So we’re now into the long runs. As you’ve all experienced there is a point when things start to get mighty quiet as the morning goes on. People are out of talk and they are conserving energy as the group gets into the last third of the 14-16-18 miler.

One key to keep going is having a “Mantra” or a phrase that you repeat to yourself — aloud or not. Do not underestimate the power of these “Power Words.” They are a key piece of endurance sports and, really, any sport. Athletes use them as cues to get in the groove or relax or focus themselves. The right word can make the miles fall away: running is as much a mental game as anything else.

I have been using several of them for years: “Drop your shoulders, swing your arms” is one, and so is “Breathe Deep.” Sometimes our mantras are simple and practical. My friend Sharon Chen had a great one that I still use late in long runs: “Circles with your arms and circles with your legs.” The idea is to focus on smooth, easy motion. And I find that phrase comforting and easy to make real.

That’s why you will also hear me say things like “Run Tall!” On the one hand that’s a cue to straighten up and drop my shoulders, but it’s also inspiring to me. One of my favorites was one my first mentor, Rosa Thweatt, used to say: “Hills are my friends! They make me stronger!” And there’s also one that I learned from Jim Doyle of the 11.5’s: “Constant forward motion.” Somehow saying that gives you the juice to make it so.

So you need a phrase or a mantra or (better) a couple of them. What should they be?

Try dropping the “I” and saying “You.” Not “I got this” but “YOU got this.” It’s a small trick, but that little pronoun seems to make a difference. “You’re running strong” or “You’ve got this hill” are good examples. How about “You can do four minutes” to get you through a tough interval. Say it aloud and put it in the second person. You don’t even need a pronoun…make it a command! Think about Nike, which turned a mantra into a giant marketing campaign: JUST DO IT.

Simple is always better. Single words can be powerful: “Strong” is a pretty powerful incantation. So is “Smooth” or “Forward.” My favorite is “Courage,” which seems a little odd since running is not a martial sport. But that one word connects me to a whole story and a whole emotion that I find important. It’s a single word from a quote that came from the 1984 Olympics, a quote that was painted on the side of a building downtown in the late 1980’s. It’s a quote that comes from ancient Greece (like the Marathon) and it goes,

“Ask not for victory. Ask instead for courage, for by doing so you bring honor not only to yourself but to us all.”

There are a lot of ideas (and emotions) packed into that quote, and when I use the mantra “Courage” it is all right there for me. When I use it on a long run, it connects me to all those tough runs before that I pushed through, and it connects me with all my fellow runners, today and two thousand years ago, who struggle against personal limits. That is some real magic right there.

So think about what works for you, what stirs you. Find those few words that you can tuck away for later in the long run. If you start sinking at mile 14 or 15, say them out loud and see if they don’t work for you.

Looking for inspiration? Here are a few others I’ve heard through the years…

  • I can do hard things.
  • Fearless and free.
  • This is my race, no one else’s.
  • I love running and it loves me back.
  • Earn this.
  • Light and fast.
  • Breath it in. Run it out.
  • Quick feet.
  • Relax and roll.
  • I trained for this.
  • Stronger and stronger with every mile.
  • Embrace the Suck.

And a few “celebrity” mantras…

  • “This is what you came for.” Scott Jurek
  • “Cold execution.” Shalane Flanagan
  • “Do or do not, there is no try.” Master Yoda