If you run track in Southern Illinois, then you’ve been on a cinder track. Unlike rubber tracks, they’re hard, uneven, and they hurt so badly to fall on. Cinders cut easily, and get caught up in runners’ scrapes when they fall.
Track athletes are very superstitious, right? So this trend caught on – and I really don’t know where it started, of runners swallowing a cinder right before their race. The saying went that “the cinder would keep it all down!”, meaning that a runner wouldn’t cramp up or vomit following their run.
It was also supposed to protect you from falling, but that definitely isn’t real because I fell or dove at like half of my four hundreds and it still hurt.
Ritual described by Bree Tschosik, born and raised in Decatur, IL.
Cinder tracks are a common fixture in the rural Midwest due to their economical nature and durability. They never need to be covered or protected. Typically, they are found at public schools and facilities. Better funded, private schools typically have “all-weather” or rubber tracks.
This ritual is unique in that it only need be performed at meets held on a cinder track. Few athletic superstitions are performed inconsistently or with regards for the nature of the field of play.
My informant is a USC student of Armenian and Caucasian origin, born and raised in California and regularly exercises through distance running. She is also a human biology major with an emphasis in human performance.
“So during a long day of a run—Melissa and I would hate it—and really count down our ten miles until we could go eat at La Barca. And finally when we were done we were rewarded with two-three margaritas, chips and salsa, and a grande colossal burrito and surprisingly we would wake up and run ten times faster. A couple times we averaged a 6:33 mile for 8 miles consecutively so, every time before we had a hard workout the next day we would prep at La Barca before…and it worked pretty well this past summer! And so I guess its just tradition now kind of, with me and her and the other girls who run with us sometimes.”
Analysis: This example of acquired folklore demonstrates how superstition and repetition can create a ritual. My informant believed that there was an undeniable tie between her performance while running and the consumption of several margaritas and Mexican food at La Barca restaurant prior to her hard workouts the next day. The initial improvement of her mile time gave her “proof” that her ritual/ceremony before her rough workouts was successful which prompted her repeating the ritual and spreading what she had learned with her other running buddies until it became a tradition within their group to partake in drinks and Mexican food before workouts. This piece of folklore also serves a social purpose and a means of bringing people together and strengthening bonds between friends, as well as marking a distinct trait or practice within this specific running group.
This informant is a member of a USC fraternity and I asked him to share some of their traditions or stories he might have. One I found interesting was about an annual tradition that occurs when the Sororities give out their bids to the new members.
Every year in the Fall sororities have this event where they give bids to the new freshman and they all run from campus to their new houses. I honestly have no idea why they do it that way but its fuckin awesome for us because we just get to sit back and scope all the new hot girls. Every semester we all sit in front of the house really drunk and get super rowdy. The whole time we all judge who got the best pledge class and try to pick out the hottest chicks.
I might add that my informant was drinking a beer while I listened to his story, which is further a testament to the drinking culture amongst fraternities. I thought this was an interesting story because it shed light on some interesting dynamics between fraternities and sororities. Frat kids seem to be blatantly disrespecting women, most of them young freshman, which an outsider might find offensive. However, the sorority girls obviously want to show off their new pledge class to the Greek community and have continued to do so for years. This shows how the college culture of acceptable cross-gender relations is different from the outside world.
“Skunk in the graveyard” is a running game you would play with friends outside, and it is like the daytime version of “ghost in the graveyard.” Essentially, one person is the “skunk” and they go and hide while everyone else counts at the “base” and closes their eyes. When it’s time to go seek out the skunk, everyone goes out from the base and once the skunk is spotted, the spotter yells, “skunk in the graveyard!” and that signals everyone to run back to the base before the skunk can tag you. If tagged, you become another skunk and thus another round begins. The rounds continue until there’s but one person left untagged, and that remaining person then becomes the one skunk to start the next game.