Ever step up to the starting line of the race and feel like everyone has started sprinting when the gun goes off? You know you can compete with these other runners and likely reel some of them in before the end of the race but the initial pace just feels way too fast. While your competitors may be starting off too fast, your warm up may also be to blame. If you walk up to the line cold or insufficiently warmed up you may be cheating yourself out of some time as you spend the beginning of the race getting accustomed to the pace. However, there is such a thing as overdoing it as well. If you overwarm up you may tire yourself out and leave some of your race in the warmup. If not to complicate things more different warm ups are appropriate for different race lengths and different weather conditions. Because of all these factors it is important to know what you are doing so you can step up to the line confident of your ability to compete the the absolute best of your abilities. Here are some guidlines and things to keep in mind as you structure your warm up.
It is no coincidence that the jog you do to prepare your legs for a fast effort is called a warm up. This is because you are raising your core body temperature as well as slowly raising your heartbeat and getting blood circulating to your liimbs. Therefore, if it is pretty warm outside less activity is necessary to get your body to the optimal temperature. If it is warmer outside you can usually cut your warm up jog about 5 minutes shorter and there is no need to stretch as extensively as your muscles are already pretty loose. In colder weather on the other hand you need to jog for about 5 minutes longer to get your body warm. Furthermore, a little extra stretching may be necessary to get your legs nice, loose, and ready to perform. Be sure to allot more time before the start of the race for your warm up on a cold morning and don’t start your warm up too early if it is hot out!
It is not so much the distance that matters in terms of how much you should warm up but rather the speed that you will be running at. Since the longer the distance, the slower the pace, we can equate warm up length with the race distance. If you are racing a shorter distance then you should warm up longer and perform more strides and faster strides. You need to make sure your legs are prepared to go race pace no matter what the race is. This does not mean start your strides at a faster rate however since one of the goals of the warm up is to slowly raise your heartrate. If you are racing a short race you can do up to 10 strides starting not much faster than warm up pace and slowly progressing to race pace. Starting off too fast is a recipe for injury and nothing is worse than hurting yourself just minutes before the gun goes off. If you are racing something as long as a marathon then even just a mile or two of jogging and a couple of strides may be enough. You don’t want your warm up to take away from your performance in the race!
The standard warmup that I follow that is appropriate for the middle road distances from 5k to half marathon for moderate temperatures is as follows. Start stretching 80 to 90 minutes prior to the start of the event. Stretch and perform dynamic drills for 20 to 30 minutes but don’t overdo it by stretching too hard. This will leave your legs flat and lacking the necessary pop. Stretching light however will keep your legs loose and elastic. After you finish your stretch jog for 20-25 minutes. You should start your jog very light and slowly progress, keeping it easy and relaxed the whole way. Your warmup is not meant to be for training, you just want to wake up your body and get the blood circulating. It is always best to start slow and get faster as you go to slowly elevate the heart rate and prepare it for a hard effort. After your jog you have time to grab some water and use the restroom and anything else you need to make sure you are ready to go. About 20 minutes or less before the race you should start some strides. Start very light and slowly progress as you go. This is a continuation of the raising of the heartrate and overall preparting the body to be pushed to its limits. Don’t overdo the strides! About 5 minutes prior to the gun you should be done with strides and do any last minute stretching or drills you feel are necessary. At this point just relax and prepare your mind for the race.
This is just one example of a warm up you can use. Obviously different peoples bodies work differently and only you know whats best for your performance. You should use the guidelines I set forth and add your own individuality to your warmup. The most important thing is to find a ritual and stick to it!