Can a mantra make you run faster? This Olympic medalist has no doubts.

This is the story of Courtney Frerichs, who achieved one of the surprise performances of the Tokyo Olympics. But actually, it’s a mantr...


This is the story of Courtney Frerichs, who achieved one of the surprise performances of the Tokyo Olympics. But actually, it’s a mantra story, because who Frerichs is and what she’s been able to accomplish this summer are the words she’s been repeating to herself for years.

We are not talking about mantras in the old sense, the chants (“Om”) which are often associated with yoga and meditation practices in modern life.

We are talking about the words and phrases that Frerichs, 28, has spoken both silently and aloud thousands of times. Words that gave him the confidence to run forward in the 3000 meters steeplechase in Tokyo, and hang on until the end to clinch the silver medal in a race in which even racing nerds gave him little chance to get on the podium.

“I like these words and phrases because they usually start in practice or in conversation,” Frerichs said of his mantras this week, while enjoying some rest at his parents’ house in Missouri. . “It’s very organic.

Do mantras really make you faster? No one can say that they will slow you down. Who doesn’t like to hear a few words to reassure themselves in difficult times? A 2015 study in the journal “Brain and Behavior” found that subjects who repeated a mantra exhibited reduced brain activity, allowing for increased focus and relaxation, qualities that are useful when trying to run the race of a lifetime.

And if a runner thinks that something is helping him get stronger or faster, that very well could be.

Now, some important notes on Frerichs.

She grew up in southwest Missouri, where in high school she divided her time between gymnastics and running. She attended the University of Missouri-Kansas City, which is hardly Oregon or Arkansas in terms of running success. She spent her final year of eligibility at the University of New Mexico, where she helped lead the Lobos to the 2015 NCAA Cross Country Championship.

She won the silver medal at the 2017 athletics world championships in steeplechase, but she always seemed to exist in the shadow of Emma Coburn, a fellow American, 2016 Olympic bronze medalist and 2017 world steeplechase champion.

Frerichs said his first mantra exposure was at the University of New Mexico, where his trainer, Joe Franklin, constantly reminded his athletes that their quest for a championship throughout the season in 2015 was about the journey rather than the destination.

“It was really defining for us,” she said. “We were the favorites but we never thought about the nationals. We were always thinking about the stage we were in.

Franklin frequently recited four words to the team: Don’t expect anything. All succeed.

Those words were on Frerichs’ mind for the first few minutes of the national championship race, when the team started out slow but worked together to win.

She had that in mind as well when she embarked on her professional career in 2016, starting with a chance to qualify for the Rio Olympics. She made the team and qualified for the Olympic final, finishing in 11th place. It was a solid start, especially for a 23-year-old, but she left with a lingering feeling that she had played too cautiously instead of running like the race might be the last of her life.

The following year, as she prepared for the world championships, a new quote caught her attention: “Be courageous in the pursuit of that which sets your soul on fire. “

From that point on, “fearless” was his mantra. She said it as she started the workouts, as she struggled through them and struggled through the races. She found a temporary tattoo with the word “fearless” at a market in Park City, Utah, and slapped it on her wrist.

On race day at the 2017 World Championships in London, she had planned to race with the leading peloton. She followed him and won the silver medal behind Coburn.

In 2018, his trainer, Jerry Schumacher, kept telling him, “Let yourself run. To Frerichs, that sounded both like good advice and like poetry. It became his next mantra.

The words were in his head on the last lap of a stacked race in Monaco in July of the same year.

“Words allowed me to relax and perform this trick instead of forcing it and squeezing everything,” Frerichs said. She broke the American record, completing her flagship event in 9 minutes, 0.85 seconds.

Something strange happened then. Frerichs moved away from the strategies that had launched his career.

She struggled with injuries. She stopped seeing the sports psychologist who had helped her believe in herself and became frustrated when her career did not progress on a linear continuum. In 2019, she didn’t have a mantra. She finished in a disappointing sixth place at the world championships.

“I started letting the anxiety of the pressure to play push me on the path to perfection,” she said.

As the pandemic wiped out most of the 2020 season and forced the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics, Frerichs began to doubt his place in the sport while battling a hamstring injury.

She decided to go back to what had been successful in the past. As she worked with a new therapist, the word “belong” kept coming up in their conversations. It seemed to sum up what Frerichs wanted to feel the most, in her life, in her career and when she was running. There was the mantra. And she found temporary “belong” tattoos, which went right on her wrist so she could see the word when she needed it.

With each race, she began to live up to what she wanted to be – a runner who could go to the front of the leading pack and be part of it.

At the Portland Track Festival this spring, Frerichs took the lead with a mile to go, making virtually the same move she would make in Tokyo two months later. She was training to get in front and control the race.

“You have to be able to race what you need to be successful,” she said.

Looks like the creation of another mantra. Run with it.

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