Mur­phy’s Lore

Runner's World (UK) - - In This Issue - BY SAM MUR­PHY

Sam on the mys­te­ri­ous power of ice cream

It’s the night be­fore the Brighton Marathon and my hus­band, Jeff, is sit­ting on the sofa scoff­ing a Mag­num Clas­sic. I’ve pointed out that a choco­late-cov­ered ice cream doesn’t strictly clas­sify as carb-load­ing, but he doesn’t care – he ate one the night be­fore achiev­ing a life­time best in a half marathon last month, so it has now be­come part of his pre-race prepa­ra­tions.

Will it help? Pos­si­bly. When, by ac­ci­dent or de­sign, an item (say, ice cream) or pro­ce­dure ( hav­ing a hair­cut) fea­tures in the lead-up to a suc­cess­ful out­come, we see cau­sa­tion. I per­formed well last month af­ter eat­ing a Mag­num – some­thing I’d never done be­fore; ergo it con­tributed to my suc­cess. Even if a more ra­tio­nal part of you isn’t con­vinced it played a part in smash­ing that PB, you may still con­clude that it’d be crazy to risk not eat­ing one, just as you might choose to walk around a lad­der, rather than un­der­neath it – just in case. ‘It’s about be­lief, re­gard­less of logic,’ says sport psy­chol­o­gist Andy Lane. ‘If you be­lieve a spe­cific ac­tion or item can af­fect how you per­form, it prob­a­bly will.’

Jeff is in good com­pany. Many ath­letes en­gage in quirky pre-race be­hav­iours or bear lucky tal­is­mans – Paula Rad­cliffe kept a spe­cial set of safety pins to use on her race bib, while US 10,000m record holder Molly Hud­dle paints her nails in a colour that’s mean­ing­ful to the race. In fact, re­search has found that elite ath­letes are more su­per­sti­tious than ama­teurs.

Whether it’s don­ning lucky socks or al­ways lis­ten­ing to a par­tic­u­lar song on your way to a race, fa­mil­iar be­hav­iour pat­terns help bring a sense of or­der and con­trol at a time when stress lev­els are high. ‘It’s not the socks them­selves that have any ef­fect but what putting them on does for your state of mind – help­ing you re­lax and rais­ing your con­fi­dence,’ says Lane.

An­other thing Jeff in­dulges in dur­ing the week lead­ing up to a big race is a daily shot of beet­root juice. An­other su­per­sti­tious rit­ual, or does the ev­i­dence of its ben­e­fi­cial ef­fect on en­durance per­for­mance el­e­vate it to some­thing mean­ing­ful? ‘ With many er­gogenic aids [sub­stances that may boost per­for­mance] there is stronger ev­i­dence for the pow­er­ful ef­fect be­lief ex­erts than there is for any bi­o­log­i­cal mech­a­nism,’ says Lane. In a study he con­ducted, ath­letes who be­lieved caf­feine aided per­for­mance got a stronger er­gogenic ef­fect than those who did not.

But I see a key dif­fer­ence in how the be­hav­iour be­comes part of a pre-race rit­ual. Drink­ing beet­root juice is a con­sid­ered de­ci­sion, with some logic be­hind it. In the ice cream sce­nario, it’s ran­dom: you per­form par­tic­u­larly well and, in con­sid­er­ing why this was, hit upon the fact that you ate a Mag­num the day be­fore. You then at­tribute your suc­cess, at least in part, to that, driv­ing you to do the same thing on fu­ture oc­ca­sions. In that sense, Jeff’s now-vi­tal ice cream rit­ual could have been any­thing – a cold shower, a glass of wine, a curry…

I won­der what would hap­pen if I scoffed all the Mag­nums be­fore his next race? I like to think he’d ac­cept that it wouldn’t re­ally mat­ter. But a Ger­man study1 found that when a group of peo­ple sit­ting a test were al­lowed to keep their ‘lucky’ mas­cots, they fared bet­ter than a com­par­i­son group whose tal­is­mans were ban­ished. The au­thors con­cluded that the pres­ence of a per­ceived lucky charm can lead to im­proved per­for­mance by boost­ing our be­lief in our abil­ity to master the task in hand and in­creas­ing our will­ing­ness to per­sist in that task. Con­versely, be­ing deprived of the thing you be­lieve brings you luck could ad­versely ef­fect your per­for­mance.

Jeff didn’t get a PB in Brighton, but he did run his fastest marathon for 18 years (2:31:23). So I’ve got a feel­ing the Mag­nums are here to stay. In fact, I might just try one my­self be­fore my next race.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.