Speedy superstitions: York’s distance runners dish

York runners are known for one thing: winning. In order to keep that well-known tradition alive, athletes have come up with a number of different pre-meet rituals and tactics that they swear are the reasons why they are so successful. The perseverance and hard work have been paying off for both the York girl’s and boy’s track teams this season and these crazy “runners superstitions” might be why. They may seem pointless or ridiculous to some, but to these athletes, these tricks are the secret to their incredible performances.

“I feel like running is such a mental sport,” senior Katherine Tomaska said, “I think that it’s good to have a routine to prepare yourself for a race, even if it’s a little odd.”

Knowing that her ponytail is securely in place, senior Katherine Tomaska confidently runs the first curve of her 4×800 meter relay.

From many prominent Olympians like Molly Huddle, Usain Bolt, and Emma Coburn (who eats the same breakfast every race day) to York’s vast running community, everyone seems to have one thing that is necessary before performing.

“I think sentiments or pre-race rituals are a sign of nervousness,” sophomore Aidan Moran said. “And obviously there are a lot nerves at top-performing meets, but if for some reason I am not able to do one of those rituals I think I would feel less sure of my performance.”

Sophomores Aidan Moran (right) and Brian Pratt (left) run side by side together at the Palatine Invitational. Sept. 23, 2017.

It turns out that superstitions for athletes are formed mostly by accident. An individual might compete and run a great race which leads them to reflect on what they might have done differently to achieve that new personal record. Whether they count on a pair of lucky socks, the song that was stuck in their head during a particular race, or a certain type of food they ate prior to a meet, naturally a runner will consciously or subconsciously create a habit out of it. Here are some of the secret superstitions and habits of York’s most elite athletes.

“The night before every meet I have a chicken caesar salad without chicken because it reminds me of the chicken my dog eats,” junior Sarah May said. “Also the morning before a race I always have to have toast with peanut butter and chia seeds. You can’t forget the chia seeds.”

Photo courtesy of Abby Moriarty
Sarah May, junior, strides out ahead to pass her competition during the last 400 meters of the varsity race.

As well, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, listening to music before a race can improve performance. Researchers found that listening to motivational songs before a 5K turned out faster times, as did tuning in during a run. So, don’t hesitate to pop in those earbuds and pump yourself up with motivating music before you hit the track.

“I like to listen to rap because it gets my blood flowing and helps to pump me up for the next race.” sophomore cross country and track runner Johnny Brennan said.

Photo courtesy of SR Photo
Sophomore Johnny Brennan strides ahead of his competition at the Palatine Invitational, most likely with a rap song playing over and over again in his head. Sept. 23, 2017.

But keep your eyes open because a few runner’s “pre-race” habits have been claimed detrimental to the athlete’s performance. A very common performance hindering habit is not eating before you perform. Breakfast isn’t called the most important meal of the day for nothing, so make sure you carb up and replenish your body with fluids a few hours prior to the start!

“Whenever I have a race for breakfast that morning I will eat one piece of toast with a little bit of nutella and top it off with a power bar for some extra energy.” sophomore Maggie Clink said.

Photo courtesy of SR Photo
Sophomore Maggie Clink leads the pack in her Freshmen Conference meet as she thinks back to her breakfast of Nutella, toast and a powerbar.

Why is it so necessary for runners to feel like they must complete this pre-race ritual or habit? Well, according to sports psychologists, having a habit before a race can help decrease anxiety and stress and make you feel more in control.

“I love fried rice and wonton soup,” said freshman Emily Ebsen. “I always have it the night before a meet. During my race, all I think about is the food I ate the day before and it really inspires and motivates me to run fast.”

Photo courtesy of SR Photo
Freshman Emily Ebsen reminiscing on the fried rice and wonton soup she had the day before and taking inspiration from meal to push the pace during a race.

Even though these rituals and habits may seem absurd or pointless to some, both of the teams’ records and accomplishments beg to differ and prove that maybe these crazy habits are key to successful performance.

Photo by Sarah Pinkowski and Grace Moriarty
Mr. Newton’s plaque hangs outside the Joe Newton Field House, and his very visible gold nose is rubbed for luck by the boys cross country/track team.

“There’s a plaque of Mr. Newton just outside the field house and we all rub his nose for good luck,” senior, top runner Charlie Kern said. “Coaching legend Reed Sundberg started this tradition with his senior class, and now Mr. Newton’s nose is gold and shiny.”