Saturday, January 19, 2013

Superstitions, Habits, and Rituals

“If a black cat crosses your path, it signifies that the animal is going somewhere.” 
― Groucho Marx

I am not a superstitious person, I believe we make our own luck. Each day that I hit the trails or roads and train ("train" is a very relative and casually thrown around term), I increase my chances of doing well. Or, maintain where I am. Or, at the very least, slow the steady degradation of my running self.  Yet, after being in countless races over countless years (I love hyperbole), there are a few things that I have noticed about myself and although I don't put them in the superstitious category, they may scrape the definition of ritual. Perhaps these rituals have developed more out of habit than out of an offering to the running Gods to assure a good race. 

When you enter a race, there are so many variables that can affect your performance, maybe we develop these rituals in the belief that our figurative rabbit's foot is an attempt to control some of the factors that encompass the whole race experience. Perhaps the enduring nature of these rituals as we do them run after run is proof of our desire to control or increase the likelihood of success.

Those of us who live for the run and have been at it a long time tend to have our habits,rituals and quirks and may not even realize some of them. Do you dress differently for a race than a training run, eat differently, wear a certain memento, anything that has become a habit that if not done can actually affect your already fragile confidence. When we begin to associate success with these rituals, we rely on them, and without them, we can have a slight chink in our armour that protects us the day of a race.

Although I say don’t believe in luck or superstitions, when I race next I can guarantee that I will be performing some habitual quirks that are just how I roll. Some of these are performed without the realization that I'm doing them, but let's go through some of these things.

The night before a race, usually a marathon or ultra, I have to put out all my clothes that I will race in the next day. I don't mean just get them out and put them in a pile for the morning. I will put the hat on the bed, then below that I spread my shirt, then the shorts and the socks. It looks like one of those 1950's Science Fiction movies when the poor farmer gets vaporized by the martian and all that's left are his smoking clothes. Anyway, I then pin the most important memento of my race to my shorts - a purple bar that was worn on my late Dad's Army uniform representing his Purple Heart. I carry it with me everyday and it's been with me in all of my 132 marathons and ultras. Yes, it's important. Does it give me strength? In some races, it must have been on a break because I sure could have used a little more magic, but my dad never saw me race, and so I carry this small symbol of his courage to help give me some late in a race. Sometimes I'm strong, sometimes I'm not...the pin has nothing to do with it, but it will always be there.

As far as specific gear or clothing, I only have one shirt that I wear to most of my races. Well, it's actually one of several of the SAME shirt. You see, for 15 years, I was a running coach for the Leukemia Society (old name). During those 15 years, I went to many marathons with them and (against the Society's regulations) I also ran the races. We were given a new purple Leukemia Team singlet each race, so I have several. I was very involved with the mission of the Society. It still is important to me and so I wear one of those shirts to almost all of my races. Because we distance runners are creatures of habit, that shirt is now automatic. One less pre-race decision to make.

I don't have any race rituals that I perform. I can pretty much drink any flavor drink (except Ultima, which is vial, or Accelerade, which gives me the trots) and I can down Gu, Hammer Gel, Powergel, or Honey Stinger. I have my favorites, but it doesn't really matter TO ME. Actually, the one thing I always do before a race is to fold my race number as small as I can where you can still see just the advertising, no race logos, just the facts Ma'am! Always do it!  

Do we all have a pre-race routine? Sure we do. But a routine is different from these rituals that are actions that really have no direct bearing on the race. They are very personal. You may carry a photo, a bracelet, a religious item, or a Purple Heart Bar. They are different from the routines like what to eat the night before, what drink to mix in your bottle, or what flavor Gu to pack, UNLESS you can't race without a night-before meal of Baked Ziti, or have only Strawberry Banana Gu. A routine is Gu, a ritual is Strawberry Banana Gu!

Runners who have been at it for awhile and would be described as experienced (old) are locked into the racing systems they have followed for years. They are very unlikely to go with the hot new fad that's being touted. They'll tell you they've been around long enough and have seen them come and go. They plan to stick with what works for them. Some have a basis, but some are those personal quirks.

If any of you have rituals, quirks or habits you'd like to share, send them along in the comments below. I'd love to know I'm not alone.

One habit I have is that I'll see you all on the roads - AL

"One child lost is too child saved can change the world "

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