Wednesday, October 12, 2011


I remember when I first started running in high school it was a simple endeavor. Old t-shirts, sans music, little consideration for distance or pace — it was just me and the long roads that ran along sprawling farms and over quiet creaks, sometimes weaving into small neighborhoods of humble houses. I did it for exercise and nothing else. I had some favorite routes, and sometimes made it a destination game, running to my church or my grandparents’ house, both about three miles from where I lived then. The frames that flash into my memory from those times are of bright sunny days, running alone in the beauty of southeastern Pennsylvania. While I didn’t consciously set those times aside to commune with nature, I treasured the quiet and made a point to pray during most of those runs. Not a striving prayer to get God’s attention (which I often find myself leaning towards these days) but simple conversation with God.

During my second year of college I embarked on a new running kick, and things had changed: I ran through different farmland and around my college town, I mapped out routes for hills and distance — and music was essential. I made a mix tape especially for running, a soundtrack that pumped me up and kept me motivated.

Now I have an ipod, running headphones, a pace tracker and athletic gear I’ve bought to make my runs more comfortable (and, let’s face it, me more stylish…). I have goals that I want to reach. And though I listen to music, I have mantras that I repeat to myself for when the running is hard. Lean into it is for tough hills, and strong legs, strong mind reminds me that I have no reason to stop. Stretch pushes me to do things I think are beyond me, even when it’s hard and painful.

Mantras speak to the fact that running is often not about physical endurance, but mental toughness. They also remind me how powerful words are, that they often help to determine our mood, our decisions, our creativity and our relationships.

I read that Meb Keflezighi, an Olympian who earned silver in the marathon at that 2004 summer Olympics and won the 2009 New York City Marathon, uses the Lord’s Prayer as his mantra. It reminded me of how running used to be time to be with God, and how easily those times get crowded out by other things as life has become more complex. It also struck me because it’s so God-centered, while most of my mantras are about me — finishing, staying strong, being great. And how I need a mantra in life because I have goals that I need to reach and many times more complexities to wade through and avoid to keep it simple and stay focused.

Do you have a mantra — in sport or in life? What is it, or would it be?       

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