Superstitions are a part of most athletes pre-race ritual. As an athlete, I have grown and evolved over the last twenty years and so have my lucky charms.
As a young swimmer, I started each swim meet picking a lucky bathroom stall and continuing to only use that stall as long as I had top results and only switching after a bad race. The goggles were another ritual. They had to almost surgically adhered to my eye sockets at least six heats before mine to ensure that they would not fall off and chock me during the race. And I had the lucky pre-race meal of a baked potato with cheese swallowed down with exceed and supplemented with the very first chalky chocolate powerbars. As I evolved into preliminary and final swim meet format, the time between sessions was spent searching for some lucky trinket to take me to the win or a best time.
In high school, I not only continued with my swimming rituals but added others in my other sports. In field hockey, I scored a hat trick after catching three falling leaves. Therefore after that day, I spent every game day out in the fall breezes trying to catch as many leaves before they hit the ground as I possibly could. While before track races, I would be trying to find a way to use the restroom at the very last second to make sure I would not have to go mid-race. Like the goggles, my run shoes were double-knotted and tied so tightly to my feet nothing could ever rip them off.
In college, my swimming superstitions remained and I added a few new ones like the perfectly timed warm-up swim and the rough rub on the blocks to get my hands raw so that I would have the right feel of the water. And problematic in college unshaved legs all winter until our taper meet when I would shave my entire body except my inner arms and legs again for that feel of the water. In running, I added new rituals like self massage with tiger balm and wake-up run that gave me the edge over my competitors or so I thought.
After college, as I moved into distance running I had the same bathroom rituals and love of tiger balm, and added ice baths to the mix. And the newest obsession became getting as much caffeine in the form of coffee into my system the morning before races. Not only did this aid in my aforementioned bathroom habit but also provided that stimulus on early race mornings.
Now that I have become a triathlete, many of my longtime superstitions are still staples in my pre-race routine. Although eating a baked potato with cheese at 4am race morning would never happen. I do still obsess about coffee and using the restroom at the last possible second. (I spend most of the boat ride out to the Alcatraz start in the bathroom.) The only new additions involve rituals around my bike and doing everything possible to make sure I don’t get that unlucky mechanical race day.
Superstitons are so important because they allow you to take your mind off the impending unknowns that await you in any race while giving you a small thing you can do to improve your chances for success. At least that is what you believe and at the end of the day what you believe is what matters most.