• Ultra Mantras: What OCR Athletes Are REALLY Saying To Themselves While Racing

Written By: Katie Purcell



Motivation: both complicated and crucial, it can be one of the trickiest components of our Race Day to obtain. Sometimes our motivators are obvious and come very easily; other times they are elusive, Multi-faceted, multi-layered, and malleable. 

 When you do manage to grab hold it can be fleeting or can change over time or across seasons, depending on situation/circumstances. The sources, and types, and manner of motivation can differ as much as the racers differ from each other in terms of background, life experience, level of fitness, etc.

What motivates each of us is of the most personal aspects to race prep/race day. When the training's all done, your race shoes are laced up and you're standing on the starting line, it's go time for real. Even if you're racing with a group of people, at this point it's on you. This is your race day, and it's you against the course that's been designed to break you down even as it builds you up. A good mantra doesn't take up any space in your hydration pack or Drop Bin, but it can be one of the most important or defining factors of your whole Race Day performance!

For most of us, the idealistic "Why I Race" reasons that cycle through our brains on a day-to-day basis are boiled down and simplified into a phrase or "mantra" we repeat to ourselves during the race to keep our minds and bodies focused on our goal. And sometimes it can surprise even us what that mantra is, because when the going gets tough our internal dialogue evolves into what motivates us on the most basic level of our being. 

What are the things that go through your mind at this crucial moment? What motivates YOU to keep going when you're all alone, and the fatigue starts to sink in, and your muscles are screaming and you can feel your body start to break down? In the moment when everything inside you is telling you to stop, what internal script causes your body to continue to move? 

 ...That is what we wanted to find out. For this article we surveyed the toughest of the tough to see what keeps THEM going: Spartan Ultra finishers. The responses we got are as varied as the racers themselves.....



Some of you focus on different types of things: the pain (or avoiding it), the glory of the buckle, the post-race meal. Some of you talk directly to yourselves: building yourself up through self-talk, rationalizing the reasons why you need to finish, or even bullying your body into compliance. Some of you are private in your thoughts: focusing inward, while others repeat phrases out loud...and some of you find solace in skipping a mantra altogether in favor of human connection with other racers on the course.

Some of you race for yourselves and some are motivated by others: some of you race thinking of those who can't, and others race for those you hope to inspire.

And some of you just mentally "check out" altogether: repeating simple phrases over and over, distracting the mind, shutting the brain off entirely.

About half of racers (41%) are using a mantra in the category that we are calling "Positive Vibes": you're thinking of an inspirational quote, or giving yourself positive self-talk (e.g., "You got this! This is your day...this is YOUR RACE!") or reminding yourself to "Just Keep Moving." A lot of you are using humor as well (15%): remembering amusing memes, thinking of movie quotes ("If you're not first, you're last" - Ricky Bobby), or joking that you should hurry up because the people spectating your race are "probably tired of waiting by now."

28% of you are remembering your "Why" in some form: remembering what your motivations are for participating in OCR and living this healthy lifestyle, or who you are hoping to inspire, or how long/hard you have trained for this moment.

...But we don't all go for the touchy-feely positive vibes 😂 🤗. Some of you are focused on the fact that quitting/failure is NOT an option (16%). Another 16% of you focus on the pain specifically: either embracing it, reminding yourself that it's temporary, or reminding yourself that the pain will be worth it in the end. 15% of you actually get MAD and yell at yourself to keep going. About 10% of you focus on how it will be "worth it at the end," and a few of you are just completely mentally checked out: singing songs to yourself or attempting complicated math problems in your head.

This might sound weird, but I curse at myself a lot when I’m struggling on a run or getting tripped up on roots. Lots of “pick your feet up b*tch” or “cmon you f_ck, let’s go!” Sounds like negativity but it definitely helps push me.


The single most popular "type" of mantra is exactly what the word "mantra" implies: a short word/phrase repeated over and over to help with concentration and to fill the mind with focused intention. 

What follows next is a selection of the 200+ mantras we collected for this article, split into basic "categories" depending on their predominant characteristics. Take a look at what your fellow racers are saying to themselves on course!



  • "It's not how hard you can hit. It’s how hard you can get hit and keep moving.” (Rocky V)
  • When going up long ascents (e.g., Death March): "Don't look up to the very top of the mountain - just look 5-10 feet ahead on the ground...knowing every step forward is progressing you to the top." 
  • "How little you know of human happiness, you comfortable people." (Nietzsche)
  • "In a world full of Kardashians, be a Boone." 
  • "It's okay to fail but if i don't try and leave it all out there, well that's on me."
  • I use the Mentat mantra (Litany Against Fear) from Dune: "I must not fear; fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. When it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing; only I will remain." My rationale is that a mantra that long takes a fair amount of mental resources to keep straight and if I can do that I must still have my wits about me.
  • "Strength and honor til I die."
  • "Pain is weakness leaving the body."
  • Every second you want to quit and don't, that is the second you get stronger."
  • "Per angusta ad augusta: 'Through suffering comes honor.'"
  • "Think strong, be strong, finish strong."
  • All I could think in that last lap at the F.I.T. Challenge last fall was “Chew up the miles” to get myself to start running again, and “One step closer” just to keep moving on the inclines. 
  • "Always look on the bright side of life." (Life of Brian)
  • "Fight for what you WANT now, or fight AGAINST what you don't want later! You choose!"
  • "I will always place the mission first || I will never accept defeat || I will never quit || I will never leave a fallen comrade" (Warrior Ethos)
  • "I am lucky and grateful to be doing this."
  • "Don't die."
  • "When your mind is telling you you're done, you're really only 40% done." (Navy SEAL rule)
  • "Slow is smooth, smooth is fast."
  • "Tough races don't last...tough people do."



    • "This is my time - this is my mountain."
    • "Can't stop won't stop."
    • "Keep moving - you got this."
    • "You are a badass - don't quit!"
    • "Fast and strong."
    • "Pain is weakness leaving the body."
    • "Don't stop moving! You are a badass - keep going!"
    • "I can make it if I can take it."
    • "You got this! Get that buckle and don't quit!"
    • "You are going to do this. You will finish. It is your destiny."



    • "Move your fat ass, old man!" 😂
    • "Why would you even THINK about stopping...what's wrong with you??"
    • "Pick your feet up, b*tch!"
    • "C'mon you f_ck let's go!"
    • "Sometimes...you just gotta get angry to get moving."
    • "Cursing at myself is never-ending, especially during long races...but it helps!"
    • "You will cross that f_cking finish line or you will die trying."
    • "What do we say to the Spartan gods when we're beaten, broken, and on the verge of a DNF?? NOT TODAY!"
    • "Don't be sh*t. Never retreat. Never surrender."
    • "You paid all this f-ing money to come up here so you better f-ing finish!"
    • "Don't you DARE quit. Don't you DARE settle. Don't you DARE back down. Not today, or any other day. When the tough moments come, never forget, you are in THAT MOMENT, writing your legacy. In that TOUGH MOMENT you are setting the standard for your character. When you come to a crossroad and run into the winner and the quitter in you...listen to the winner!" (from "Never Quit" by Walter Bond)
    • "No retreat. No surrender. That is Spartan law. Spartans never retreat. Spartans never surrender." (300)
    • "Do it ANYWAY."
    • "No pain, no gain...nothing but glory."
    • "Either with it or on it." (300)
    • "Don't die don't die don't die. Why the f_ck did I sign up for this?? I can lay down when I'm done."
    • "If you quit, it will hurt long after the pain goes away."
    • "Anyone can do anything for 10 seconds."
    • "I didn't pack 'quit' in my bucket."
    • "You ain't no quitter so don't be a little b*tch and keep moving."
    • Don't f_cking quit."



      • "I f_cking love hills." (I said this over and over and it helped a lot last time in VT)
      • "For the love of the pain."
      • "Pain is temporary, but honor lasts forever."
      • "Embrace the suck."
      • "This! Now! Here is exactly where I want to be in this moment."
      • "Pain is temporary - quitting is forever."
      • "You need this pain - you aren't done suffering yet."
      • "It's only pain if you don't like it."
      • "Get comfortable being uncomfortable, and do not f_cking stop."



        • I was told I was an "inspiration" while climbing up Killington for the second time and that pretty much got me all the way up the Death March and to the finish line! 
        • My family and I all think of my niece who was killed in Afghanistan in 2012 when she was only 22 years old. She would have loved racing. When things get hard in a race we honor her memory by pushing through the rough spots and not stopping, for her and for all the others who can't race.
        • My 4 year old daughter made a video for me before my first race that said "You got this Mommy - you got this!" and I replay it over and over in my head when a race gets tough.
        • I think of someone that has gone through far more pain and it helps to put my own into perspective. I lost someone close to me from cancer and I think about their pain and how much of a baby I am. I tell myself "You think those cramps hurt? Think about the pain Pops went through when he went from the strongest person you have ever met to skin and bones." Then I start jogging.
        • I visualize my family running with me, like they just joined the race too. My kids are running faster than I want to, and my wife is encouraging me. I will not let them down!"
        • "Justin, your little ones are watching! Show them that no matter how hard the journey, the victory is always in sight!"
        • "My wife is waiting for that win!"



        • When I last ran Killington I wanted to quit halfway through it all. It's not so much a mantra, but I reminded myself that if I could quit drinking and get sober then I could do anything. And then I got my ass in gear."
        • I remember where I was 5 years ago and just THANK GOD my body can move like this. One story sticks out: being asked to leave an emergency row in an airplane because if you need a belt extender, you can't sit there. I remember how humiliated I felt and feel so grateful I can be on a race course at all.
        • "This may be tough, but not tougher than my grandpa surviving a Korean POW camp. Keep moving."



        • "Move with purpose."
        • "No matter how much it hurts you just need to keep moving."
        • During big climbs I will tell myself "Walking down the street, walking down the street..." mostly to make myself pretend that it's not so bad - it's just like walking down the street!
        • "This is just what my life is like for the next several hours."
        • I keep telling myself "Keep f_cking moving."
        • "You made it this far, so STFU and keep it moving!"
        • "Just keep swimming" (Finding Nemo)
        • "You didn't come this far to only come this far."
        • "Suck it up and drive on."
        • "Run when you can...walk when you must."
        • "One more mile...just one more mile..." Repeat until done!
        • "Chip away, Chip away, push push push!"
        • "Do not stop...there are harder things in life."
        • "One more!"
        • "Put your head down and go to work."
        • "Steady but forward."
        • "Keep moving. Move as hard as you can, when you can. Keep moving."
        • When I hit the wall and don't think I can climb another hill I say, "Small, purposeful steps."
        • I just refuse to stop...if you keep putting one foot in front of the other, eventually you finish, then you get ready for the next one!
        • "You can go a little further just a little more."
        • "Don't stop moving! Keep going! YOU ARE A BADASS!"
        • "Keep moving one foot after the other."
        • "One more...mile, obstacle, step."
        • "Just keep going, one leg at a time."
        • "Don't stop moving keep moving forward" and I say the Warrior Ethos in my head.



          • "This is fine...I'm okay." (dog in Hell meme - see below)
          • "Buckle, Burger, Beer."
          • "If they can do it, so can I. Plus, my wife is probably tired of waiting."
          • "I paid money to do this."
          • "If you quit now your Strava data will look weak."
          • I just listen to the circus music in my head.
          • "Keep going, maybe Katie is watching."
          • "On your left."
          • "If your dumbass signs up for a race, then you need to finish it."
          • "Rangers all the way!"
          • "If you're not first, you're last." (Ricky Bobby)
          • "I hope the next aid station has grilled cheese."
          • "You paid $200+ to do this. If you quit you'll have nothing to show for it. Don't waste rent/mortgage money."
          • "I KNEW I should have taken the left turn at Albuquerque." (said in Bugs Bunny voice)
          • I don't say anything but rather I eat the Oreo cookies I put in my hydropack pocket.



            • "I want that buckle. I f_cking trained for that buckle!"
            • "There's the best beer I have ever tasted at the finish line."
            • I think about a large pizza and beer at the finish. "No finish = No pizza."
            • "I need this buckle or my pants will keep falling down."
            • "All this pain will be worth it when I finish."
            • Last time I was at a race and struggling I kept going because I needed that race for my first Trifecta...and cramps or no cramps, I was getting it!"
            • "Just one more step. The faster you take those steps the sooner you will be done."
            • Last time I raced, I just reminded myself that I didn't have to do it tomorrow. I just tried to bring my mind to the future. Tomorrow I would be resting. Tomorrow I could have pizza. Tomorrow I wouldn't have to be on that f_cking mountain again."
            • "Pain is temporary. The buckle is forever."
            • I just never think of stopping or not finishing. If I'm behind I just speed up. If I'm in pain I just keep going. I just think of the finish line and try to enjoy the race.


                CATEGORY: RELIGIOUS

                • "The joy of the lord is my strength."
                • "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith." (Timothy 4:7)
                • I remind myself that I'm still there; that God made this body to move; that even though I'm 50+, I'm blessed to just be able...that God provided this beautiful playground for me to utilize and how awesome is that? I just try to be grateful that I'm healthy and able.



                • I just pretend my body is a machine, and it's simply a decision of whether I will stop or carry on.
                • I do math.
                • I push through the mind and body conflict. When all else fails I tell myself: "If it's not broken, then keep moving!" ...I never said I was right in the head 😂




                300 (MOVIE) QUOTES:

                 "No retreat. No surrender. That is Spartan law. Spartans never retreat. Spartans never surrender." "Either with it or on it."
                "Tonight we dine in Hell!" "Give them nothing! But take from them EVERYTHING!"


                FAVORITE SING-ALONGS:

                • I Feel Good: Elvis
                • Edge Of Glory: Lady Gaga
                • Whatever It Takes: Imagine Dragons
                • Anastasia (The Musical)
                • Better When I'm Dancing: Meghan Trainor



                What we choose to focus on during a race: the who, the what, the why...can be as unpredictable and varied as our backgrounds, and what brought us to the sport of OCR in the first place. Sometimes we are even surprised ourselves by the difference between our day-to-day motivators and the stuff we start saying to ourselves when things get "real" out there.

                What we do know is that when you find something that works, you gotta hold on tight and not let go because a good mantra - among other things - can mean the difference between earning that sweet, sweet finisher medal...or walking off the mountain with a DNF.  

                So, what do YOU say to yourself when you're deep in the Pain Cave...to keep your body moving and inspire yourself to endure, one step at a time? Let us know in the comments!






                LIVE FIERCE.








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                2 Responses

                Jason Michael Huber
                Jason Michael Huber

                June 02, 2019

                I love to use perspective. If it is pouring rain… “it could be 95 degrees and 95 percent humidity!!!” If it is 95/95 “at least there are no ants”. If there are ants at 95/95 “at least I’m not allergic to ants”… if i’m allergic to ants “at least when I die i’ll have a view”. It could always be worse, and it is fun trying to figure out all the ways it could be

                Mark Rabenold
                Mark Rabenold

                May 29, 2019

                Awesome, and thanks your using part of my story. I got a little emotional reading it.

                The someone watching is big for me, but I imagine that I will also be using something from every category while I do Killington.

                It is a great read. Thanks.

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