Should You Run The Day Before A Race?

Our expert coach gives you her take on shake out runs.

After all of your hard work and 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: 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 hydration and fueling strategy for during the race itself.

But what about the day before the race? In addition to upping your carbohydrate intake and getting a good night’s sleep, should you run the day before a race?

Under almost all circumstances, yes, you should. As a certified running coach, I strongly suggest to all of my athletes that they run the day before a race, and I’ll tell you why.

A person trail running on the coast.

Should You Run The Day Before a Race?

How much and how fast you should run the day before a race depends on your fitness level, racing experience, and intended race distance. 

All runners are usually best served by doing at least a short “shake out“ run the day before a race.

This might be anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes or more, depending on your fitness level and racing experience.

Beginners planning to run their first race can usually do a gentle 10 to 15-minute shake out 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, where most training 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 the length of a typical run and done at an easy pace, not race pace!

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 at the end of their shakeout run.

Blasting off and trying to hit top speeds the day before a race might feel counterintuitive, but running strides can help prime your neuromuscular system for fast running the following day. 

A person jogging.

Shake Out Run Length According To Race Distance

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.

5K Shake Out Run

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.

10K Shake Out Run

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.

Half Marathon Shake Out Run

If you plan 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 should not detract from your performance or tap out the energy you need on race day.

That said, if this is your first half marathon and you feel anxious about completing the entire race without stopping, a quick 15—to 20-minute shake-out run the day before the half marathon should be suitable. 

It is still a good idea to do a couple of strides or accelerations, 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.

A person running the day before a race as they should.

Marathon Shake Out Run

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 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.

#1: It 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.1Urwin, C. S., Main, L. C., Mikocka-Walus, A., Skvarc, D. R., Roberts, S. S. H., Condo, D., Carr, A. J., Convit, L., Jardine, W., Rahman, S. S., & Snipe, R. M. J. (2021). The Relationship Between Psychological Stress and Anxiety with Gastrointestinal Symptoms Before and During a 56 km Ultramarathon Running Race. Sports Medicine – Open7(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40798-021-00389-5

Feeling “butterflies“ in your stomach or nervous jitters on race day is extremely common. An easy jog the day before can help physically quell some anxiety and calm 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: It Loosens Up 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 for the race start.

A person using a foam roller.

#3: It Keeps the Nervous System Ready

The central nervous system2Vaynman, S., & Gomez-Pinilla, F. (2005). License to Run: Exercise Impacts Functional Plasticity in the Intact and Injured Central Nervous System by Using Neurotrophins. Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair19(4), 283–295. https://doi.org/10.1177/1545968305280753 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 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: It Will Not Tire You Out

Most runners don’t want to run the day before a race because they worry that doing so will deplete their glycogen stores and tire them for the next day.

As long as you have been training consistently, running the day before a race will not tire you.

Your body has adapted to the stresses of running, and your pre-race shake out run will be shorter and slower than most recovery runs on your training plan. 

What you want to avoid the day before a race is trying out a new type of exercise, such as suddenly doing a cycling workout or stair climber workout when you typically just run or spend hours and hours on your feet at the marathon expo.

People on elliptical machines.

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 is if you have been sick. In this case, you might be better served by doing an active recovery workout, such as using a foam roller, and taking the day off from running.

As with most things, you will develop a pre-race running routine that works best for you that not only includes your shake out, but your carb loading the night before and race morning routine.

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 You will be happy you did!

For some dynamic stretches you can add to your pre-race warm-up, take a look at this next guide:

References

  • 1
    Urwin, C. S., Main, L. C., Mikocka-Walus, A., Skvarc, D. R., Roberts, S. S. H., Condo, D., Carr, A. J., Convit, L., Jardine, W., Rahman, S. S., & Snipe, R. M. J. (2021). The Relationship Between Psychological Stress and Anxiety with Gastrointestinal Symptoms Before and During a 56 km Ultramarathon Running Race. Sports Medicine – Open7(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40798-021-00389-5
  • 2
    Vaynman, S., & Gomez-Pinilla, F. (2005). License to Run: Exercise Impacts Functional Plasticity in the Intact and Injured Central Nervous System by Using Neurotrophins. Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair19(4), 283–295. https://doi.org/10.1177/1545968305280753
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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