Guest Blogger Charlie Johnston

“I’m pretty sure the world is going to collapse if I put my right shoe on before my left,” says San Francisco Marathon Ambassador Susan Pass. “And I certainly won’t PR.” Personally, I don’t foresee any looming Armegeddon if my shoes aren’t put on in the correct order, but am positive that if my timing chip isn’t on my right foot, unspeakable things will happen—and I’m not crazy, my running friends Michael Connors and Crista Steele wholeheartedly agree.
Ambassador Monika Carlson sleeps in the tech shirt of whatever race she’s running the night before the race, while Ambassador Lauren Wilke, Michael, and I all agree that it’s terribly bad luck to wear the shirt before the race at all, especially so during the race itself. Ambassador Nancy Cook’s son Schuyler wears his race shorts inside out and Ambassador Daniela Vasquez wears the same Bermuda shorts for every single race. My friend and running buddy, Jacque Wilkins, has to run with her pink ribbon pin for breast cancer on the shoelace of her right shoe at every race, “I feel lost without it!” She says. Speaking of pink, another running friend, Rebecah Wiegardt, always outlines her race bib with hot pink duct tape. Ambassador Alisyn Gularte wears new socks for big races, and I wear new socks for every marathon—mom bought me a pair for my first marathon and we’ve continued the superstition tradition ever since.

There’s no denying that athletes are a superstitious bunch, and us runners—as evidence above—are no exception. And while some of our superstitions would provide excellent support should we ever need to enter an insanity plea in a courtroom, many of our pre-race routines are tried and true methods that we have found through years of trial and error to maximize our chances for a good race.

Take the collective dietary rituals of the San Francisco Marathon’s Ambassadors and some of my running friends. Ambassadors Courtney Alev and Lauren must eat pizza the night before a marathon—Lauren goes a step farther and insists on pepperoni and pineapple on her pie, which she swears is delicious. Alisyn starts carb-loading two days before a race and I’ve practically made a sport out of my pre-race pasta pursuits. Jacque loads up on carbs with baked potatoes and lately has been switching it up with sweet potatoes. Daniela MUST eat rotisserie chicken and coleslaw from Whole Foods before a race. Alisyn used to refrain from eating meat and consuming alcohol for a week before a race, and while removing meat from my diet at any time would take all the effort of some higher power, I skip happy hour for at least a week before a big race.

Ambassador Laura Langerwerf and I have both been known to put bagels and a jar of peanut butter in our luggage when en route to a marathon to guarantee that we have our go-to race-morning meal on hand. “People think I’m nuts,” Laura says of packing food in her bags. “But you can never be too prepared.” Ambassador Luis Bueno boards the carb-heavy breakfast boat with an untoasted cinnamon raisin bagel, Clif Bar, and Gatorade before a marathon, and while Courtney and I both need a banana before racing, she prefers hers on a peanut butter sandwich.

Not all of our superstitions and rituals are food-centric or could justifiably land us in mental institutions. San Francisco Marathon staffer Jojo Reuland always wakes up earlier than is necessary on race morning because she is certain “something weird will happen.” Before the Big Sur International Marathon in April, Jojo’s self-proclaimed paranoia saved her when she lost a contact lens and spent 20 minutes finding it. Daniela and I also rise early before races, and my paranoid insistence on always having an extra pair of contacts at the ready might soon become on of Jojo’s pre-race superstitions as well. My friend and running buddy, Mannie Calderon, has to wake up early on race morning, because his pre-race ritual is to do sit-ups.

Mannie’s race morning abdominal workouts must be working, because I have yet to catch him in a 5K this year. On some level, all of our superstitions must be working at least a little, or else we wouldn’t continue to adhere to them. No, the world won’t end if Susan put her right shoe on first, Alisyn and I don’t need new socks to perform to our full potential, and Jacque would probably be just as fast if she swapped her pre-race potato for pasta, but these rituals serve higher functions. In addition to the placebo effect of believing our quirky race routines will actually help us accomplish something, they provide tangible benefits as well. Our meticulously metered meals provide the nutrients we need to run strong races, and—for runners whose stomachs lack the iron constitution of Courtney’s—consistently eating the same foods race after race ensures our bodies won’t mutiny. An aversion to wearing a race’s tech shirt during that race helps us avoid chaffing and other problems that new clothing can present while running. And in addition to always putting my timing chip on my right shoe, I always make sure that my left foot is first to cross the start line and that my right foot is first to cross the finish. It helps…it shaves a split second from my chip time…seriously, it helps. I’m not crazy.

What are some of your pre-race rituals and superstitions? How did you come about getting them?