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Race day superstitions: helpful or hurtful?

The Knoxville marathon is just days away, do you have your lucky socks ready to go?

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — One step inside Julie Maxwell's home gym and it's obvious she has a passion for running.

"We call it the medal room," Julie described, "it's bright yellow, the happy room, gets me excited!"

Medals from races around the country fill the walls of the space along with her treadmill and other exercise equipment.

An avid runner, Maxwell said there's just something about the hobby that has her locked in.

"The feeling, the sweat, the frustration, the joy! There's a feeling people get from running that you can't get from cheesecake!"

Maxwell's next race is quickly approaching. The 2019 Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon will be number 71. She will join thousands of runners in her hometown this Sunday.

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"I will set everything out the night before, my shoes, my goo, my powder I put in my socks," Maxwell described. "Then I will double and triple check the weather. Before I got to bed, everything has to be perfectly laid out and ready to go."

Maxwell said she has a routine, but that she's not superstitious.

However, many runners are superstitious. From that unwashed pair of socks to those special shorts (or maybe that hairband you just can't leave the house with), special quirks all play into race day mentality for athletes.

"Superstitions tend to be things that technically have nothing to do with performance other than this notion that well, what's the harm? It's kind of like a good luck charm," Dr. Craig Wrisberg explained.

Dr. Wrisbery said sometimes superstitions can be positive.

"For some people, it does give them more confidence because that they are almost blessed and ready to go."

Other times, it turns into a scapegoat

"For example, 'well, I had these shorts, they were right color but too tight'," Dr. Wrisberg said. "It's not a matter of them being a benefit but an excuse for a poor performance."

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Psychology shows that people who tend to believe in superstitions have an external locus of control and believe that for some reason outcomes are determined by things they don't have control of.

While those who have an internal locus of control believe outcomes are determined by them and how they prepare.

Dr. Wrisberg believes a successful outcome lies not with superstitions but ritual and routine.

"Rituals are systematic behaviors that athletes practice," Dr. Wrisberg said. "It involves nutrition, proper sleep, mental peace, composure, strategies. Once the race starts I'm not focused on my shorts, but all the training I've done."

Now, if you really can't leave the house without that good luck charm -- it's okay.

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"It's fair to say superstitions are not going to hurt, but it's more about have you put in the work," Wrisberg said.

In the end, the best plan is to just enjoy the moment.

"From the excitement of 14,000 other runners waiting for the start to the people on the race course cheering you on, the race signs that crack you up; race days are awesome," said Maxwell.

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