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Avid runners are some of the most methodological bunch. Ask us about our training routines or diets and we can break it down to the microscopic details and explain why these methods work.
But, crammed in that library of knowledge are things like “Stomp your feet on the ground three times and shake your arms on the starting line” or “Shower before a race (though you’ll be drenched in sweat in no time)”.
We can’t quite explain why we do what we do apart from the feel-good vibe or “we don’t want to jinx it”, but researchers may have cracked the code.
Calming Your Nerves
The night before the race until seconds before the horn goes off can be anxiety-inducing. The scale of stress ranges from I cannot find the safety pins for my bibs to I may get a DNF (Did Not Finish) for this race.
Even after months of preparation, those well-trained legs can still bend under the weight of pressure to do well or to complete the race. This is why rituals, which help us to calm down and get ourselves together are important, though they may not have physiological effects.
Rituals have been found to have positive impacts on athlete’s performance since performing small, repetitive tasks can increase focus and improve mental stability. Think about it, wouldn’t you rather focus on tying and re-tying your shoe laces than think about the many aspects that could go wrong during a race?
Boosting Your Confidence
Rituals, especially those grounded in superstitions, help to enhance our confidence in our ability to perform a task and therefore motivate greater effort. Researchers found that when people received “lucky golf ball” instead of ordinary golf ball, their performance improved, demonstrating the power of superstitious rituals in affecting thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
We all have that one pair of shoes or socks, running shorts or sports bra that we know have a “divine” power which could power us through the race. The moment we put them on, our steps feel lighter, our heads hold a little higher, we’ve got our swagger.
These accessories may or may not actually aid our movements or prevent injury, but that’s beside the point. We believe that they give us extra edge and that’s all that matter.
Often things that invoke the “I’ll run with it or I won’t run at all” emotion in runners are also ones that have sentimental values. They could be the first medal we’ve ever won or the shoes that we wore when we completed our first long-distance run.
Those things boost our confidence by reminding us of our achievements and what we are capable of doing. If we survive the first time, we can do it again and do it better, right? There’s no greater feeling than to start the race with the confidence that we’re going to nail it.
Pumping You Up
Now that we’ve gone through the rituals that help the butterflies in our stomach take a seat, we can focus on the rituals that get us excited for the run. From listening to our favourite playlists to taking pre-run selfies or wefies with our squads, rituals can heighten our enthusiasm for running the race.
Compared to those who dive into the task directly without performing a series of systematic and ritualistic behaviour, those with rituals report higher anticipated excitement and enjoyment.
This is because performing rituals makes us feel more involved in what we are doing which in turn leads to greater anticipation. In other words, rituals can help us to get the runner’s high even before running.
Certain rituals can be a mood booster by giving a sense of community. Some of us may be proud #flatrunners, aka runners who religiously post photos of our meticulously arranged running gears pre-run.
Browsing through other runners’ photos, even discovering that someone that we know will also be running the same race give us something to look forward to and remind us that we’re not doing this alone.
“Rituals help runners to compose themselves and get in the zone before running. No matter how quirky, random or superstitious they are, if your rituals work for you, there is no shame in the game.”
Running a race can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be. Rituals help runners to compose themselves and get in the zone before running. No matter how quirky, random or superstitious they are, if your rituals work for you, there is no shame in the game.
Although, come to think of it, it’s best to have more than one rituals, just in case we have one of those days when we don’t get to do our one ritual and lose our mojo (brb: knock wood, throw salt over left shoulder, spin around three times).
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