After you have put in all of your training for a big race, you want nothing more than to have a stellar performance in which you crush your old PR.
However, as race day draws near, many runners start meticulously planning the logistics of race day: what time to get up, what to eat as a pre-race breakfast, where to park, how to warm up for the race, and any necessary fueling strategy during the race itself.
But what about the day before the race? Should you run the day before a race?
In this article, we will discuss if you should run the day before a race and the best types of pre-race runs depending on your fitness level and race distance.
We will cover:
- Should You Run The Day Before a Race?
- Why Should You Run the Day Before a Race?
- Should You Always Run the Day Before a Race?
Let’s get started!
Should You Run The Day Before a Race?
Even if you have been following a training plan that has you slated to do a short run the day before your race, many runners find themselves asking questions like, “Should I run the day before a 5k?“ or “Should I run the day before a marathon?”
After all, we want to have as much energy as possible on race day without potentially fatiguing our body or causing any sort of muscle soreness that will set us back and inhibit race-day performance.
With that said, in almost all cases, the short answer is yes, you should run the day before a race.
How much you should run and how fast you should run the day before a race depends on your fitness level, racing experience, and intended race distance.Let’s look at these factors in more detail:
Should Beginners Run the Day Before a Race?
All runners are usually best served by doing at least a short “shake out“ run the day before a race.
This might be anything from 10 to 30 or more minutes, depending on your fitness level and racing experience.
Beginners who are planning to run their first race ever can usually do a gentle 10 to 15-minute run, perhaps 1-1.5 miles or 2 kilometers, the day before their first race.
Runners who have been training for at least six months, or have run a race before, should aim to run for at least 15 to 20 minutes the day before a race, and up to 25 minutes, if training for a longer race and most runs have been at least 45 to 60 minutes long.
Ultimately, your shake out run the day before your race should be no more than half of the length of a typical run. With that said, it’s somewhat a matter of personal preference because some experienced runners prefer doing a longer run the day before a race, especially if it is not an “A goal“ race.
Experienced or competitive runners should aim to run at least 20 to 30 minutes the day before a race.
Intermediate and experienced runners should also try to do at least four 20-30 second strides or acceleration after the shake out run. It might feel counterintuitive to blast off and try to hit top speeds the day before a race, but running strides the day before a race can help prime your neuromuscular system for fast running the following day.
Should I Run the Day Before a 5k?
Again, regardless of the race distance, it’s a good idea to get out there and get in at least a mile or a couple of kilometers the day before a race. The shorter the race, the shorter your pre-race day run needs to be.
The day before a 5k, particularly if it is your first 5k, just get out and run 1 to 2 miles, or 2 to 3 km, depending on your fitness level.
If you are an experienced runner, you might be comfortable running for a full 3 miles at an easy pace.
Because the 5k is a relatively short race, and conceivably you’ll be running at a fast pace, getting in a few quick strides or accelerations after your little shake out jog will help get your neuromuscular system firing and ready for faster leg speed on race day.
Should I Run the Day Before a 10k?
The day before a 10k, you should aim to run 2-4 miles with four 30-second strides.
If you prefer to run by time, an easy 20 to 30-minute run should suffice.
Should I Run the Day Before a Half Marathon?
If you are planning to run your first half marathon after stepping up from the 10k distance or even just a 5K, you might be concerned about running the day before because you are keen to conserve your energy at all costs.
As long as your training went well and you feel physically like you have the fitness to complete the half marathon, running the day before the half marathon should not detract from your performance or tap out the energy you need on race day.
With that said, if it is your first half marathon and you feel anxious about getting through the entire race without stopping, a quick shake out run of 15 to 20 minutes the day before the half marathon should be suitable.
It is still a good idea to do a couple of strides or accelerations as well, although less mandatory for longer races like the half marathon compared to faster events like the 5k.
Experienced runners who feel confident in their training and fitness level should run 20 to 30 minutes a day before a half marathon.
Should I Run the Day Before a Marathon?
As with the half marathon, if you have been training for your first marathon and feel concerned about being able to run the whole race or have enough energy to get from the starting line to the finish line, just get out and run a mile or two (2-3k kilometers) the day before the race, or a slow 10 to 15-minute jog.
More advanced runners, again, can be closer to the 15 to 30-minute mark.
Competitive and elite runners will run even longer than that the day before a marathon. Therefore, determining how long to run the day before your race is a little bit up to your personal preferences and confidence level.
Why Should You Run the Day Before a Race?
There are several reasons why running the day before a race is a good idea. Here are some of the top reasons to run the day before a race:
#1: Running the Day Before a Race Calms the Nerves
From both a physical and emotional standpoint, running the day before a race can help reduce race-day anxiety and nervous energy.
Feeling “butterflies“ in your stomach or nervous jitters or race day is extremely common. Getting in an easy jog the day before a race can help physically quell some anxiety and dissipate nervous energy.
Particularly because daily running is part of your usual routine, getting in a short workout will help you stick with your typical schedule, and adhering to a routine can be emotionally comforting in times of stress and anxiety.
#2: Running the Day Before a Race Loosens Your Legs
Running the day before a race will increase circulation to your muscles and connective tissues, helping you feel looser.
You can also use your shake out run to get the blood flowing and then spend some time on a foam roller, using a massage gun, or stretching to limber up, even more, the day before a race.
If you are used to running most days of the week and then take off a couple of days leading up to the race, your muscles can feel tight and stiff from inactivity. Your pre-race run will help mobilize your joints, stretch your muscles, and keep you feeling spry and ready to run.
#3: Running the Day Before a Race Keeps the Nervous System Ready
The central nervous system controls the firing of your muscles for running. The faster and more efficiently your motor units fire, the stronger, faster, and more coordinated your muscle contractions will be.
Nervous system adaptations and depredations are extremely fast, with changes occurring in as little as one to two days.
Therefore, not running for a couple of days before a race can compromise neuromuscular function.
#4: Running the Day Before a Race Will Not Deplete You
The primary reason most runners don’t want to run the day before a race is that they worry that doing so will make them tired.
As long as you have been training consistently, running the day before a race will not make you tired. Your body has adapted to the stresses of running, and your pre-race shake out run the day before a race will be shorter and slower than most recovery runs on your training plan.
What you want to avoid the day before a race is a custom exercise, such as suddenly doing a cycling workout or stair climber workout when you typically just run.
Should You Always Run the Day Before a Race?
Although, in most cases, it is best to do a short, easy run the day before a race, there are a few exceptions.
If you have been nursing a niggle or injury but still plan to run the race, you might want to do 15 to 20 minutes of low-impact cross-training the day before the race instead of running. Examples include easy stationary cycling, aqua jogging, or using an elliptical trainer on light resistance.
The other potential scenario would be if you have been sick. In this case, you might be better served to do an active recovery workout, such as using a foam roller and trying to loosen up that way rather than stressing your body with exercise.
As with most things, you will develop a pre-race running routine that works best for you. However, if it is your first race, don’t be afraid to lace up those shoes and get outside for a short run the day before a race. You will be happy you did!
For some dynamic stretches that you can add to your pre-race warm-up, take a look at our Dynamic Stretches For Runners Guide.