How to Handle Running the Days Before Your Race: Doing nothing isn’t a ‘smart’ as you may think

If you’re watching the London Olympics like it’s an IV line then you’ll notice some familiar runners lining up for the heats of the 5k after their 10k finals a few days prior. I won’t prattle off all of them but amongst the doublers were Mo Farah, Galen Rupp, and Sally Kipyego. Sally Kipyego won the Silver Medal for the 10k and came back two days later to clock 15:01.87 in her qualifying run of the 5k.
steeple runner
Jaw-dropping times aside it brought to mind a topic that I wanted to discuss: running the days leading up to your own race. More specifically the day before race day. In a similar line of thinking to ‘saving their legs for the race’ and thus skipping a warm-up, newer (and not-so-new sometimes!) runners take a complete rest day the day before their race.

I can see their line of reasoning, but doing zilch the day before:

* Will actually leave you feeling a little stale the next day. If you’re consistent in your training, your legs are USED to doing something on a regular basis, and coming back off of nothing the next day will be a little ‘shock’ and your legs.

INSTEAD of doing nothing:

* 2 or 3 days out from race-day: Make sure you do something with a little speed. Sometimes runners make the mistake of going over-board on the taper mode. Cut back your volume if the race is one you’ve been keying towards, but don’t go from 60 miles to 10 miles…you want to still keep your body attuned to the action of running. Similarly, don’t let an entire week prior to the race go by without doing something at, or faster than, race pace. You want to stay sharp so that come race day your legs will still ‘remember’ what if feels like to turn-over at the pace you want.

* Day before: Do a light shake-out run. Depending on your regular mileage and race distance this could be anywhere from 20-35 minutes. Go easy and then end with a couple fast strides, drills and lots of stretching.

* Race day: If you’re running in the afternoon or night it can be beneficial to also do a quick run in the morning to ‘flush out’ the system. Here, think 10-15 minutes…just enough to break a sweat and then stretching.
cookie on track
If you want to take a day off (and days off can be integral parts of a training program, know your body and know your volumes people!) it can actually work better to take that day off TWO days before the race. Ironic, yes, but the body is a crazy beast all it’s own. ;)

In getting back to the amazing Olympians…doubling is tough business, don’t get me wrong. Of course they have trained enough and with the goal of doubling in mind so they have prepared their body, and then in their mind know that second race they’ll probably have a little less pop that usual. However it proves my point in that you CAN run plenty well in a race without going into extreme-taper-mindset. Running is always that balance between too much, too little and just enough…someone go find Runner Goldilocks. ;)
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1) Have you ever doubled or tripled events? Have you raced hard efforts multiple times in a week? How did you feel in the second races?
Actually, it’s interesting that sometimes you can feel BETTER in the second race. The first one is sort of like an extra ‘warm-up’ and gets you primed for the second…sometimes. Other times that second, or third, feels like running with bricks.

2) What’s your training like the days leading up to a race? In the days leading up to a key race, this can be much different from running just a ‘regular’ season race?

3) How about your warm-up? I’m calling out any warm-up skimpers out there! ;)

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12 thoughts on “How to Handle Running the Days Before Your Race: Doing nothing isn’t a ‘smart’ as you may think

  1. Great point – I’d never thought about having multiple events on. Gosh, one is enough for now! If I do have events inside my training schedule, I prioritise them, and try to have more rest (with short runs :-P) before the more important thing on the schedule.

  2. I ran my fastest mile of my life by mistake. It was in a big high school track event, and there were two heats. I thought I was in the second heat, so I did a warm up with some light running and then some sprints. I hadn’t caught my breath when I was called to the start. Oh no! I”m in the first heat. Well, I went off to nail my 4:30. It made me change my timing and degree of prerace preparation.
    That was 25 years ago, I should add. These days, my warm up depends on the length of the race, but even with a half marathon to run, I like to run a mile first with some striders.

    I’m a pretty serious taperer, though, and like to take 4 days off in a row during a taper to help heal some of the damage, but I make sure to run either the day before or two days before the actual marathon.

    • oh man, right there is EXACTLY what i freak out about and have nightmares about when i’m entered in a race. i get really paranoid somehow i the times will get messed up and i’ll not have enough time to finish my warm-up!!

  3. The thing with warming up for me is it prevents you starting out too fast. You get your legs going and you can start out at the speed you should start out at, so you don’t bonk. I’ve also noticed I race better when I take two days off, or either do an easier run the day before. I think it’s a matter of listening to your body, but I will say that if I was doing a long race, I would definitely taper, but not for a 5K or 10K. I think a speedy run at the beginning of the week (if you race on Saturday) is perfectly fine.

  4. Cait, I’m glad you brought up this subject, as i’ve noticed people make mistakes with this kind of thing quite a bit. When I was in high school, they had us convinced that we always needed to take off the day before a race, but even at that age, I noticed I felt stiff and sluggish the day of most races. As I got older, it seemed like common sense to not completely take off, but just run relaxed the days leading up. Obviously if your body is used to running 10+ miles/day, if you suddenly stop for a day or two, your body is going to feel “off” when you tried to immediately go 100% or sprint, etc.

    I remember reading an interview with Josh Mcdougal after he won NCAA XC in 2007, he said he ran 116 miles the week of nationals. People acted like that was nuts, but considering he was doing 120+miles/week, often on singles, during the year, i’m sure it was just normal for his body. I usually just cut back on the mileage and 2-3 days before the race i’ll do 1200s or something at tempo pace, followed by faster strides. Don’t want to exhaust yourself, but keep the body adjusted to that fast tempo.

    My warmup for things 10k or less is usually 25 minutes, with about 10 minutes of fartlek in the middle to work up a sweat. Not anything really fast, but just 30-60 seconds at tempo or race pace, with 2 minutes or so relaxed between. I’ve always thought you wanted to get to the line feeling like you were in the middle of a workout and then go 100%!

    p.s. Cait, I heard you were a seinfeld fan, which is your favorite episode? I just ask because I know every episode like the back of my hand. =)

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