Warming up for a race

Properly Warm Up for a Race

Standing at the start line of your next race: would you prefer to be cold and stiff or warm and loose? The majority of runners could run faster during a race if they were properly warmed up. In my experience, I can’t tell you how many runners I’ve seen that are totally unprepared for a race – not because they haven’t done the training, but because they aren’t doing any kind of warm up before their race.

In my opinion, the warm-up is one area that most runners don’t understand. When I’m at a race, either competing or spectating, I see a majority of the runners not warming up at all. In the winter months, a warm-up is even more crucial as the cold weather makes running fast so much harder. Can you imagine running a race while you’re still shivering? Warming up before a race will allow you to run a faster race by priming your body, minimizing injuries, and preparing your mind.

6 ways to maximize your warm up
best strategy to racing your fastest: a good warm up

Staying warm prior to race:

  • Start by having LOTS of clothes to wear. Before you even begin your warm up, you should be warm. Don’t be cold at any point prior to the race. If you’re cold, it’ll make warming up and racing that much more difficult. That might mean multiple layers – tights and running pants, 2-3 layers up top and then a jacket or sweatshirt.
  • While you’re warming up, you can start peeling off a layer as needed, but you’ll want to be working up a sweat. Between the warm-up and the race, you’ll want all your clothes back on to stay as warm as possible.
  • Do your striders in warm clothes and then right before the race, you can peel off your clothes and race in what you’ll be racing in.

Warm up Routine:

  • Be at the race/event 75 minutes before the race is supposed to start.
  • An hour before the race, start your warm-up jog.
    • For a shorter race, you need a longer warm-up:
      • Example: 800 – 5k race: 2-3+ mile warm-up
    • For a longer race, you’ll need a shorter warm-up:
      • Example: 10k-marathon: 1-2 mile warm up
  • After your warm up, start dynamic drills and active stretching routine.
  • Visit bathroom, switch shoes, put on racing gear, last minute self-pep talk
  • Striders at 60% max speed, 75% max speed, 85% max speed
  • Race time. Find race day strategies here.

    How to: warm up for a race
    How to: warm up for a race

Priming Your Body:

Warming up prior to a race primes your body for the type of exertion you will put out during a race. It’s hard to race your best when you are shivering and stiff because you’re cold. According to Runner’s World and Dennis Barker, “starting out cold for a run in chilly conditions can make your joints extra vulnerable to injury”

If you are cold and shivering, it will take you nearly 10 minutes of race time just to warm your body up. That’s valuable time you could be spending at race pace, but instead, you’re just trying to warm your body up. A simple 10-30 minute jog (see above) prior to a race will help you build up a sweat, loosen up your muscles and raise your heart rate. These are great ways to get you ready to race.

To race fast, you need to be warmed up
Before you can race fast, focus on a proper warm up

Minimizing Running Injuries:

Warming up before your race will allow your body to move through a full range of motion once you’re fully warmed up. If you’re cold and stiff because you didn’t warm up, there’s a higher chance that you’ll pull a muscle while you’re racing.

Here’s what’s happening when you warm up:

  • Your lungs expand. Expanded lungs allow you to take in oxygen when you’re mid-race
  • Your joints will loosen. This will allow you to move through a full range of motion
  • Stretching (with warm muscles) prepares your muscles to move fluidly.

Preparing Your Mind:

When you warm up on the course – possibly by doing the first and last mile – you know exactly what to expect, what turns are coming and how far out you can start your kick. You have a mental edge on your competitors when you know what to expect, how far the finish is from the last turn, or when that last hill is.

There’s something to be said for knowing the course prior to the race. Your mind will be calmer, you’ll be able to adjust your effort-level based on the course layout, and you can relax knowing that you’ve previewed any challenging or confusing sections of the course.

For mental prep work prior to race day, you’ll want to read this article.

Best Strategies: warming up for a race
Best Strategies: warming up for a race

For more information about good warm-up routines, head to these links:

  1. Race day running routine
  2. Delayed race start
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