Should I run the day before my race?
The day before a race is an important day and full of decisions that can affect your performance – both positively and negatively. You’ve got to fuel properly, not tire your legs by walking around at the expo, and prepare your body for optimal performance the next day.
It’s not surprising then that one of the most common questions beginner runners have is , “should I run the day before my race?”
The short and simple answer is YES and here are the reasons why:
Why You Should Run the Day before a Race
Getting the muscles loose, the neuromuscular system firing on all cylinders, and the body prepared to run hard is critical to optimal performance.
First, running the day before a race won’t make you tired
This is the biggest fear runners have: “if run the day before the race, aren’t I going to get tired?”
Simply speaking, if you have put in the training leading up to race day, a short run the day before will not tire you out or negatively impact your performance in any way. In fact, it will greatly improve your chances of running well.
It doesn’t matter what race distance you’re training for, a 20-minute run is going to be considered nothing more than a shakeout jog. If you’re recovery runs (probably longer than 20-minutes) during the hardest portion of your training cycle have enabled you to adequately recover between hard workouts, what would change the day before your race? Nothing changes. The run doesn’t tire you out and only serves to prepare your legs, body, and mind to perform optimally the following day.
Improves blood flow
A run the day before your race helps improve blood flow to the muscles, which allows them to loosen up and delivers the nutrients and oxygen they will need for the intense running the next day. For shorter races like the 5k and 10k, being loose and flexible will help your stride feel more natural on race day. For longer races like the half marathon and marathon, running the day before will help your muscles store extra glycogen, which will keep you running longer.
From my own coaching and running experience, I have found that those who haven’t run the day before a race struggle with being ready to run on race day. Athletes who haven’t run the day before feel tight and don’t feel as though they are warmed up and ready to race.
Stimulates the central nervous system
The neuromuscular system, is the communication vehicle between what your brain and your muscles. A boost of “fitness” to the neuromuscular system allows your brain to increase the speed at which it sends signals to the muscles and, more importantly, allows your body to activate a greater percentage of muscle fibers and fire them more forcefully.
The nervous system responds quickly to new stimuli because the growth and recovery cycle is very short. In fact, you can make small improvements to your neuromuscular coordination in less than a day. Conversely, degradation of the neuromuscular system can occur in a day or two, which means if you don’t run the day before the race, your neuromuscular system isn’t performing at it’s optimal level.
Calms the Nerves
The day before a race can be an anxious one. One of the biggest benefits provided by running the day before a race is that it helps calm the nerves.
For me, it’s a time when I can review my race plan and play out any possible scenario in my head. By having this time to myself it allows me to mentally prepare. I always walk away from my pre-race runs feeling more prepared and confident.
For some runners, heading out for a run with a group of runs or training partners allows them time away from their nervous thoughts. Engaging in conversation and the camaraderie allows nervousness to dissipate.
Running is a routine activity and when that routine breaks, we just don’t feel right. Think about how anxious and fidgety you were the last time you had to take a day off from running. Not exactly the feeling you want to have heading into a race. Going for a run the day before can also be beneficial for the simple reason that running is what you do and you don’t want to break your daily routine.
How Far to Go
Many people ask, well how far do I run the day before a race? There is no exact answer; you could go 10 minutes or 60 minutes. The answer depends on several factors, such as your level of fitness and training volume, the distance of the race, and where you’re at in your racing season.
If you’re someone who is a beginner then 15 to 20 minutes will be all you want to do. If you’re someone who has been training consistently for a long period of time, you may want to go anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes, depending on what makes you comfortable. I’ve known some athletes to do an hour or more. You know yourself best and that decision ultimately comes down to you. Make the run long enough to remove some nervous energy, break a sweat, and loosen the muscles up.
The only caveat is the marathon. Because we need to conserve glycogen, you want to limit your shakeout runs to 10-20 minutes. The same benefits apply to running the day before a marathon, but the shorter distance helps max out the glycogen stores.
Are there times when you should not run the day before the race?
I don’t believe that there is a day before a race that you shouldn’t run. If you are able to compete in the race then you should be able to run the day before.
If it’s a scenario where you’re suffering from an injury, but you still want to give it a try on race day, then I recommend you find a stationary bike or elliptical to get the blood flowing. Cross train for the same amount of time on the exercise machine as you would for a run the day before. This still allows you to get the body moving and prepare the body for the race as much as possible.
Even if you’re travelling, you should try to do some sort of run the day before a race. Even a quick 5-10 minute run will help shakeout the travel. In fact, running after a long plane or car ride is even more important the day before a race.
Running the day before a race doesn’t need to be complex. Many people tend to over think the tiredness factor, which causes more harm than good. Keep it simple – the important queues to remember are to break a sweat, loosen the muscles up, and relieve some of that nervous energy.