I was recently vacationing at a beach town in NJ and on our last day there was a 5k. I was thinking about racing, but knew that my mind and body weren’t on the same page. My mind tells me I can win the race (I can’t), but my body is telling me a different story. After months of relative inactivity following my March marathon, I knew my legs weren’t ready for an onslaught of lactic acid that a 5k brings. This pull between my mind telling me to race and my body saying you’ll pay for this ultimately led me to NOT race. Instead, I opted for a run that boosted my motivation and my endurance so that in the next 4 weeks I will be able to race!
I used the race as a proxy for running partners and was able to get in a longer run than if I was running by myself. When I ran passed the start line 30 minutes prior to the race, I was shocked at what I saw: the vast majority of the runners were standing still, waiting for the start of the race! Those precious 30 minutes could have been spent preparing for the challenge that lay ahead, but instead, they are deciding to use the first 10-15 minutes of their well-paid-for race to effectively warm up!
As someone who has run somewhere around 400 races, if not more, in my lifetime, it worries me terribly that so many runners are not properly warming up their body prior to their race.
Below, I’ll outline exactly what a good warm up routine should look like. I want every runner who plans to run during a road race to be physically, mentally and physiologically prepared to run and this warm up will do just that.
70 Minutes Prior to the Start
You’ll want to get to the race at least 70 minutes prior to the start. Ultimately, this is to alleviate any last minute glitches that may occur: parking, bathroom issues, registration. The time prior to the race should be as relaxing and stress-free as possible and giving yourself a little buffer will help with this.
Now that you’re at the race, you’ll have time to check in with friends, preview the course and get situated with the layout of the area. This is a good time to solidify your game plan for the race, including your race strategy, but also for what you’ll need to do before, during and after the race to be successful.
45-65 Minutes Prior to the Start
Before heading out for your warm up jog, you’ll want to visit the bathroom. No one wants a belly full of water sloshing around before they run. After you take care of that, you’ll wan to start your warm up run. Your run should start SLOW. You won’t win a race or set a PR by starting your warm up at race pace. A few minutes of walking, followed by a few minutes at your jog pace will ultimately improve the quality of your actual warm up.
Note: different races warrant different warm ups. Prior to my marathon, I jogged for 8ish minutes. Before an early season rust buster, I might run 3 or 4 miles. Big difference. You’ll need to know where you are in your racing season to determine the length of your specific warm up.
20 Minutes Prior to the Start
After your warm up jog, you’ll want to stay active with stretching, running drills and striders. These all play a big role in achieving race day success. Active stretches will improve blood flow and promote flexibility. Running drills will act in much the same way; they will reinforce proper running form and increase your range of motion. Finally, striders will promote a full range of motion and improve your running form, technique and turnover.
10 Minutes Prior to the Start
In the last 10 minutes before a race, you’ll want to make sure you’ve primed your body to run fast. Just because you’re a back-of-the-pack runner, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare your body. There’s nothing wrong with being a slower runner, but there IS something wrong with not trying to improve upon your pacing because you’ve decided not to warm up.
In these last 10 minutes, you’ll change into your racing shoes (if you wear flats) and put on a dry shirt with your racing bib already pinned to it. If you need to change shorts or put on gloves, hats, arm warmers, this is the time to do that. Remember: if it’s at all cold or even chilly out, KEEP YOUR BODY WARM. After you change into your racing gear, put clothes back on to keep your body loose. 10 minutes is a very long time and you can get cold and stiff in a mere minutes.
5 Minutes Prior to the Start
Now we’re into the zone. You’ll want to keep doing striders to stay loose. In between sprints, you can bounce around and do active stretching. The most important part is staying warm and staying loose. You do that by keeping clothes on and by moving around.
Another last minute tip is to review your mantra for the race: “keep calm”, “be conservative”, “attack the hills” all might be something that you’ve rehearsed and are ready to use.
Since you’ve done all the hard work, the fun part is the actual race. Spend the last minute calming your nerves and preparing for the task at hand: running fast and executing a race strategy.
The 70 to 90 minutes prior to a race are the most crucial parts of a race, and yet so many recreational runners do nothing to help themselves run fast. Those minutes can go such a long way to making sure you run pain free, but also so that you can enjoy your race. If you’ve spent any dollar amount on the event, you’ll want to make sure you do all you can to make the most of the time you’re there.
A warm up jog – 10 to 50 minutes – of course depending on who you are, your mileage, and your running goals will boost your ability to run fast! Because at the end of the day, that’s what we are here to do!
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Marc is a USATF Track and Field & Dr. Jack Daniels VDOT O2 certified running coach. I have more than 19 years of experience running and more than 10 years of experience coaching runners. Click for more information!
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