Luck. Juju. Magic. We runners tend to be a ritualistic bunch. Chances are that your race day essentials include not only safety pins and Bodyglide, but some kind of lucky charm, whether it’s a part of your outfit, a particular pre-race tradition or just a talisman you have on hand. A little pre-race superstition never hurt anyone, right?
Sassafras and I have teamed up this week to discuss the use of pre-race superstitions. We thought it might be fitting seeing that we are the last of the Saltys to be racing a marathon or half marathon this season. More than likely, we will be sure to complete our pre-race rituals or bring our little lucky charms. But what if something happens race morning that throws a routine or ritual off? What happens if you leave your little charm at home?
I, Sassy, have race day rituals that have varied over the years, but no matter what they are, I don’t mess with them. My running buddies know that if they call me the night before I race and I say I’m painting my nails, that they’d better keep it short. I plan my race day manis well in advance, and the fresher, the better. I even went to the trouble back in January of looking up TSA regulations and flying with nail polish in my carry on. Likewise, I always listen to Justin Timberlake in my car en route to the race.
As for myself, Ginger, my pre-race routines bordering on superstitions mainly involve food and bathrooms. If I’m without a Chocolate Powerbar or Clif Bar, I might have an early morning meltdown. And similar to Mark Mathews, I must have the opportunity for a pre-race poop. Although unlike Mark, I don’t mind if it’s in the porta john or even the woods. Desperate times call for desperate measures, right?
According to a runnersworld.com poll, 22% of respondents have a lucky race routine, charm or ritual. Pro runners have their race day superstitions, too. According to an interview with RunnerDude, Kara Goucher used to have lucky hair barrettes, while Shalane Flanagan likes to have a bib number with an “8” in it. Sassafras was happy to read in a recent issue of Women’s Running that Olympian Molly Huddle shares her nail painting ritual. And reigning 400-meter Olympic gold medalist Sanya Richards-Ross wears a bullet necklace. Once she didn’t wear it and came in third at the NCAA Championships. She vowed never to skip wearing it again.
So where is the line drawn when a superstition or pre race routine turns into a problem? Well, we can ask ourselves one important question: Is this good luck charm or routine interfering with the rest of our race morning? Much like a mental health counselor would assess how much a stressor is interfering with everyday life, we must make an effort to assess if this superstition is creating more anxiety than necessary. Yes, a little anxiety is normal and even beneficial. But if you find yourself heading into obsession compulsion territory, there may be a problem. What does obsession compulsion territory look like? Well if your routine involves putting on and taking off your socks twenty times on each side before lacing up, you might be creating more anxiety than good. If something like this works for you, better yet! But if it has to be done a certain way and started over if done incorrectly, well, then Houston, we may have a problem.
When it comes time for your next race, be sure to think about all that you have put into having a good race. It likely looks like a balance of training, cross training and rest as well as healthy eating and plenty of sleep. Don’t forget about all of that mental training either! Realistically, we all know it’s not a lucky sports bra that makes the difference between a great race and an okay one, right? So the next time you find yourself with an empty bottle of nail polish or a missing Clif Bar on the day of the race, don’t freak! Part of being a runner is learning how to adapt and be flexible. Who knows, the added anxiety may even create some much needed adrenaline to run a new personal best!
Do you have any race day luck charms? Why do you think runners rely on such superstitions?
This post originally ran on October 16, 2012.