The warmup is one of the most important elements of a successful race and also one of the most overlooked aspects of pre-race preparation. With the adrenaline pumping and the pre-race jitters in place, a warmup is often the last thing runners worry about before the gun goes off. However, even just a short jog before lining up at the starting line can be one of the most valuable parts of your race-day routine.
“The warmup serves two primary purposes—to prepare you for the physical demands of the race and to improve your muscles’ dynamics so that you are less prone to injury,” San Diego-based running coach Dr. Jason Karp explains. Washington, D.C.-based running coach Mike Hamberger concurs with Karp, and also added that “most people aren’t warming up at all.” He suggests warming up with dynamic stretches. “Go back to your old track and field days of a dynamic workout to get the tension out and the blood flowing.”
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Doing exercises such as high knees, skipping, karaokes, neck rolls and shoulder rolls prepares your body to run. In addition to dynamic exercises, some running is also necessary; however, the amount and intensity of the running warmup depends on the distance of the race and your fitness level. A warmup needs to be more intense for shorter races such as a 5K and less intense for longer races such as a half marathon or marathon. It should be very similar to the warmup routine you perform in training.
“The brain loves routine and consistency so look at race day like just another run,” Hamberger says. “Do the same warmup you do before your speed or track workouts you’ve been doing in training.” More specifically, Karp suggests runners start a warmup slowly and increase the pace toward the end of the run.
“For races 10K and shorter, run one to two miles very easy. Then do two or three 30- to 60-second runs at lactate threshold pace (comfortably hard), followed by two or three 20- to 30-second runs at the pace of your race,” Karp explained. “For races longer than 10K (in particular half marathon and marathon), it’s not necessary and may even be detrimental to include much, if any, fast running.”
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Also, be weary of warming up too long and too intensely before the race, as it can be counterproductive. “A long, vigorous warmup in a less fit runner will add fatigue, which will be detrimental to race performance,” Karp explains.
Ideally, the warmup should be completed five minutes prior to race start. However, this is often not possible due to crowds, corrals, bathroom waits and wave starts, so be mindful of this and ready with a backup plan. If there is no room close to the start to warmup, find space away the crowds. If you are stuck in a bathroom line, do high knees and butt kicks in line. People may turn their heads and take notice, but being prepared for the race is worth the odd looks.