Can Rituals, Superstitions and Strange Habits Actually Improve Your Running Performance?

  • Have you got a pair of lucky pants that you always wear to races?

  • Do you always kiss the ground before a race?

  • Or have you used the same safety pins to attach your race number for years? (Like Paula Radcliffe)

If the answer to these is yes, you probably do them even though there’s no evidence that they actually improve your performance.

But you do them because they help you psychologically prepare for training and for races.

I’ve got my own set of weird and wonderful things that I do, which help me believe that I’m going to have a great running performance.

Most of them have no solid evidence to prove that they help.

And I can’t even remember where I first heard about these techniques.

But I still do them!

They might inspire you to laugh at me. Or they might inspire you to adopt some of your own weird habits.

Enjoy!


Spend Less Time Worrying About Your Training and More Time Celebrating Your Success

Take a look at my coaching page to find out how I can help you to achieve your goals.

I’ve coached many runners and triathletes, just like you, to get fitter and faster.

And I’ve done all the hard work of learning various training techniques, including testing them on myself.

That means that you don’t have to spend lots of time researching training plans and worrying about whether a technique will work or not.

And you can spend more time on getting fitter and faster.

And celebrating your successes!

Because I’m still an active competitor, I’m always trying to learn new things to improve my own performance. Which I pass directly on to you.

If you’d like to find out more about how I could help you improve your performance, take a look at my coaching page.


Why Do Athletes Have Rituals, Superstitions and Strange Habits?

Training and racing can be a stressful experience.

No matter how well your training goes, how good your race strategy is or how much you’ve tested your nutrition, things can still go wrong.

The psychological side plays such an important part of the sport, especially for longer distances.

As the saying goes - “The longer the race, the more it’s about your mental strength, rather than your physical strength”.

So rituals, superstitions and strange habits can help overcome some of the anxiety you feel. Particularly when preparing for races.

For athletes who feel the outcome of a competition is unpredictable, superstitions provide a way for them to gain a bit more control
— verywellfit.com

Rituals and superstitions can be helpful in a number of ways:

  1. With all of the uncontrollable parts of a race, you know you have control over this one part

  2. They can boost your confidence

  3. They have been linked to improved performance

  4. There’s no cost to doing them (providing your ritual isn’t harmful). So it’s basically a win-win. This is similar to people who don’t believe in God, but pray anyway. The only danger that I see is becoming over-reliant on them. For example, if you don’t do it in a race and it completely messes up your game-plan

One study showed that rituals have an even greater impact for especially important moments, like a final.

And there are lots of examples of elite athletes who have strange rituals that they believe help them improve their performance.

Paula Radcliffe, the women’s world record holder for the marathon, had a number of superstitions.

I’m superstitious. I’ve always used the same lucky safety pins for my race number and I always wear the same jewellery. I also wear the same kit. If a race goes well, I’ll wear it again. If it goes badly, I chuck it out and try another
— Paul Radcliffe - In the Guardian

And here is a list of 25 of the weirdest sports rituals

I think my favourite is Jason Giambi, the New York Yankees baseball star, who wore a gold thong to improve his performance!


Here are my own top 5 weird habits and rituals that I do.

Feel free to make fun!

1) I Count Runners When I Overtake Them (and When They Overtake Me)

Maybe it’s my competitive nature… Or maybe I liked maths too much when I was younger.

But whenever I’m running, I need to count runners when I pass them.

I give myself one point for every runner I overtake.

And I lose 10 points for every runner that passes me.

I get 10 points if I pass a bike. But I don’t lose points if they pass me.

So, by the end of a run, and after a lot of challenging arithmetic, you have a score.

There are various other silly rules to this game. For example, if I’m just about to overtake someone and they start walking, I can’t count them as a point.

And you can’t ‘uncount’ someone. So if someone passes me and I lose 10 points, and later I overtake them, I don’t gain 10 points.

Fairly crazy. And it gets difficult to keep count in big races. But it keeps my mind entertained!

I think my best score was +237.


2) I Have An Alter-Ego - The GameChanger!

I mentioned the power of having an alter-ego in my previous blog.

Todd Herman is a high-performance coach who has a theory that one secret to success could be to adopt a secret identity!

Sounds cool, right?

Even Tiger Woods and Dwayne Johnson have alter-ego’s to help them perform.

I was so interested in this theory that I started practising it when I was training for my world-record attempt to run more than 800 miles in 9 days.

Much to my friends’ and family amusement, I adopted an alter-ego called ‘the GameChanger.

I used this technique in times of pain and suffering. And ‘switching’ to my alter-ego allowed me to think that I was no longer in that pain.

How did I switch into ‘GameChanger’ mode?

It was all about the sunglasses!

When I put my them on, I was The GameChanger

It was fairly embarrassing to admit to people.

But it’s definitely a technique I’ll use again.

So, look out for The GameChanger near you!


3) I Need to Touch Wood…

Many people will have heard of the phrase and action ‘knock on wood’.

This is typically used in the UK to keep bad luck away, particularly when you are having a run of good luck.

A lot of people tap on their own head, rather than tapping on an actual piece of wood.

I use it a lot in training and races when a thought comes into my mind that things are going well…

  • “Wow, things are going really well in this race so far”

  • “Wow, I’ve not been stopped by any red lights on my run so far”

  • “Wow, I’ve not yet been hit by a lorry, even though I’m running down this main road”

After each of these sayings I would then ‘knock on wood’ by tapping my own head.

So if you see me madly tapping my own head, you’ll know why!


4) I Sit On A Tennis Ball in the Office

I tend to keep my ultra-running activities quiet in the office.

Many of my colleagues don’t even know that I’ve sometimes run more than 50km before starting work.

So it probably makes me seem even stranger, when they see me sitting on a tennis ball whilst working.

The hypothesis is that a tennis ball helps with self-massage.

But it raises a few eyebrows when I stand up from a chair and people see that I’ve been sitting on a tennis ball.


5) I Have A Cold Shower in the Morning

A few months ago I came across the Wim Hof Method, which includes having ice cold showers.

There are lots of studies which show the supposed benefits of cold showers - They reduce stress, make you more alert, improve your immune system, help with weight loss, increase circulation and reduce muscle soreness.

But as far as I know, there is no strong evidence to support the theory that cold showers benefit running performance.

I like a cold shower in the morning, because it wakes me up and gets me ready for the day.

But I treat myself to a warm shower in the evening to relax, wind down and get ready for bed.


Summary

  • Rituals and superstitions might improve your running performance by making you feel more in control. And there’s evidence that they are even more effective for bigger events

  • Many elite athletes use strange rituals to help them improve their sporting performance

  • I use some of these rituals and superstitions to improve my own performance - including counting runners as I overtake them, having an alter-ego and ‘touching wood’


What Strange Habits and Rituals Do You Have?

Let me know in the comments at the bottom of this blog, on the Contact Page or on social media below. 


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