You can run faster! (Why you should talk to yourself in the third person when running)

You can run faster!  (Why you should talk to yourself in the third person when running)

Self talk is a massive thing in running. Everyone has an internal dialogue when they run, all those random thoughts that go through your head before and during the run or race. Elite athletes focus on exactly what, when and how to talk to themselves in order to keep going when the running gets tough, and so should you too.

The changes don’t need to be big. Simply focusing on using the term “you” instead of “I”, and keeping your internal chatter positive can have a surprising effect on your race times.


For example, according to research published by Bangor University in Wales, cyclists rode faster when they addressed themselves as “you” rather than “I” in self talk statements. The scientists had 16 men do 2 x 10km time trials on a static bike. During the first trial, they talked to themselves as “I” and in the second, they referred to themselves as “you”. In both cases, they kept the self talk positive (they were specifically taught how to convert negative self talk into positive self talk – which has proved to improve both endurance and speed).

The outcome? When using the term “you”, the cyclists were 2.2% faster (knocking 24s off the time trial on average), even though they rated their effort level as the same.


So why does this work?
It is thought that using the term “you” promotes distance from the situation (“self-distancing”) which means the athlete thinks more clearly about the run or race and makes better choices, effectively “taking on the perspective of a supportive onlooker” according to Noel Brick, a leading sports scientist.


And the best thing? Its not hard to do. It just requires a little preparation and quite a lot of practice.


How to improve your self-talk:
1. Awareness of your internal chatter is key. Think about how you talk to yourself when running gets tough. If you can, think of a time when a run went well – what were you saying to yourself at the time? And an example of when it didn’t – what phrases kept coming back to you?
2. Analyse the phrases you said to yourself. Were they positive (keep going, well done, etc), or negative (my legs hurt, I can’t do this)? Did you focus internally (how do I feel, is my breathing too hard?), or externally (just got to make it to that lamppost!)?
3. List the ones from your successful run. How can you adapt them to make them even more useful? Can you put them in the third person?
4. Review the ones from your negative run – can you turn these around to make them positive? Negative self talk is inevitable, but you need to have a ready response. (“I want to quit” “You can do this, just keep going to the next mile marker”).
5. Pick a few sentences that resonate with you. Perhaps focus them around come-backs to your most frequent negative thoughts. And note these down to try out on your next run. They should feel comfortable to use – if they make you smile, even better!
6. Above all, you must practice these. On easy runs, on hard training runs – or just over and over in your head. The more quickly you can produce these phrases and turn negative thoughts around, the more success you’ll have.


How aware are you of your self talk? Do you use key phrases? Do you talk to yourself in the third person when you run? Share your thoughts, ideas and tips below! 


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Martin Hulbert

Running Coach & Personal Trainer Leicestershire

MH Health and Fitness Online Community


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  1. […] was the most effective perspective to self-regulate emotion and reduce anxiety. This was because it provides a psychological distance between ones self and the anxiety-inducing context, facilitating emotional regulation as it lowers […]

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