Last updated: Jul 24, 2009
Preparing for our final swim practice in full race-day gear
Last week, our coaches took the time to frighten us—er, prepare us—with stories of previous triathlons and their own race-day experiences: missing equipment, pre-swim freak-outs, all the ways we can accidentally break the rules, and so on. Now, with our first triathlon less than two days away, they explained, it's a little late to make sure we're ready physically. At this point, it's all about being ready mentally.


One way to do that is to have a race mantra, they told us—something we can repeat over and over to ourselves during the toughest part of the course, whether it's the swim, the bike, or the run (or heck, maybe all three!).

One of our coaches told us about a particularly nervous triathlete whom he coached through a panic attack, standing out on the barge in the middle of the Hudson River a few years ago. As she was seriously debating whether to jump into the water or just turn around and call it a day, he looked her in the eyes and said to her, "It's not about the swim."

After the race, Coach said, that girl found him and thanked him, saying the only way that she made it down the river and to the finish line was by repeating with every stroke, It's not. About. The swim.

That same coach also told us how he found his own mantra. Much like myself, he'd never considered himself a strong runner (I'm personally terrified of this weekend's run much more than the swim or biking), and during his first triathlon he was really struggling for the first mile or so on foot, after dismounting from his bike.

He shuffled by someone in the crowd who looked at him and yelled, "Come on, you can do it, you're a runner!" Coach explained: "Well, after I picked myself off the ground from laughing—this guy obviously did not know me very well—I started repeating it to myself over and over again for the rest of the race: I'm a runner. I'm a runner." And that phrase has stuck with him through every race he's done since.

That's why our coaches encourage all of us triathletes-in-training to have some type of mantra of our own: If we can keep our mouths moving and keep the rhythm going in our head, we can keep pushing our arms and legs forward as well. This is especially important in situations where safety and race rules prohibit the use of MP3 players. (Here's a good reason why music players aren't allowed, by the way.)


I put the question to several of my triathlon friends—both those in real-life and those I follow on Twitter—to see what kinds of phrases and mantras got them through their tough races or workouts. Here are some of their replies.

  • TheJub says, "Mine is more setting mini markers for myself: When I'm here, I'll be halfway to getting water/finishing/being at six miles!"



  • Cathryn says simply, I can do it! I can do it!, while bahamahouse chimes in with I'm doing this. I'm doing this.



  • Thenewswineflu has an interesting one: I'm a hot potato! I AM A HOT, STRAIGHT-OFF-THE-FARM POTATO!



  • Jkunin says that her running mantra is, Long strides, breathe out slowly...long strides, breathe out slowly. SoulBrotherNo2 has a similar mantra during his triathlon swims: Remember to breathe...breathing equals no panic equals no worries.



  • HealthyLady, another Health.com editor who's doing this weekend's NYC Tri with me, usually prefers an upbeat Get it, girl! Get it, girl! mantra. Sometimes when she really needs an extra motivator on the treadmill or on the Spin bike, though, she chants her sister's favorite phrase: Guys don't make passes at girls with fat asses.



  • Songs can become popular mantras, too, even if you have to sing them to yourself: My Team in Training teammates Jenna and Sharon get a boost of adrenaline by singing Britney Spears' "Hit Me Baby, One More Time" and Lady Gaga's "Poker Face". Sharon also likes to tell herself, So close. Pain is temporary. So close. Pain is temporary.



My Team in Training group on the Coney Island boardwalk, post-swim-and-run.
On Sunday, Sharon told me, she's going to have a different mantra: "Some variation of Don't let them down, thinking about everyone who has donated to and supported our cause through all of this!"

I think my mantra this weekend is going to be something like Chocolate muffins, my favorite breakfast treat I only allow myself after a good morning workout (and will likely gorge on immediately upon crossing the finish line), or Everyone is watching, a reminder to pick up the pace and make my friends and family proud. Or maybe I'll find a new inspiration while I'm on the course.

What gets you through tough workouts? I'd love some more motivational ideas before the big race on Sunday!