It was 1986 and our gym teacher Mr. Stock, with his polyester track pants and polo shirt marched us from the elementary school, down the hill to the high school track.
He announced that Ronald Reagan was personally interested in how long it would take each of us to run four laps around the track. As it turned out, President Reagan cared deeply about how many sit-ups I could do, whether or not I could climb a rope, and how far I could climb up the ladder in the gym before I became paralyzed with fear. (Not very far as it turns out.)
A kid named Danny Beyer ran those four laps in six minutes while the rest of us alternated between walking, jogging, holding the stitch in our sides, and sobbing in the middle of the track.
I don’t remember exactly what my eight-year old self-talk was - but I imagine it was some version of: this sucks this sucks this sucks this sucks and why the hell does President Reagan care how fast I can run when we’ve never met?
A few years later when I took up cross country, somewhat willingly, and had learned the full spectrum of swear words on the school bus, it was a much different soundtrack playing in my mind, but the tune was similar.
What the hell was I thinking? Why did I sign up for this? It’s hot. My side hurts. Running is stupid. This sucks. Math class sucks too. Everything sucks.
The voice in our heads is very convincing, and I don’t know about you, but it's rarely Morgan Freeman offering words of wisdom. My inner voice favors sarcasm, and I often find myself spouting off comments like “I want to put my face in a blender” or “I’ll be rocking back in forth in the corner if you need me.”
For some of us, it's not sarcasm. It's flat out cruelty. We talk to ourselves in ways we would never talk to another person.
"I can't do this. I'm so weak. Why didn't I train harder? I can't do that hill."
My negative inner voice is one of the reasons I've turned to mantras.
Not only during my long runs but on days when my thoughts are racing a million miles an hour and I need to jam a stick in the wheel to make them stop, mantras have helped.
Lately, I've used “mind like water, body like a mountain” during my days. When you drop a stone in still water, it ripples for a few seconds, and then the water settles again. A mind like water absorbs whatever is happening externally and then settles back into the present. I struggle to let things go and stay present, and this mantra is my reminder.
On my longer runs when I have plenty of time to ruminate I’ve settled on the phrase, I am strong, I am capable. It's easy to get lost in the discomfort of running or training, and this phrase helps me remember where I came from.
I pass this along to a client who was training for a long bike ride, and she created her own mantra. "I am strong, I am capable, and I am f---ing pretty." Because humor helps too.
One of my favorite phrases came from a book I read years ago called Running Within - where the writer suggested the mantra of “health is me, I’m injury free” when you’re on a run and a nagging pain starts creeping up on you.
It sounds a little hokey, but when you've got an injury, it's difficult to focus on anything else. This little phrase can help shift your attention away from the pain.
It can be so easy to let our minds wander and focus on the suffering - and for many of us - exercise can feel like a form of necessary suffering. It’s something we know will make us feel better afterward, but for many, the actual process of training isn't always pleasant.
Finding a phrase that you can return to when you are having an especially trying day or difficult workout can be helpful in putting your mind and thoughts in a better place throughout the workout.
Remember that you are good.
You are deserving of love and kindness and compassion.