Pre-race superstitions. What are they? A pre-race superstition is something you do leading up to a race for good luck. It’s a ritual. Some do it to help relax. Some do it without even knowing it.
For myself, some of my pre-race superstitions are just habits that over time have become a part of my pre-race routine. I ALWAYS put on my left sock, then my right sock, and then my left shoe, then my right shoe. Always in that order.
This sock-sock-shoe-shoe thing became a hot topic with the Pamakids group that traveled to the Folsom Relay this fall. Malinda Walker had her doubts about the whole pre-race superstition thing. “99% of the time I put my socks on before my shoes. Does that make me superstitious?” I quickly pointed out to her that all her PR’s occurred when she put her shoes on after her socks.
Overhearing this whole exchange, Ariel Parrish then posed the question, what do you do if you have to put Vaseline on your feet before you put on your socks? Obviously putting Vaseline and then the sock on one foot and then moving to the next foot would be easier and less likely to stain the surrounding area with Vaseline. But would the running gods approve? I told Ariel that in my “expert” opinion she should Vaseline her left foot then her right foot and then move on to the usual socks and shoes routine. Ariel followed this advice and ran a 13 minute PR at the California International Marathon.
What other pre-race superstitions do people have? I polled some runners I know to see what kinds of answers I would get.
Dave Hoatson always puts on the shoes he’s going to race in at the race site. Whether the race is across the bay, across town or just down the block, Dave heads out the door race morning with 2 pairs of shoes. One pair is on his feet. And the other pair (the ones he will race in) are carried along in a bag, waiting to be put on just prior to the race.
A common race ritual is a lucky article of clothing. Renowned coach Jack Daniels believed that lucky clothing items should be avoided because if for some reason the all important item becomes unavailable (lost, dirty, etc), it could cause the runner mental distress. Still, you hear of these stories. Former Sacred Heart Cathedral runner (now competing for the UC Irvine team) Don Sebastian told me he had one pair of socks that he used for all his cross country races and another pair of socks that he used for all his track races. 4 years of racing. 2 pairs of socks. Bet those socks (what’s left of them) could tell stories. State Champion Shannon Rowbury didn’t have one set pair of socks but she did always wear the same type of socks for her races and she also reported that she had a lucky sports bra for races. Even though Shannon couldn’t think of any other pre-race superstitions, I can tell you, as someone who spent many hours watching her prepare for races, there was one particular lucky shirt worn for warm-ups before her big races.
Another common superstition involves the pre-race meal. For John Spriggs the pre-race breakfast is one cup of coffee, one banana and one piece of toast. This has been John’s pre-race meal since his high school days in 1978…well the cup of coffee was added later. Christine Jegan’s pre-race meal is a relatively new one. The night before the Las Vegas Marathon in February 2002, she enjoyed a glass of red wine. Then the next day she ran a Boston Marathon qualifying 3:35 (20 minute PR). So now, even though the experts warn against alcohol before a race, Christine has her lucky glass of red wine.
Some pre-race superstitions begin by accident. Impala runner, Tara Hillier was once late for a race and didn’t have time to warm-up. She ended up having a good race. Now she skips or at least minimizes her warm-up. Now while this may not be physiologically sound….if it works for her…
What the actual ritual is and why, isn’t the important thing….it’s whether or not you have one. Dave Parrish always showers and shaves the morning of a race. In fact, he purposely doesn’t shave the day before to build up some good stubble to shave off race morning. On the opposite side, SHC runner Michelle Gallagher, who was 3rd place at the State Meet in cross country last fall, refuses to shower the day before a race because she doesn’t want the warm water to zap any energy from her muscles. Another in the no shower before a race category is Olympic Trials Marathon Qualifier (2:18) Chris Lundstrom. Chris’ reasoning is simply, “I figure I’m going to get sweaty and dirty during the race anyway”.
As a coach, I like the pre-race rituals because they can help you relax before a race when you would otherwise be nervous. You feel confident because you’ve done your ritual. Things feel familiar because you’ve done what you always do before a race. And if the superstition brings you some extra luck in the race who’s going to complain about that?
So next time you see me crumpling up my number before pinning it on my shorts, doing a certain pretzel stretch that I only do on race days, taking striders away from the start line and walking back to the start line (not striding or jogging back), and jumping up and down in place at the start line while the race director gives instructions, don’t worry, I’m just trying to get some extra luck coming my way.