Borrowing the “Define Yourself” Mantra—Across Training, Work + Life

by | Jul 5, 2019 | Mindset

I loved reading Deena Kastor’s memoir, Let Your Mind Run, as our Athletic Bookworm pick last fall, and I was listening to a podcast today on my long run that referred back to the mantra she wrote about in it that she often thought about on race day and in training. DEFINE YOURSELF. Her words: “Terrence, though, simply put his arm around me and said, “Define yourself.” Define yourself. Their simplicity told me he believed I was ready to win. I grabbed that confidence and headed out to do it.”

I wrote about it when I was reflecting on the book at the end because I had really resonated with it at the time, but then just as quickly, forgot about it. When we were reading that book, I was dealing with some niggling knee issues that were preventing me from running the way I wanted to be, and honestly, I was kind of avoiding thinking too hard about me as a runner. I liked the concept, but I couldn’t put it into play at that point. Looking back, I probably should have spent more time reflecting on it, but hey, I’m doing it now.


It’s both a pause for self-reflection and a rallying cry, all in one. It’s a reminder during a race—define yourself by showing what you’re made of—and a way to push through a particularly tricky section in an article—literally, define what you’re trying to say—and a way to think about yourself in the broader sense as an athlete and as a human. For me, I started thinking about it in terms of me in my career. At my core, I’ve started to realize that I’m not a writer, journalist, coach, podcaster, yoga teacher, etc. At my absolute core, I’m a storyteller. It’s all-encompassing and I love that idea for myself. I’m trying to take on projects that fit into that construct. (You might notice an uptick in articles on this site as I push more focus there.) In my current sport life, I’ve been redefining myself for the last year as an ultrarunner. It’s taken a lot of miles. I haven’t raced much yet, and that’s been bugging me a little, because do you count as an athlete if you don’t race? I’m going to argue yes, because I’m not racing for a reason: I wanted to avoid the race-recover-race-recover schedule this year because I’m new to big miles, I’m new to ultrarunning. I’m so happy to be at the point now where a 22-mile long run on a Wednesday doesn’t wreck me and I can still finish work that day. So yeah, I’ve defined myself as an ultrarunner.

What’s great about ‘define yourself’ is that it’s challenging you—no one else—to make the decision about who you’re going to be. Right now, I’m a storytelling ultrarunner, and I’m pretty damn happy to be here.

Want to read more about Deena’s story? Get your copy of Let Your Mind Run here

Let me know in the comments + on social: what’s your mantra? How are you defining yourself?

(PS I really enjoy how many posts can be about training, work and life—I’ve been listening obsessively to Work Play Love, Lauren Fleshman & Jesse Thomas’s podcast and they do similar—most topics on training can relate back to work performance and life winds it all together. It’s a great one to listen to!)

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