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December 11, 2007

Juju Redux

A couple of requests following the previous post led me to look up the juju rules that I first wrote about in 2005. Since I had roughly 4 readers (including my wife and mother-in-law) back then, I’m reasonably confident that this will be new material for most of you.

I’m reposting it here for three reasons: 1) To save you the trouble of hunting through my archives to find it, 2) Because I’ve tinkered with it a bit to incorporate my passion for triathlon, and 3) So I can produce a full-length post in less than 5 minutes. (OK, that’s technically two reasons and one cop-out - but I prefer to think of it as focus-group driven posting. Being in this election has made me adept at spin.)

So here’s the post, polished and updated. But before you continue – do I need to keep saying this? – go vote. (I know I'm driving you crazy with this contest, but there’s only one week remaining - and this way, I won’t start calling you at home.)


Training for races is tough work. We spend most of our days dragging ourselves out of bed, pushing ourselves through workout after workout, practicing dietary self-restraint, and alienating ourselves from friends and family while devoting endless hours in training.

After all that, the last thing you want to do is screw up your race because of bad juju.

Juju is a term adopted from African culture, and has various meanings. It can be something like a superstition. It can also be a charm or object with magical powers, or any ritual act that influences the forces of nature for better or worse. As it relates to athletes, juju is a specific behavior that really shouldn’t have any affect on race performance, but inevitably does.

Acts that directly affect physical performance, such as inadequate training, improper race preparation or foolish strategy, do not count. For example, wearing a new pair of shoes on race day or eating something unfamiliar before the race isn’t bad juju - it’s just stupid.

Experienced triathletes are careful to avoid bad juju before and during their event. The following are the most common examples:

Rule #1: predicting your own race time is bad juju. This is the “pride goeth before the fall” postulate of juju. On race day, there are too many variables that can conspire against you, to assume that they will all come down in your favor.

Nevertheless, athletes of all speeds frequently break this rule. As soon as you tell somebody “I will finish in x amount of time”, you are almost guaranteeing yourself a finish time that is much slower.

Try this experiment: ask a veteran marathoner how fast he is going to run an upcoming race. If he knows anything about juju, he’ll hem and haw and be more evasive than Mark McGwire before Congress in giving you a specific answer [*author’s note: it's a faded memory now, but the McGwire reference was much funnier two years ago - trust me.].

It's OK to have goal times - but to avoid bad juju, never forecast a specific finish time as fact. It’s much safer to say, “I’m hoping to run x time,” or “My goal is to finish in x time”; worded properly, those statements don’t tempt fate nearly as much.

Rule #2: wearing the shirt of the exact race you are running is bad juju. This falls under the “don’t count your chickens before they hatch” category of juju, and seems particularly applicable to novice marathoners.

It’s never acceptable to wear the t-shirt for the race until after you have actually completed it. Just because you show up at the expo and pick up your packet doesn’t guarantee that you’ll finish the race the next morning. Unforeseen physical ailments can quickly lead to a DNF - and there you’ll be at the side of the road, advertising the event that just kicked your butt.

Let’s say you’ve DNF’d while wearing the event shirt, and consider how ridiculous would it look. Think of it this way: what if, one year, the losing team decided to go ahead and wear those “Super Bowl Champs” hats that are printed in advance for each team, but only given to the winners. They’d look like idiots, right? That’s precisely the risk you run by wearing the race shirt during the actual event.

(By the way, what happens to all of those unusable hats and t-shirts? Hopefully they are sent to impoverished villages somewhere without TV or Internet access. I’m thinking there must be a whole society in some remote corner of the world that thinks the Buffalo Bills won four Super Bowls).

Rule #3: wearing the shirt from one race while racing in another is bad juju. The worst mistake an athlete can make is underestimating or disrespecting any given course.

In order to race well, you have to focus all of your energy on the challenge at hand, not looking ahead to the next race, or dwelling excessively on a past event. Wearing the shirt from another race just demonstrates conflicting interests and loyalties.

This is the “how can you be committed to me when you’re thinking of another girl?” tenet of juju. It’s like going out to a special dinner with your girlfriend, while wearing a sweater that was an anniversary gift from a previous lover, and having your current girlfriend recognize it. Only in this case, your girlfriend is incredibly vengeful and has the power to completely sabotage your race. It’s far better to just avoid such situations entirely.

Rule #4: Wearing event clothing or logo gear prior to completing the event is bad juju. This is a pre-race corollary of juju rule #2. Many races sell logo gear online prior to the event, and these items are popular Christmas gifts to runners with a big race in the year ahead. However, wearing such gear ahead of time is one of the best ways to screw up your mojo going into race day.

The one exception to this rule is if your gear says “In Training For … “ prior to the event name. Of course, once your race is completed, that “training” shirt immediately becomes outdated fashion in comparison to the actual event gear. The best policy is to just be patient for a few months, and splurge on event gear after you’ve actually finished.

Rule #5: Telling your finish line posse that you’ll be done by a certain time is bad juju. This is a more severe variant of Rule #1 that could be called contagious juju - because it affects not just you, but everyone who is awaiting your arrival at T2 or the finish line.

All it takes is one stomach cramp, blister, flat tire, or mechanical breakdown to turn your estimated 6-hour bike split into an 8-hour slog, or your 4-hour marathon into a 6-hour survival march. Such a delay might also trigger panic among your loved ones who have spent the last two hours entertaining progressively worse thoughts about your fate.

To avoid this plight, give your crew an approximate window of arrival times, and be sure they realize that these are only rough estimates. Establish periodic checkpoints for them to assess your progress, so they know when there’s enough time to grab a cup of coffee before your next reunion.

These are the most obvious cases of bad juju in action, but these examples really just scratch the surface. While there is no rational explanation for these phenomena, I've had enough experiences and observations to believe in the power of juju. So as race day approaches, don’t ruin all of your hard training with foolhardy behaviors that can tip the scales of karma against you.

After all, marathons and triathlons are hard enough on their own.


21stCenturyMom 12/11/07, 7:59 AM  

I agree with all of these but would like to call for modification of rule #3. It might be okay to wear last year's finishers shirt from the same race because it merely shows that you have conquered the course once and are enjoying reminiscing about that experience. Right? I mean if you got a GREAT technical T and you bust it out for a different race it's okay - please? Or maybe it isn't okay. Maybe that's my problem. I'll have to test that out next season.

Juls 12/11/07, 8:38 AM  

I love these rules. It's too bad you didn't post these in November as I might have avoided a few mistakes. :D

Backofpack 12/11/07, 8:40 AM  

I have to disagree with rule #3 too - I have very few tech shirts that are not race shirts. I wear them all the time in races - it's like a protective charm: "see, I've run this distance before and survived, I can do this today too". Maybe I'm protected because I wear my MM jersey over the top?

olga 12/11/07, 9:49 AM  

Oh, c'mon, how can you NOT predict your finishing time? I already talked about the logo stuff before, I kind of agree, but happen to deviate:) But no finishing time??!! Whatever wording you use, it IS basically a goal (or 3) to go by.

Makita 12/11/07, 10:35 AM  

I guess I'm guilty of rule #3 as well. For the same reason as Michelle... I have so few tech Ts that aren't race shirts.

Thanks for posting them, btw. Fun stuff! :)

momo 12/11/07, 1:41 PM  


i just wanted to say the word because i like it.

and i agree with all of them. especially #4. when i went to imfl, i wanted one im hat. the pink one. i was afraid that everything was going to be sold out, so i made big j buy it and pay with his credit card before the race, then after - he gave it to me! :-)

Zach 12/11/07, 4:46 PM  

Just getting caught up on your recent posts, so first off - congrats on the Western States entry! I'm glad I read the juju post first so when I saw the arm warmers in the previous post I knew right away that you would be putting those away somewhere safe until after the race. Good luck in your training for WS; I'm looking forward to reading about it.

Rainmaker 12/11/07, 9:33 PM  

I'm absolutely with ya there on #2 and #4 - big no-no's.

I think knowing what your rough finishing time should be is important though. Meaning - you have to be realistic with yourself and your training. I also 'pad' my expected times a bit for incidents (flat tire, cookie tossing, etc...). Invariably there is always something.

All in all though - good rule set!

the Dread Pirate Rackham 12/12/07, 7:12 AM  

Spot. On.

My husband always predicts a finish time for me - which I find to be good juju, as it means that I do at least as well as he predicts. this works because he's a little optimistic, and doesn't believe in juju, so it sorta breaks the spell.

Fe-lady 12/12/07, 7:12 AM  

Funny how I have learned to follow all these "juju" rules throughout the years of training and racing. I will ad one more...talking about your "high mileage" and "awesome training" and yes, how you are going to do in a race BEFORE it takes place....really messes things up! Been there....done that! That is why, you will NEVER find me talking about training and predictions on my site. After the fact, baby....after it's all wrapped up, then I can speak about the race!

Sarah 12/12/07, 6:39 PM  

This year, for logistical reasons, the Portland marathon gave out the "finishers" shirts at the expo instead of the finish line. During the race, I was nervous for every runner I saw already wearing their's. However, I have no problem wearing another race shirt during a race and have never considered it bad juju. But maybe that's because I wear them because of the particular fit of the shirt, not because of the race logo/design. : )

Crash 12/12/07, 7:58 PM  

what if I set my goals very low - then I'm not disappointed...right?

Annette 12/13/07, 7:26 PM  

Love it! :)

I recently tried to explain #2 to my husband (a non-runner) after he had overheard a conversation between two runners about not wearing the race shirt on race day. He thought they were nuts and still didn't get my explanation that you have to earn it to wear it.

By the way, you got my vote! :)

robb 12/14/07, 2:12 PM  

For #3... can one wear the race shirt of a previous year's running of the race? For instance, wearing a 2006 race t-shirt in the 2007 event?

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