Readers Roundtable: Running Superstitions

Pesto drinks coffee in her bathrobe at 3:00 a.m.We runners are a quirky bunch. We baffle the non-runners in our lives with our weird habits and running superstitions. I was never in my life a superstitious person before becoming a runner. As I’ve become more serious about it, I’ve collected a bunch of nonsensical superstitions, rituals, and routines and I bet you have them too.

Why is that? The answer seems fairly simple: control. A lot can happen out there on race day or in the course of a tough workout or training run. Most of these things have nothing to do with how prepared or worthy we are of achieving our goals, so, by following our superstitions, we attempt to create a little extra certainty. This is why we often involve things that we wore, used, did during great runs or races in our rituals.

My die-hard ritual? Drinking coffee four hours before each race. I have no idea why I still subscribe to this belief because almost every single other day of my life I drink coffee and run out the door and am totally fine. However come race day, the four-hour rule comes into effect.

What running superstitions do you subscribe to, if any? Why?

  • Don’t step on sidewalk cracks while running?
  • Always go clock-wise around a loop?
  • Always end every run on a round number of miles?
  • Lucky socks, underwear, shorts, bra?
  • Specific pump-up song or music?
  • Pre-race meal?
  • Sex the night before a big race?
  • A drink with prerace dinner?  
  • Something so wacky you’ll blow our minds sharing it?

I am currently working on my Ph.D. in Cognitive Neuroscience while sipping on wine & coffee in Northern Virginia. Together with my husband and Rhodesian Ridgeback, Gracie we battle to keep the Tupperware cupboard organized for more than two days at time. I recently ran my first marathon (2:51) and am excited for what is to come. I like to ramble about running post injury, finding a work-life balance and running quickly.

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  1. I have to pack my bag for the race the night before, lay everything out, put number on shirt and chip on shoe. Otherwise I feel like I can’t relax.

    Not very wacky 🙁

  2. I have weird issues with clockwise/counter clockwise – like when I have a choice I dither about which way will be “luckier” and then I also see “signs” – like if I see roadkill on my warmup up my first reaction is to interpret it as bad luck. I have to actively remind myself that that’s silly.

  3. I always wake up 3 hours before a race to eat a Lara bar (which I don’t really like when not racing!) and take an Immodium 1 hour before. Like Caraway, it’s not wacky, but it would mess with my head without it! I eat plain pasta the night before and am usually pro-sex the night before, unless I’m in a small hotel room with my kids which is the norm.

      1. I suggested that to a friend with GI issues recently — she can’t take it because Immodium contains lactose and that messes her up even more. Something to note!

  4. I used to have a ton of superstitions when I played field hockey — I always put my equipment on the same way, left to right; I used to hit the goal posts with my stick in a certain order before the game and before a penalty corner; I wrote motivational phrases on my stick; and I had a lucky bandana and jersey. These superstitions haven’t really carried over into running as much — I feel like I’m a lot more laid back now (which, if you know me, is kind of a laughable statement). I do still put my shoes on left to right, though, and immediately before a marathon or a half I always eat a caramel macchiato Gu. That’s about the extent of it.

  5. In high school I always wore this pair of socks that had frogs on them. I broke my PR by a lot in the long jump wearing them and after that felt I had to always wear them ( I at least washed them still). Also in high school I don’t think I ever ran a race without at least one braid in my hair somewhere. Usually it was 2 braids. When I started running more on roads a few years ago I pretty much always had to finish a run on the even mile, or half mile. Everything else just drove me nuts- I somehow got myself away from that and it’s been good. I stop when I’m done with my run, back at the house, or whatever…less stress and weirdness running in circles to hit an arbitrary number.

    I still have some little rituals, but I don’t think they’re too nutty. I always get a hair trim during taper for a marathon. Usually have one drink (1 beer or 1 glass of wine) night before a goal race. Pre-race morning fueling is down to a science but that’s less about compulsion and more about knowing what works and not messing with it.

    1. Oh yeah, I always do the thing where I have to stop my watch on a number that ends on a 0 or a 5 too, but that’s not really a superstition; it’s more just my being obsessive. I also have a glass of wine or beer with dinner the night before a race — helps me relax!

      1. Me, too. I don’t like it when the weekly mileage doesn’t add up to a round number. Although I keep getting lazier about it – it was first full miles only, then half miles were okay, and now it’s basically anything that’s a quarter mile increment. Truth being told, I’m more likely to stop my watch at the even mile split and then walk the last tenth home … or run it but not record it.

    2. I’ve recently let go of ending on half or full miles – it feels good not to be the local crazy running laps of the parking lot just to finish on a round number .. and for what? I’m still not sure?! I think you’re right on the science part too, you know what feels good so why would you tinker with that? That reminds me – I actually need a haircut!

    3. I love a pre-race hair cut too – a little less weight to slow me down! Was just trying to figure out if I’ll be able to fit one in before this weekend’s marathon.

  6. In addition to the matching nail polish, I like to wear a sparkly headband that preferably matches too. I’m such a diva haha. And Raspberry’s case for running skirts realllly convinced me that I need one. Especially a sparkly one. I don’t know if that’s a superstition or me just liking to coordinate my outfit ha!

    On race morning, I like to blast something funky to wake myself up and get pumped up. Two favorites: “You Sexy Thing” by Hot Chocolate and Nelly’s “Hot in Herre.” And Nicki Minaj HAS to be on my race playlist. It’s a rule. AND a banana on race morning is also a rule.

    1. I’m with you on the sudden need for a sparkle skirt! Can you get them wherre you are? Google says there aren’t any to be had in Germany. Hard to believe.

    2. Off-tangent: I don’t dare to wear a sparkle skirt because I don’t feel sufficiently badass to rock one ironically, haha! That said – I do like sparkles…

  7. I used to always buy a new hat before a race, but I stopped because my hat collection was getting a little ridiculous. Well, I forgot to pack my hat for last Saturday’s race, so I HAD to buy a new one. REI only had one running hat left: a super comfortable blue Brooks hat that matched my outfit. I ran a fantastic race, so I might have to bring this ritual back.

  8. Race socks. They are worn only and always for races. They appear to be a null factor.

    Similarly, race gaiters must be the ones with purple flames. Again, these don’t seem to have helped much – I still manage all manner of failures in them.

    1. Right? They have apparently zero impact on the race…and yet you do it anyway. (I once put this line in the methods section of a race report: “Nail polish worn: blue. We assume colour does not affect aerodynamicity and fingernail aerodynamicity does not affect overall speed.”)

  9. I actively keep myself from having any rituals or superstitions because I fear if I start, I’ll become so compulsive I’ll never run a race again! The one thing I think I always do, though, is crinkle my bib. Crinkled bibs don’t flap. It’s harder when they have the chip attached, but I promise it can be done!