When it comes to elite athletes, we’re as inspired by their extraordinary focus as we are by their physical prowess.
Who didn’t marvel at Michael Phelps’s game face at last year’s Summer Olympics, or feel awed by the confidence of U.S. gymnast Laurie Hernandez, who whispered “I got this” before mounting the balance beam and destroying the competition?
The inner conversation among these standout athletes ignites a determination that carries them to the podium.
With the 2017 Spartan World Championships around the corner (they begin on September 30), we asked eight elite competitors who’ll be toughing it out in Tahoe to let us in on the motivational mantras they’ll use to get to the finish line.
2016 Spartan U.S. Championship Series winner, third-ranked female (fourth overall) in the 2017 World Elite Series
To find her focus and keep her edge, this champion racer keeps her sister’s voice in her head. And why not? Brittany Webster isn’t just a loving sibling; she’s a two-time Olympian cross-country skier.
“Her advice, and what I always remind myself before a big race, is just to race my own race,” says Webster. “My job isn’t to win or to beat any one person. It’s just to be the best that I can be. It’s about pacing myself and trusting that I know can push my limits.”
2015 Spartan World Champion
To turn herself into a racing powerhouse, Czech native Kocumová has two personal mantras. The first she keeps private—they are the personal wise words from her mother, who passed away three years ago. The second gave her strength during a Spartan race last winter.
“It was terrible weather, raining and cold,” she says. “Everybody was in a bad mood. But I realized, I don’t have to be here. I’m here because it’s my own will—I want to be here.
“Now, when I’m very nervous, not feeling comfortable, or struggling with myself before the start, I tell myself, ‘It’s your free will and decision to be here.’ It’s simple but it works.”
Spartan Elite Racer
When the physical ed teacher from Manitoba, Winnipeg, finds himself flagging, he asks himself, “Am I racing now?”
Whether he’s in the lead or chasing other top racers, this question helps him pick up the pace.
*Third-place finisher in 2016 U.S. Spartan Championship Series, team captain on NBC’s *Spartan: Ultimate Team Challenge
Wetzel is a Spartan pro, American Ninja Warrior, and a nine-time USATF Club National Champion runner. In other words, she knows a thing or three about pushing through when it matters most. “During my track racing career, my mantra was ‘fast and relaxed,’” she says.
And as an OCR standout? “It’s a variation on the same theme,” she says, “depending on the terrain, competition, and my particular goal for that race.”
2014 Spartan and OCR World Champion, 2016 Spartan European Champion
British-born Albon was reminded by a friend that everyone on an OCR championship course is in pain at some stage in the race, but it’s the person who best manages the pain who makes it to the podium.
So before and during a race, Albon reminds himself that the body can do far more than the mind lets it. “Then I know I should be able to push harder,” he says.
“No matter how bad something is, I try to smile,” he adds. “Smiling changes something in the brain that makes things seem better. No pain is going to last forever.”
2015 Canadian Spartan Race Series Champion, 2016 UltraBeast World Champion
Regularly crushing it at contests in Canada and United States, Tai pushes herself to perform at her peak by asking, “How do I want to remember this race?”
If that doesn’t help, and she’s still struggling, she pulls out the motivating words of her coach: “Do. Not. Settle.”
Elite Spartan Racer, ranked third-fastest women in the U.S. Stadium Elite Series
“I learned from a friend about letting red-light thoughts become green-light thoughts,” says Walsh.
“Green-light thoughts are positive things like ‘I’m an animal climber’ or ‘I’m a capable athlete—I can do this,’” she explains. “Red-light thoughts are the negative things that can take over, like “You suck,’ ‘Look how slow you are,’ and ‘You can’t do this.’”
When red-light thoughts start creeping in midrace, Walsh recognizes them for what they are and quickly switches on her brain’s green light.
OCR pro athlete, 2017 Spartan U.S. Elite Points Series 2nd Place
Having found his passion in Spartan, this ex-Marine took a leap of faith last summer and left his job to train full-time for the championship season.
“When I get to the start line in Tahoe,” he says, “I’ll think of the sacrifices I have made to prepare myself for this race. All the work is done. Now it’s time to put it to the test.”
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