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Should you fear the thirteenth mile?

As runners approach the start of a half marathon, a lot of superstitions come to play a relevant role. There are those who will run only if they are wearing their lucky shirt or socks, those who spend the last minutes getting mentally prepared by going over their race strategy, and those who kiss the ground before taking off running. It is amazing how many varieties of pre-race preparation routines exist. Some will eat always the same breakfast, some will not shave on race day, some other will listen to their lucky tune, or tie their running shoes in a specific fashion.

But what about that final half marathon mile, mile 13?

The number 13 is regarded as an unlucky number in many cultures, and even has a specifically recognized phobia, called triskaidekaphobia, a word which was coined in 1911. There is a common myth that the earliest reference to 13 being unlucky or evil is from the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi, dating back to the 1780 b.C., where the thirteenth law was omitted (the same behavior continues today, as in some buildings you won't find the thirteenth floor). For Christians, at the Last Supper, Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus, was the thirteenth to sit at the table. The Vikings believed that Loki was the thirteenth god in the Norse pantheon, and more specifically, after killing Baldr (the god of light and beauty) Loki was the thirteenth guest to arrive at the funeral, thus later originating the superstition that if thirteen people gather, one of them will die in the following year. Ancient Persians were convinced that the twelve constellations in the Zodiac controlled the months of the year, and each ruled the Earth for a thousand years at the end of which the sky and Earth collapsed in chaos - to these days in Iran people leave their houses to avoid bad luck on the thirteenth day of the Persian calendar, a tradition called sizdah be-dar. A more recent hypothesis suggests that the number 13 is considered unlucky because it is the number of full moons in a year - the association of the full moon with mental disorders and with women's periods has caused the number to be seen as bad luck (and women to be labeled as witches). But it may just as well be that when a group of 13 persons is divided into two, three, four or six equal teams, there is always one "unlucky" person that will not fit in any of the groups.

But fear not. Whether you are a runner that believes or not in superstitions, it is always important to recognize that a good race is mostly dependent upon your efforts and preparation, and not on what talisman you may wear in the competition. It can indeed be quite dangerous to rely on a specific lucky object, as a race can go really wrong, due to lack of self-confidence, should these amulets go somehow missing.

To be fair, one must mention that the number 13 is also seen as a fortunate number, in Italy for example, or in the Punjab region, where the word "tera" ("thirteen") also means "yours" (as in, "I am yours, o Lord"). And, while we cannot forget that several successful sports figures have worn the number 13, the Egyptians believed that there were twelve steps on the ladder to eternal life and knowledge and to take the thirteenth step meant going through death into everlasting life - 13 was then associated for them with stepping into immortality.

Just like most runners feel when completing that last mile in a half marathon.


Since June 2009 - © Aerostato, Seattle - All Rights Reserved.

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