Feb 27, 2014

Pre-Race Rituals

The good, the bad, and the ugly

Pre-Race Activity

It is no big secret that athletes like us tend to be a little Type-A and particular about the way we do things. This is especially true when it comes to training and racing. We, at SportTracks, are dying to know about your pre-race/ race day behaviors and activities. What are they, what motivates them, and most importantly, are any of them particularly weird, zany, interesting, and/ or hilarious?

Determined to answer this burning question, we polled our ambassadors, our twitter feed, and our own personal training groups in search of some insight into the intricacies and inner-workings of the race day mind. And with a little help from our friends at Survey Monkey, here is what we found...

Survey Said...

Item 1 is Ironically (but not surprisingly) Number 2.

Well friends, I suppose it shouldn't come as a surprise that the number one must-do pre-race action item according to the kind souls that completed our little survey is... Drum roll... Pooping!

A whopping 88.3 percent of survey participants reported that pooping is key part of their "morning of" race prep routine, and 76.67 percent went on to prioritize "visiting the bathroom" as the MOST important item on their pre-race checklist.

As one particularly wise and eloquent survey participant put it, "Ideally, I will poop first thing in the morning, and again at the race site. Clear bowels always equate to clear mind and a clear road ahead!" Whoa! Talk about words to live (and poop) by! So don't sweat those obsessive bathroom-focused thoughts that consume you on race day morning. According to our survey, they are completely normal and healthy. Just make sure to budget adequate time for visiting the porta-potty into to your morning-of-race schedule. You surely won't be only one a mission to take care of business.

Item 2: Focus on Food.

In other not at all surprising news, pre-race meals were the area where our survey respondents placed the most focus after pooping. 51.79 percent of participants reported that they have a specific pre-race dinner that they always eat the night before competition, and 73.33 percent reported that they require a specific race-day breakfast on the day of an event.

The population that completed our survey seemed to agree that the specifics of the night-before-the-race dinner were less subject to superstition than those of the day-of-race breakfast. Most participants who referenced meals in the comments section of our survey alluded to just generally "carb-loading" or "avoiding spicy foods" in lieu of describing a particular meal. However, we did find it interesting that approximately 10 percent of participants reported that drinking a beer or a glass of wine was a regular part of their day-before race preparation. But our very favorite comment with regard to the food/ eating component of pre-race superstition suggested a correlation linking optimal performance to gummy bear consumption the night prior to competition.

Our gummy bear enthusiast, a former collegiate athlete and still-competitive sub-elite runner credits pre-race gummy bear consumption for an epic milestone PR that came at the end of a disappointing college season, and still pops a few good lucky gummies to boost positive race mojo to this very day. We are looking forward to testing out this gummy bear pre-race super-food theory for ourselves, and we promise to write a tell-all blog post on the delicious magical powers of this fun snack if this turns out to be for real. Stay tuned!

Meanwhile, it seems that athletes, or at least those who completed our survey, are somewhat more particular about their day-of breakfast meal than their dinner the night before. Results and comments indicated that our participants are generally believers in the benefits of the 4:1 carbs to protein ratio, seeing as the most popular race day breakfast specified was peanut butter on a bagel or an English muffin.

Bananas and coffee were close runners up in the race for the most popular race-day breakfast selections, and we got a pretty big kick out of the fact that EVERY SINGLE PERSON who mentioned coffee referenced it as an aid for facilitating pooping.

Items 3 and 4: Optimal Sleep and Race Day Checklist Prioritization.

Our survey questions also touched on the importance of sleep and the prioritization of one's race day check list. Our target population generally agreed that more is more when it comes to getting a good night's sleep before a race. 51.67 percent reported 5 to 7 hours of pre-race sleep to be ideal, and an additional 43.33 percentopted for 8 hours plus. (But seriously, who has the time and patience to sleep for 8 hours?) Only an outlying 3.3 percent of survey participants chose our favorite option for the sleep question, which was "Who needs sleep when you're all jacked up on race day adrenaline?!” We suspect this means that most people who completed this survey have past the who-needs-sleep-not-me 18 to 25 year-old phase of life.

In addition, participants were given a list of race-day tasks and activities and ask to rank them according to importance in their personal race preparation routine. Here are the results of the average prioritization of the given race day checklist...

We thought it was pretty cool that in general, athletes reported to be focused first and foremost on getting organized to perform at their very best, secondly on having some fun with family and friends, and finally considered sizing up the competition as an afterthought. We like how you roll, survey-takers! Rock on!

Additional Common Themes...

Other race day rituals and superstitions that appeared consistently in the "additional comments" section of our survey included the following:

  1. Focusing on techniques for staying calm and managing anxiety. (Relaxation, visualization, etc.)
  2. Drawing encouragement from spending time with friends, family, and teammates.
  3. Documenting one's race day thoughts, feelings, and outfit via social media. (Instagram seems to be the social media application of choice among our survey participants. #picturesoritdidnthappen.)
  4. Writing goal finish times and splits, along with inspiration messages on arms and shoes.
  5. Complex shoe untying and retying protocols.

The Obscure Stuff from The Peanut Gallery:

Of course this post wouldn't be complete without sharing all the awesome, random, quirky stuff that people mentioned in the comments. That's why we saved the best for last! Here are some of our favorite unique responses to our request the following request: "Briefly describe any additional pre-race routine/ rituals you have that our survey might have overlooked."

  1. "Ensuring proper nipple protection. Manly marathon bleed is no fun, and no joke!"
  2. For the Boston Marathon: "Packing an empty wide-mouth Gatorade bottle to pee in right before the start of the race."
  3. “Checking your bib number to see if it is ‘lucky.’ The general rule is that numbers containing a 12 or a 13 are lucky. Any number whose digits add up to 12 or 13 is considered lucky as well. And sometimes a number doesn't follow any of those rules at all but it just looks lucky."

It seems safe to say that proper race preparation can boiled down to 3 key components: Pooping, eating, and sleeping. This is probably a metaphor for life in many ways, but we will save that for another blog post.

In the meantime, as your big  goal event approaches, give yourself every opportunity to stay calm, focused, and well positioned to kick butt by developing a game plan ahead of time to keep your final pre-race days and hours organized and completely under control. And while you are doing that, we will continue to work on evolving the SportTracks product to help keep you on track in all aspects of training and race day preparation.

But before you scurry off to conjure up a killer race-day action plan, take a second to tell us about your wildest, silliest, most unusual pre-race rituals and superstitions in the comments!

Thanks for reading, extra-special thanks to everyone who completed our survey, and happy tracking!

Article written by Ellen Moss, Social Media Manager, Zone Five Software Inc.