Myths that actually work in running, by Justin Lagat, note by Larry Eder

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Justin Lagat, our correspondent in Kenya

Justin Lagat is our correspondent in Kenya. A smart writer, Justin has been providing RBR and RunningNetwork readers a view of the distance super power, Kenya. Here is a column from November 2012, that we are publishing for the first time. Justin speaks of running myths, as all runners look for universal good luck! 
At the last Olympic Games, I observed and wondered whether actions, signs, talismans, tattoos and hair-cuts, do contribute to an athlete's performance. From Usain Bolt, Mo Farah and Yohan Blake's physical poses, to Ezekiel Kemboi's hair-cut, to Meseret Defar's picture of Virgin Mary tucked under her running gear, I think that perhaps these things may actually have worked for the Olympic medalists at this year's games.
For the better part of my early life in primary school, it was very common to find most kids sticking a dry grass stalk in their hair whenever there was a running competition. It was believed that it saved one from stitches, chest pains, and improved the performance in general. There were  many myths as to what made one a fast runner, and those who excelled didn't help the rest in satisfying their curiosity, because they too believed there must have been something extra-ordinary about their performances, perhaps in some kind of food they ate, or the jelly they applied on their bodies. I actually tried the dry grass stalk one time, and I actually won! There was another myth I would have liked to try, but wasn't successful in killing a swallow, from which I was supposed to extract the fat that would come from roasting it and apply it all over my body. I was skeptical of it working, but it would not have hurt to try. After growing up, I learnt that all these were merely myths, but perhaps these myths still work for others - at least, psychologically.
Running is one of the hardest sports and when someone is putting all his maximum efforts and still sees someone else passing by him and seeming to be struggling less, it is easy for one to try and find an explanation to it. The reason could either be what he did, or what the other one did prior to the race. Having intermingled with various athletes for a very long time, I have found out some more present day myths, of which you may not be aware, do exist, but after reading this article, perhaps you will be surprised.
Have you ever witnessed an elite athlete who receives extra pairs of shoes from his sponsor, but keeps the ones he has been using in a safe place instead of giving them out to poorer athletes training with him? Does this athlete go ahead to explain that he believes it is better to get the new pair of shoes to give away than to give away the ones he has been using? Well, he may not tell you this, but some athletes actually believe that if you give away shoes you have been using to some kinds of people, they may influence your performance!
Secondly, have you ever witnessed an athlete who hides an injury and tries so much to run as though he has no injury when he actually has one? I recently had a minor injury on my knee and was trying to massage it gently before a cross country race. One athlete I knew warned me never to do that where there were a lot of people to see, because if someone notices it, it may get worse and probably never heal! Lucky me, I guess no one saw it because I now feel alright!
There are other myths which may just have been formed in order to instill discipline among athletes. An example is the one about spitting while in your normal runs. It is alleged that when you spit at the middle of the road where most people will see or pass over, then you may develop complications that may end your running career. They say that it is always safe to move to the side of the road and spit on the grass instead.
Another myth which may turn out to be good advice in some way is that of keeping the date you are running your next big race as secret as possible. The more you talk about it, the lesser you will perform in the competition. I have no idea why or if that really happens, but what I know from my life experience is that someone close to a certain athlete once stole and hid his passport the day he was supposed to fly for a major international race abroad. If no one succeeds in derailing your plans, it may also be a worse experience if you will go and perform poorly after telling everyone about your great plans for the race.
Next time you are running your next race, watch out for peculiar signs and actions by some athletes before their races, or after. Also, consider finding your own source of strength. Perhaps there is a hair-cut that will make you win that race!

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