My Running Mantra: PBR

Bill Johnson
5 min readJun 17, 2021


Black spiral staircase with white round ceiling. Courtesy of Nathan Thomassin (@vegatones) on
Photo by Nathan Thomassin on Unsplash

When I’m not doing computer-y type stuff, I’m typically out running (preferably on Cascade Range trails). As I’ve run longer and longer distances it has gotten harder and harder to stay focused and maintain my efficiency throughout the distance. Following in the steps of many other runners, I developed a mantra to help motivate, center, and even distract myself as the miles pile up. The mantra of “PBR” works best for me and recently I have started connecting it back to my computer-y day job and other parts of my life (more on that later).

What is “PBR”?

Depending on your context, “PBR” could be a number of different things. I’m guessing most people will associate it with Pabst Blue Ribbon beer or maybe the Professional Bull Riders circuit or maybe even a Product Backlog Review (any other popular ones out there?). But in this context, “PBR” is an ordered list of things I work through and use to focus on getting right during a long run: Posture, Breathing, and Rhythm. If I’m able to get these three things right, most other stuff falls into place or is at least made simpler. It’s important to do each of these steps in order as I’ll explain below:


Your posture is your overall framing and is the base to an improved running efficiency and economy. If you are trying to run a long way, you need the proper structure from your body to sustain the effort and pace. That typically means your head is up, eyes are looking forward, your shoulders are relaxed and back, and your chest is up and not bent at the waist in order to stretch and maximize your lung capacity. A slight lean forward at your ankles gives you momentum and helps to propel your body forward saving some effort on your muscles, which adds up as the miles do. The right posture disperses your weight properly across your joints and muscles so they can best absorb the impact. Posture is the first thing to focus on because if you don’t have the right posture you can limit the amount of air you can breathe, waste motion and effort, or potentially harm your muscles and joints from impact. You take between 1,000 and 2,000 steps when running a mile so even slight variations can compound and have significant effect. The first part of the mantra sets the stage and enables the next two areas to provide the maximum benefit.


When your posture is solid, head and chin are level, shoulders relaxed, and you aren’t bent over at the waist, then you have created the optimal upper body environment to consume Oxygen for your blood and muscles and expel Carbon Dioxide out of your body. Everyone is different, and your mileage may vary (YMMV), but I’ve found counting steps to be a good way to regulate and measure your air intake and expulsion. During a long run I’ll look to breathe in for about 5–6 steps, hold it in for 1–2 steps, and exhale for about 4–5 steps, holding it out for another 1–2 steps. It is slightly uncomfortable, especially at the “hold” parts when you can feel your lungs and chest stretching a bit, but it gets more comfortable over time. Using steps to regulate breathing forces my breath to be measured and slow and helps relax my mind and reduce my overall heart rate. A good proxy to your overall effort is your heart rate and slowing your breathing can help slow down your heart rate and therefore reduce the effort needed to keep running at a given pace and allow you to go further and faster.


If you have a solid frame and structure through your posture and your breathing is relaxed and measured to reduce your heart rate and overall effort, only then should you focus on your overall rhythm and cadence (steps per minute). Different body types and styles will see slightly different numbers but in general, an average build and height person would be somewhere near 180 steps per minute for optimal efficiency. That cadence and rhythm is a forcing function to prevent over-striding, encourages a balanced mid-foot strike, and is sort of a magical sweet spot that when paired with “P” and “B” can leverage momentum to maintain a pace and minimize the amount of muscle used to propel you forward leading to a higher efficiency and running economy. I often find myself focusing on keeping a consistent cadence instead of my speed on hilly routes. This typically results in faster overall times with less overall effort and fatigue.

Main running on a mountain photo
Photo by asoggetti on Unsplash

Connecting Back To Computer-y Things

There is a famous saying that goes “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”. When sprinting or doing short intervals, you can get away with a lot because you stay in an anaerobic state. However, once you start to up the mileage and distance you switch to an aerobic state and those little things start to compound and become critical. You can’t win a marathon in the first mile, but you can certainly lose it by not paying attention to the little things that will add up over time. If you want to go far, all the parts of your body have to be working in unison and efficiently in order to sustain the effort.

This is where I’ve started to make the connection back to my “day job” of running engineering teams and projects. You can overcome quite a bit as an individual or team in a single event or day, but that effort is not sustainable over a longer period of time. To have sustained success you need to have the proper framing and structure to the problem. Clear goals and defined principles to operate under. Once those are in place you can focus on feeding and nurturing the right areas to improve efficiency and production. Once you have those 2 areas figured out you will likely fall into a natural repetition rhythm and flow that produces an optimal outcome with quality and the ability to maintain over time.

Once you start viewing problems like this you see structure, nurturing, and rhythm in a lot of places in the world. Career development (What are your “Must Have’s” in a job, what skills or goals are needed for those, review your role yearly to adjust), learning a new skill (How much do you want to learn/time spent, specific and iterative steps to get there, clear end points along the way), meal planning (lifestyle goals and/or requirements, nutritional needs, 3 meals a day), and even training dogs (level of obedience/training desired, progressive set of skills and tricks to get there, regular repetition and reward) just to name a few. Following the “PBR” mantra in daily life has built a structure around things that previously were lacking it and has helped me to iterate forward and make progress. Much like running on a seemingly endless mountain trail, the global pandemic has made it difficult to see progress at times but viewing things through this lens has helped me move forward and identify ways to make progress.



Bill Johnson

Principal Engineering Manager for Azure by day, run coach for @teamchallengenw by night