Many of us have routines or even superstitions that are part of our athletic make-up. For me, it's the power of the Friday night video game.
I'm not who you would call a superstitious person. I don't believe in the evils of black cats, broken mirrors or the 13th floor. There are no lucky socks in my closet to wear when I watch my favorite sports teams and no special dances, drinks or dining locations either. But I do believe in the power of the Friday night video game.
In college, every Friday night before a cross country or track meet, my teammates and I would go to Luigi's for pizza. Luigi made the best pizza and stromboli around! Well, not really. What Luigi did have was "the game." It was the old-fashioned retro Track & Field game. You can keep your Pacman, Asteroids and Centipede. We played hard-core Track & Field – and a Friday night without it meant a Saturday meet with no win and no personal bests. The power of the Friday night video game was honest and true, especially when you managed to knock the bird out of the air with the javelin.
Many of us have routines or even superstitions that are part of our athletic make-up. Football and baseball team players who touch the stone mascot before every game, soccer players who sleep in their uniforms the night after a victory (yeah, I knew a guy who did that) and the usual runner's lucky shirt – all part of the power of routine and positive reinforcement.
I have never poo-pooed anyone's need for one of these gimmicks or routines or psych-ups. Actually, these routines and beliefs are quite healthy and good. A runner needs a steady routine of preparation before a race. Stretching, warm-up runs, food and drink, mental visualization and more can sometimes make or break a great performance.
My very first road race was the 1979 Harrisburg Marathon. Since then, I have worn the shirt from that race to every marathon I've ever run… except one. In December 1986, I traveled to Maryland for the Baltimore Marathon. When I got to my hotel room and unpacked, I discovered I had not brought "the shirt!" Needless to say, I stressed enough to end up DNFing the next day (DNF = did not finish).
Sometimes, routine borders on obsessive and damaging, as in my experience from 1986. But a solid routine, and even small dose of Friday night video game night at Luigi's, helps put you in the right frame of mind to compete. My college friends and I used our Friday night video games to relax, talk race strategy, and pump up each other. We didn't obsess but we did realize the power of those gatherings.
Cross country and track teams all across the country regularly host team dinners, picnics and other gatherings as the season begins or even mid-season, as a way to bond with each other. These routines are a part of their chemistry and can lead to break-out performances. And how many of us have gone to the pre-marathon pasta dinner the night before race day? I personally prefer pancakes and bacon.
The key to any routine, gimmick or psych-up is to make it your own. You may have one already and not even realize it. And ALWAYS know that, unless it is part and parcel to the chore at hand (like a good warm-up or the right calorie intake) a lucky shirt didn't run those late fall work-outs for you – YOU did that – and no lack-of-shirt is going to ruin your effort. Kinda wish I had that one over again.
So whether you play football for the Fighting Irish and "touch the sign" or you sing "feet don't fail me now" like the Padua Pandas do before every meet, know that you are not alone in these pre-race mechanics. But please wash your race outfit before bedtime, and if you happen to own the retro Track & Field video game, I'll see you Friday night.
Former Lock Haven University stand-out runner Andrew Shearer is the Middletown Athletic Club secretary/treasurer. Shearer has been running since 1978.