Susan Lacke ponders this question: What is running without superstitions?
What was that noise?
I turned to the racer next to me, who was shaking his head, Linda Blair–style, while neighing. Spittle flew from the corners of his mouth, landing on my arm.
“You OK there, buddy?” I asked as I wiped away droplets of saliva on my shirt, disgusted.
“Oh yeah, sorry,” he blushed. “It’s a little superstitious thing I do before racing.”
“Yeah,” he said, laughing. “Something like that.”
Back in the first century, Roman philosopher Seneca famously declared luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. I wasn’t around back then, but I’m pretty sure he said nothing about making horse noises.
Preparation? Runners have that covered, no doubt. Opportunity comes when we toe the line on race day. Still, many of us do whatever we can to tip the scales of fate in our favor, from stringing lucky charms on our shoelaces to reciting a prayer before the starting gun goes off. Nowhere is superstition more evident than the starting corral of a race.
One of my friends is convinced eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich the night before is the key to a great race. Not just any old PB&J, mind you—very specific brands of bread, peanut butter and jelly are the ingredients of her magic PR potion. When her races require air travel, the condiments go with her, lest she fail to find these ingredients at her destination. The TSA must have a field day with her luggage.
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Another friend follows a precise warm-up routine of exercises and stretches. If she forgets one or begins a stretch out of order, she curses loudly and starts from the beginning.
Yet another has worn the same race-day singlet since 2004. As you can imagine, the shirt neither looks nor smells all that attractive. It has made 10 trips to Boston, however, so perhaps there’s something other than moisture-wicking properties in those threads.
What would happen if we didn’t buy into these superstitions? Would the whole running world unravel if we suddenly declared, “To hell with luck! My preparation is enough for this opportunity!”
Maybe. Maybe not. But does anyone really want to risk it?
So grow that marathon beard, eat that PB&J, rub the rabbit’s foot, say a Hail Mary, perform that exorcism and wait for the starting gun to go off.
A little luck never hurts, anyway.
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