Race Rituals

By Angela Vega – April 1, 2016
Illustration by Edgar Vega

You brushed your teeth this morning, right? Ate a filling breakfast? And I hope you are fully dressed (well, this is Austin). You did these things to prepare for your day. Maybe not in that order, but they take place in your morning routine.

Routines are expected, established and repeated. When we become aware of the routine and create purpose, it becomes a ritual. Rituals can be symbolic, physical or mental behaviors we perform before, during or after a meaningful event. We engage in rituals with the hopes of achieving a specific outcome from athletic performance in an event to helping your favorite sports team win. It’s not about what you are doing or the order in which you do it, but the attitude and purpose behind it.

Athletes from around the world and across sports have routines and rituals that play into their mindset. For example, Rafael Nadal takes a 45-minute shower and never stands up from his chair before his opponent. Tiger Woods wears his power color, red, for the end of golf tournaments. Michael Jordan wore his University of North Carolina shorts under his Chicago Bulls uniform. All of these are examples of superstitious rituals, which lack a strictly empirical correlation between the practiced means and desired ends. However, for any athlete, rituals create meaning and provide comfort which is critical to performing at your best.


Two days before the event, my ritual begins. I rest my body and each night I focus on what outcome I want regardless of any external factor. The night before, I pack everything I might need for the event and lay it out on the table as if preparing for surgery. I finish eating before 7 p.m. and hit the sack just before 10 p.m. I wake up 3 hours before the event, eat a breakfast composed of 2 cups of coffee, 2 pieces of Ezekiel 4:9 bread smothered in Chobani Greek Yogurt and a glass of water.

On the way to the event, my superstitious ritual takes place. I jam out to AWOLnation’s “Sail” or X-Ambassador’s “Shining” and scream the lyrics as if I am in the front row of a concert. I feel a surge of energy. This carries over to when I arrive at the event, where I warm-up with dynamic movements, strides and mindful breathing. Then the gun goes off, and the most important thing I can do is smile and realize that this event is a celebration. I have had the same ritual for over two years. The order, purpose and attitude I put behind my routine is what makes it a ritual and is critical to my performance.

“Your habits are driving your performance.
Your rituals are creating your results.”
-Robin Sharma

I asked over 20 Austinites what rituals they practice before an event. I collected an assortment of responses, varying from personally meaningful to quirky, but these are a handful of the most unique.

For Elle Shelley, an experienced triathlete, her most important ritual is a ritual of conviction. The day of the race she repeats ‘my day, my race, my way,’ just before the start.

Zach Brolin mentioned his most important ritual included a special garment and token. “I have a favorite pair of socks that I almost always wear during a race. I also carry a challenge medal I received from a veteran. When I am struggling with a hill or something, the medal reminds me of how much our military men and women go through and I dig deeper,” he said.

When asked about superstitious rituals, Laura Gann stated she always drinks two beers the night before and makes sure there are no songs with the word “rain” in her playlist.

Nancy Moore, competitive triathlete, always checks out her competition to know who to chase or who is chasing her. Her superstitious ritual is one I find myself doing as well. She said, ”On the morning of a triathlon, I will go to the water and stick my hand in it. Not sure why; maybe I want to reassure myself the water temperature didn’t drop 20 degrees since it was taken. I have done this since my very first tri.”

As Robin Sharma, author and inspirational speaker, once stated, “Your habits are driving your performance. Your rituals are creating your results.” Your habit or routine is to ride, run, swim, lift and anything else in-between during the week. But the emotion, attitude and purpose you put behind them is what drives your results. It is what makes you a better athlete and leads to your ideal performance.



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