t writing love poems, she’s probably in the pool, on the bike, running crazy tempo workouts, or day drinking at the bar.  “Like” her on Facebook for her latest articles in Competitor, Triathlete, and Women’s Running Magazines.

More Stories, More Advice

Each runner, sometimes each race, may require a unique way to fight those running demons and a unique mantra.

That’s why it’s important to remember that you’re not the first person to experience a terrible run, and not the only person hurting during any particular race.

In the Power of a Running Mantra, runners like Jason Fitzgerald, Greg Strosaker, Jennifer Heidman, and more, share their mantras, heartbreaks, and triumphs through their mantra stories.  On top of that, we’ve shared dozens of great tips on how to find the perfect mantra for you.

Download your copy of the 20 page eBook, free.

As runners we have a lot to learn from each other.  We teach each other about training, nutrition, race strategy, and of course, fighting the demons. 

Author Doug Hay is the founder of Rock Creek Runner, host of the Trail Talk podcast, and fanatical about everything trail running -- beards, plaid shirts, bruised toenails, and all. He and his wife live and run in beautiful Black Mountain, NC.

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