Should You Run Before a Race? Shakeout Runs Explained

It seems nonsensical to run just before a race. After all, don’t you want to rest your legs and save energy so they can work their hardest on race day?

Won’t a run the day before a race make you tired?

No! Actually, the opposite is true. 

There are two kinds of pre-race runs- those run the day before a race, and those the morning of race day. Both are shakeout runs, and they can actually boost performance!

While resting is important the day before a race, runners who run before a race, race better. That’s because shakeout runs keep the body loose and calm nerves, making runners ready to toe the line.  

In this article, we dive into all things shakeout runs including:

  • What is a shakeout run? The two types of shakeout run.
  • What is the purpose of a shakeout run?
  • Should you run the day before your race?
  • Should you run the morning of a race?
  • How to run a shakeout run
  • Who should and should NOT run a shakeout run?
  • Do’s and Don’ts of shakeout runs
  • And, other day-before-a-race tips to set you up for success!

Ready?

Let’s get into it!

Should You Run Before A Race Shakeout Runs Explained

What is a shakeout run?

Professional runners and amateurs alike have all used shakeout runs in order to properly prime their bodies for a PR at an important race. But what is a shakeout run?

There are two types of shakeout run definitions out there: the shakeout run the day before the race, and the one the morning of race day.

A morning-of shakeout run is a 10-15 minute, very low-intensity run completed in the early morning of race day- prior to your actual warm up.

A shakeout run the day before your race is a 10-30 minute, very low-intensity run, typically done around 24 hours before your race.

What is the purpose of a shakeout run? 

The purpose of running the day before a race is to loosen up the body and prepare it for running fast, explains certified running coach Laura Norris

“The primary purpose of running just before a race is to maintain neuromuscular fitness and promote circulation of oxygen-rich blood to the muscles. The goal is to have your muscles feel loose and mobile going into the race,” says Norris.

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A shakeout run also has psychological benefits, adds certified running coach Lauren Sheu.

“Running just before a race is a great way to psychologically prepare yourself—calm your nerves and boost confidence-without wearing you out,” says Sheu. “Shakeout runs can also be a great way to preview the racecourse or get in a quick practice run.”

Shakeout runs can also help your body stock glycogen more efficiently. Be sure to keep them short and slow so that you do not deplete your glycogen stores. For marathons and beyond, runners want their glycogen stores fully stocked!

Related: Hitting the Wall: A Runner’s Survival Guide

Should You Run The Day Before Your Race?

By not doing a shakeout run, runners risk their legs feeling heavy and stale, says Carina Heilner, a 2:47 marathoner and certified running coach. Heilner typically has her athletes not run two days before a race, but run the day before.

A caveat: Runners should never try anything new before a race. If their schedule doesn’t typically have them running that day of the week or only has them running 3 days a week, do not add an extra day. Stick to what your body is used to doing! 

Related: The Physiology of the Marathon

Should You Run Before A Race Shakeout Runs Explained 3

Should I run the day before a marathon?

Yes, most runners will do a shakeout run the day before a marathon. In fact, most marathoners host a group shakeout run the morning before a marathon for racers to bond and prepare together. 

Running for 15 to 30 minutes the day before your marathon is not going to hurt or tire out a runner. This short run prepares the body and mind to run well the following day. 

If some runners are not used to running the day before their long runs, then they may not run the day before their marathon. Most schedules will keep run days, or the number of run days, the same as they were in the training block in the week leading up to the marathon. 

Related: Here Are The 11 Worst Things To Do Before A Race

You should run the day before a race if:

  • You typically run before a long run or workout. 
  • You traveled before the race, including a long car ride or flight. This will help the legs get blood flowing, recover, and feel fresh. 
  • You are running a shorter distance like a 5k or 10k which requires more fast twitch muscle recruitment. 
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You should NOT run the day before a race if:

  • You typically do not run the day before a long run or workout.
  • Your running coach did not program a shakeout run. 

If you are not doing a shakeout run, aim for a 20-to-30-minute walk instead to promote good circulation and calm your nerves.

Should You Run The Morning Of A Race?

It’s race day. You’ve put in months of hard work in training and you want to make sure that today, you reap all of the rewards of your training.

So you go through all of the motions of race day: an early start, a light carby breakfast, enough time to digest, the perfect race day clothes, your favourite caffeine hit, an early arrival to the start line, some warm up drills…

…but you’ve missed something- the shakeout run!

3 reasons why you should do a shakeout run the morning of a race

The aim of a shakeout run is to loosen your body, elevate your heart rate, and raise your body temperature to properly wake you up hours before the big run.

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1. It wakes you up.

The last thing you want is to toe the line bleary-eyed and yawning. You want to have your wits about you come race day, but your morning coffee can only wake you up so much.

There’s nothing like a run to get the blood pumping. And given that, to properly run a shakeout run, you’ll be up hours before the gun goes off, you’ll be long awake by the time it counts.

According to Coach Jeff Gaudette at Runners Connect, “For optimal performance, you need to be awake at least 2 to 2.5 hours before your race to be fully conscious and ready to run well.”

2. It settles your nerves.

Race day is enough to send even the calmest person into panic mode. Months of hard work all leading up to this one race.

It is not uncommon for your mind to jump to the worst-case scenario- “what if I forget how to run?”, or “what if I magically got injured overnight?!”

Not only will you be able to ditch these self-deprecating rumours, but there’s also nothing like a run to give you clarity. Just 15 minutes of morning stillness to gather your thoughts, repeat your favourite mantra to yourself, connect with your “why”, and let the gentle stream of endorphins settle your nerves.

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3. It helps you go to the bathroom.

There’s not much that is worse than struggling to go the bathroom before a big race. Nerves are often the culprit here, but whatever the reason, this is something you definitely want to avoid.

All runners know the deal. You don’t need to use the bathroom until you start running. Then BOOM, 5 minutes into your run, you’re bursting. A shakeout run should take care of this.

How long is a shakeout run?

A shakeout run is short in duration—lasting as short as 10 minutes and as long as half the usual distance of a runner’s easy day

The goal is to run long enough to get the blood flowing to your muscles and your heart pumping to calm pre-race anxiety. But you don’t want to run enough that you fatigue your muscles. 

“The longer the race, the shorter you want to be on this range,” says Norris. “You may run 30 minutes the day before a 5K, but just 10 minutes the day before a marathon.”

How fast is a shakeout run?

The pace of your shakeout run should be very easy. You should not feel fatigued in the slightest bit. 

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Shakeout runs may also include some neuromuscular work to facilitate optimal neuromuscular coordination on race day.

Your muscles and brain communicate with each other, with your brain telling which muscles and how many to activate to get the job done. Doing some light speed the day before a race keeps the brain sharp in telling your muscles to fire and your heart to respond with oxygen-rich blood.

This pre-race speedwork is not taxing. You are not going to have any added endurance benefits within 24 hours of a race. Rather, you are merely priming the neuromuscular system for race day. 

Runners will do some light strides after their shakeout run or a few race pace surges during their shakeout to keep their legs fresh and mind calm. 

If you are racing a 10K or shorter, you may choose to include 3-4 strides with your shakeout run. Races under an hour require more fast-twitch muscle recruitment, notes Norris. 

“Strides will maintain the optimal muscle tension for faster running and give a neuromuscular boost to all recruited muscle fibres,” she says.

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Aim to keep your heart rate low!

“Remember, this is just a shakeout run to get things moving,” says Heilner. “Don’t do anything dumb on this run like try to test out a race pace mile!”

Do’s and Don’ts of shakeout runs

Do’s of shakeout runs:

  • Do run easy, keeping your heart rate low (below 70 percent of your max heart rate).
  • Do run within 24 hours of the race.
  • Do run at least 10 minutes to get the heart pumping to promote blood flow to the muscles.

Don’ts of shakeout runs: 

  • Do not run fast enough to feel fatigued or strained
  • In most cases, do not run longer than 30 minutes or shorter than 10 minutes. 

15 tips for the day before a race

The goal the day before the race is to prepare the body for optimal performance while calming the mind. The work has been done and now all you need to do is maintain homeostasis (aka don’t try anything new!), get yourself to the start line, and GO! 

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Whether or not you decide to do a shakeout run, there are many actions you can take the day before a race to be race-ready

Here are 15 things you should do the day before a race:

1. Eat healthy. Stick to foods you eat normally and avoid high-fibre and high-fat foods. 

Related: What to Eat Before a Marathon: When, What, and How Much To Eat

2. Hydrate all day long with water and drinks containing electrolytes. 

3. Do something that makes you laugh like watch a funny movie. 

4. Do something you enjoy that takes your mind off the race, like read a book

5. Stay off your feet (with the exception of the shakeout run) and rest as much as possible. 

6. Get a good night’s rest

7. Minimize stress as much as possible. Avoid focusing on “what if’s”

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8. Prepare everything for the race the night before. Plan your breakfast, prep the coffee, pin your bib to your shirt, gather your race-day nutrition, and lay out your clothes

9. Nail down how you will get to the start and a meeting time with loved ones after the race. 

10. Locate bathrooms for pre-race potty stops. 

11. Review your training log to showcase all the work you’ve put in for this big day. 

12. Prop your legs up on the wall for 10-15 minutes to promote blood flow. 

13. Do deep breathing as you visualize yourself nailing your race plan. 

14. Drive the course if possible. 

15. Recognize that that nervous feeling is excitement and that the hay is in the barn. It is almost your time to shine. 

We would love to help you tackle your race goals! Check out our half-marathon and marathon resources.

Whitney Heins
Whitney Heins is the founder of The Mother Runners and a VDOT-O2 certified running coach. She lives in Knoxville, TN with her two crazy, beautiful kids, pups, and husband. She is currently training to qualify for the 2024 US Olympic Trials marathon.

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