The Distance Runner’s Warm-up: Get your body and your mind prepared to run FAST

The runner’s warm-up is a unique time. Before a hard workout, and even more-so for a race, there’s a lot that needs to happen both physically AND mentally.

A warm-up tells your legs to ‘wake up’ because they’re about to start running fast. Gradually notching down the pace, starting with the relaxed running, prepares the legs, rather than a complete SLAP in the face…the shock of a hard 400 off the bat. Got a bit of the lazy bug or backwards thinking towards the warm-up? (ie: Thinking that you’re ‘saving energy’ for the workout/race is backwards logic…hehe)
turn left on the track
* Physiologically: Those super expensive cars can brag about going 0-60 in seconds, but your body doesn’t work that way. Sort of like you wouldn’t want to get ripped out of bed and chucked into the middle of a tempo run, your legs need time to adjust to, “Okay, time to run,” then “Okay, time to run FAST!” The science behind it can get wordy, but basically muscle function and glycogen burning (sourcing energy) works most efficiently when done through negative splits. Start slow (ie: running a warm-up) and work into those faster paces.

* Feels ‘easier’: Thanks to that science, your muscles, once introduced/eased into that pace, will make the same times feel relatively easier. You will be able to then run faster off of a proper warm-up. I think all runners are down for that.

* Mentally prepare: The warm-up is also a time for runners to get their heads on straight. Visualize what you want to accomplish during the workout, quell those nerves and keep them in check. Remember that you will stay relaxed and controlled when the pain is setting in.

What is a ‘real’ warm-up?

Studies are proving there should be more elements to your warm-up routine than just some easy running. Runners want all of those muscles alert and engaged before the hard running starts.

* Easy running: Aim for at least 15 minutes, I like at least 2 miles under my legs.
* Dynamic stretching: Do some good stretching, here is where the more dynamic ones like leg swings are perfect.
* Drills: Skips, fast feet, etc. A series of drills will wake up the nervous system and get your legs firing faster. [I did an article on that HERE]
* Strides: Here is where you start to bring the pace down with a series of strides. Stay controlled and make each one progressively faster.

By the time you hit the line for that first interval or race you want to feel loose and ready to go. You don’t want to ‘waste’ the first interval, or mile of your race, because you’re still warming-up.

girl on track

Get your head on right. ;)


A bit more on the mental piece of a warm-up.

A runner’s warm-up is a process; over time you want to have the series of elements (stretches/drills/etc.) down so well you could do it on auto-pilot. This routine establishes continuity for your muscles but it also gives your MIND something concrete to focus on.

Focusing on the routine of your warm-up is an effective way to stay calm beforehand, rather than get overly worked-up with nerves. Especially on race day, by the time you start your warm-up you should feel ‘safety’ with it…it’s something that is the SAME, that you’ve done over and over again. Proof that you’ve made it through plenty of hard workouts, managed to fight through the pain, and you’re capable of doing that again.

A runner’s warm-up is the little cup ‘o joe the body needs to perk the heck up and get ready to run fast…it’s also a time to get your head on right and ready to tackle that workout or race! :)

———-
The Boston Marathon tragedy is still haunting our thoughts and flooding runners with emotions. I am continually reminded of the good in humanity, in stark contrast to the horrifically dark side. While we will never be able to understand why or how a person or persons may be driven to lash out in this manner, hold tight to the reality that for every ‘bad seed’ there are many more with good intentions and of a benevolent manner.

Keep running united, keep running for Boston, and keep supporting all effected as best you can!
———-

1) What’s your warm-up routine look like?

2) How do you use your warm-up to get your head screwed on right and ready to roll that workout/race?

3) How has your warm-up evolved over the years?
For most it’s gotten longer…haha.

4) What is something you’ve seen/heard/read that help shed some light over this recent tragedy…or given you some hope for humanity?
The immediate coming together of runners all over, and not just runners either.
best running shirts

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18 thoughts on “The Distance Runner’s Warm-up: Get your body and your mind prepared to run FAST

  1. This is really interesting Cait – traditionally I haven’t really warmed up in any planned way (didn’t want to ‘waste’ energy!) but I often would have 5-10 minutes walking ahead of my long runs, just getting to the start of where I wanted to run. When I don’t do that, if I run from the front door onwards – often on the really long runs when I want to squeeze as much in as possible – the first bit of the run is harder. I should follow your advice :)

    • using the first minutes/miles of easy runs as a warm-up is totally fine, but yea, if u’re aiming for a hard workout, definitely warm-up! let me know how it goes. :)

  2. When I’m just running (not racing or intervals) I let my first mile or so be my warm-up. I’m planning on hitting the track in the next few months and then my warm-up will be similar to what you described (like I did in college!).

  3. This couldn’t have come at a better time for me! I want to focus on getting faster this spring and I am getting ready to incorporate speed work. A warm up is definitely important for that. I don’t currently warm up at all. For tempo and progression runs my first mile is always my warm up, and any other run I do just usually ends up being a negative split.

    But like you said, if I practice it then using a warm up on race day will be a normal routine for me. I bet it will benefit my race times to already be warmed up before the start of the race.

    • i’m SO pumped for u going out there and working on ur speed! :) and definitely practice those warm-ups, soon you’ll find the perfect routine come race day.

  4. My preferred warm-up for a speed workout or a race is: 1-2 miles, a few strides, and some static stretching of any problem areas (yeah, yeah sue me – I’m not totally converted to dynamic stretching yet – and my hips like a little pre-race static stretching).

    But I’ve been struggling since our move – all of the races we do in Singapore have thousands and thousands of runners, so finding space to warm up – and time to do so – before having to be corralled into the starting area, is really tricky. I know a warm-up can “last” for 20-30 minutes, but even that can be a stretch sometimes. Brilliant suggestions? :)

    • sounds tricky, but i will say i’ve been in some really tight spots for actual room to warm-up too. my suggestions are literally find any open spot and do circles (i’ve done parking lots, but even ridiculously small loops on the infield of a track or smaller)…worst case, even try running in place. u may get some looks, but u want to get the blood moving. :)

  5. I never really “warm up” lol. I just start running, usually start out a little slow and let my pace take me from there. I do stretch before and after although from what I have been told, I should be stretching a mile into my runs.

  6. Kinda wish I’d read this one before this morning! My bad :-). Always there with the timely advice Cait.

    Negative splits are next on my list of things to tackle. And ja, my warm-ups are nowhere near good enough.

  7. I’ve had to really consider my warm up over the past month after my doctor diagnosed my asthma. I discovered that spending some quality time warming up (about 1/2 mile) makes a run far more pleasant, and more likely to be successful :) I’m still not really good at the cool down and remembering to stretch though…

    • oh that stretching, that’s a tricky one to force myself to do too! but i’m kinda proud, i’ve now gotten it to be a part of my routine post-run…will u please join me? ;)

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