How Positive Self Talk Can Help Runners Perform Better

How Positive Self Talk Can Help Runners Perform Better

The Power of Words: Fueling Your Run with Positive Self-Talk

We've all experienced “that voice” on a run. 

The one that whispers doubts when the miles feel heavy

Or the one that celebrates when you crush a personal best.

Whether you call it an "internal dialogue" or "self-talk" (or something less pleasant !), it turns out this inner voice has a surprising amount of power over your running experience, both physically and mentally.

The Science Behind Self-Talk

Researchers have explored the connection between self-talk and athletic outcomes. Here’s what science tells us:

  • Neuroplasticity: Our brains adapt based on repeated thoughts. Positive self-talk rewires neural pathways, reinforcing resilience and determination.
  • Cognitive Reappraisal: Athletes who reframe challenges as opportunities (e.g., “This hill will make me stronger”) perform better. It’s about putting a positive spin on what’s challenging you.

Positive words activate our reward centers

Studies have shown that athletes using positive self-talk have better performance, increased pain tolerance, and a stronger sense of confidence. Positive words seem to activate reward centers in the brain, boosting our mood and motivation to keep pushing forward.

Negative words activate our stress centers

When we bombard ourselves with negative thoughts, our brains register them as threats. This triggers a stress response, leading to the release of hormones like cortisol. Cortisol can hurt performance by hindering muscle recovery, increasing fatigue, and even weakening your immune system.

Perceived rate of exertion

When studying self-talk, scientists use something called "RPE" or the perceived rate of exertion. In other words, when using something different in your exercise (such as self-talk), does it make your workout seem easier?

And the studies all say yes.

Self talk significantly reduces rate of perceived exertion (how hard you feel you're working] and enhances endurance performance.1

Motivational self-talk improved endurance performance and enabled a higher power output, whereas neutral self-talk induced no change.2

In the rest of this blog post, we'll jump into using the power of self-talk for your runs. We'll explore how to work out what to say to yourself and give you some examples of how others are doing it.

By becoming more aware of your inner voice and using positive self-talk strategies, you can make it work for you and start unlocking your full running potential!

Self-talk for runners and other athletes can help you perform better and make workouts more fun

Making Motivational Mantras: Unleashing Your Inner Cheerleader

Let's create personalized mantras that become your go-to tools for motivation and focus on the run. Whether the result comes out like a meditative chant or closer to a war cry, the important thing is to work out how to make it personal so it works best for you.

One quick tip - when you're doing this, remember the way you phrase things is also important. If you say "Don't stop" your body hears "stop". It’s kind of like being told not to think about an elephant. All you can do is think about elephants. So get the elephants out of your training headspace!

Step 1:  Identify Your Inner Critic:

The first step is to listen to “that voice”. What words pop into your head when you feel tired or frustrated? Are they along the lines of "I can't do this anymore" or "This is too hard"? These are examples of negative self-talk that can hinder your performance.

Step 2:  Flip the Script:

Once you've identified your negative talk tracks, it's time for a rewrite!  Instead of dwelling on limitations, craft empowering mantras that focus on your strengths and capabilities. 

Personalize Your Power Words:

Your mantra should resonate with you. Use words and phrases that hold personal meaning and inspire you.  Think about your goals, your running strengths, and even your favorite running quotes (we’ve got some examples below if you want inspiration).

Keep it Simple and Short:

Shorter mantras are easier to remember and repeat in the heat of the moment. Aim for a words you can easily run through your head when needed.

Present Tense Power

Ask any procrastinator and they’ll tell you the future is a comfortable place; it’s always much easier to make plans about what you're going to do rather than what you have to do now. Unfortunately, when you're in the middle of a race or workout there isn’t much time to think about what you’re going to do next time.

This means your words have to be about the now. Without turning this into an English lesson, this means using the present tense. Phrases in the present tense create a sense of immediacy and action, after all, you need them to work now, not later.

Variety is Key

Having a few different mantras in your back pocket can be helpful. Tailor your self-talk to the specific challenge you're facing.  Use one mantra to boost motivation during a difficult interval session, and another to maintain focus during a long run.

Here are some examples, try to say them to yourself in a regular pattern as you run:

  • Instead of: "This is too hard," try: "This makes me strong."
  • Instead of: "I'm so slow," try: "I'm faster every step."
  • Instead of: "I'm giving up," try: "Run this mile."

  • For Hill Workouts: "Shut up legs."
  • When Hitting a Wall: "I got this."
  • Focusing on Form: "Smooth and steady."

Something Completely Different

If the suggestions above seem a little, well, ordinary, here are a few other ideas we've overheard. 

Burn your boats

This phrase has a long history - over 2,000 years ago when Alexander the Great and his invasion fleet reached the Persian shore, he instructed his men to burn their boats. This meant there was no way to get back, they had to go forward. Some runners use a the "out and back" run in a similar way (just without burning things!). If you get tired halfway, you still have to complete the distance to get back!

Name sections of your run

We got it, there are times when running the same sections over and over isn’t great for motivation. The good thing is that whatever part of your run you're in, there will have been at least one time where you felt great doing it. So to help you remember that time. For example, you know that nasty hill just before the half way mark? Give it a name, like “Fred”, or “Faye”. Sure it normally feels like they’re scowling at you, but when you’re next plodding your way up, remember that time Fred gave you a wink - it just might make the top of the hill seem a little bit closer!

Channel your unstoppable athlete

Hitting a wall mid-run? Been there. But some runners have a secret weapon: their alter-ego, a runner who couldn’t care less. Here’s the deal. When you’re getting ready for a tough run, put on a special piece of clothing - could be a cap, socks, anything. When you put it on, imagine your normal self, the one who frets about soreness, vanishes. In their place steps in a super-athlete, impervious to fatigue, and laser-focused on conquering miles. It might sound absurd, but it just might work. 

Words to run by: Summing it up

So there we have it. 

Workouts aren't always going to be easy. In fact, if they are always easy that might be slowing down your improvements.

The good news is that using positive self-talk can to make the work seem easier. Even better, it can make workouts more effective, and more enjoyable.

So whether it's hill sprints, on the exercise bike laps, weights to failure or a power walk until you're out of breath, remember to talk to yourself - we all like making the hard things a bit easier.  

For more ideas like this, check out our blog on effective pre-workout routines.


  1. Blanchfield AW, Hardy J, De Morree HM, Staiano W, Marcora SM. Talking yourself out of exhaustion: the effects of self-talk on endurance performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2014;46(5):998-1007. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000000184. PMID: 24121242 .
  2. Barwood MJ, Corbett J, Wagstaff CR, McVeigh D, Thelwell RC. Improvement of 10-km time-trial cycling with motivational self-talk compared with neutral self-talk. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2015 Mar;10(2):166-71. doi: 10.1123/ijspp.2014-0059. Epub 2014 Jul 8. PMID: 25010539 .