It's race day! You wake up when it's still dark out, ingest some calories and start hydrating. You put on your race outfit, double-checking that your bib and timing chip are both securely in place, grab your bag and head out the door.
You get to the race plenty early, use the bathroom one last time and then find your place among the herd in the starting corral. There you bounce nervously on your toes, waiting for the gun to go off. Your heart is racing, your mind is buzzing, but your body is still asleep because you haven't done anything to wake it up yet. What you need is a shakeout run.
What Are Shakeout Runs?
Professional runners and elite amateurs have long used shakeout runs to prepare their bodies for optimal performance prior to the start of a race. They are short, very easy runs completed the morning of a race. Different running coaches advise slightly different timing strategies, but they all recommend using a shakeout run to elevate heart rate and body temperature, get the blood flowing and wake up the neuromuscular system prior to competition.
Shakeout Run Duration and Intensity
The general consensus is that a shakeout run should be at least 10 minutes long, and not more than 30, with recommendations of 10 to 15 minutes being average. Intensity is a little trickier, and more important to get right.
While many novice runners think that sitting down prior to a race to conserve the most energy possible is the way to go, this is not the case. An article published in the journal Sports Medicine noted that starting a race with an elevated VO2 (oxygen consumption) improves performance. But the same article also reported that longer, more intense warm-ups adversely affected longer duration performance.
A shakeout run that is too vigorous can unnecessarily deplete blood glycogen stores, which could lead to hitting the wall earlier than normal during your race. Light jogging in Zone 1, or where your breathing just begins to feel slightly elevated, is plenty intense.
Shakeout Run Timing
Timing is the toughest variable to nail down, but the research gives us some clues here as well. The same Sports Medicine article summarized that for endurance events, it is important that the recovery period following a warm-up not be so long that VO2 be allowed to return to baseline.
This suggests that a shakeout run might be most effective immediately before the start of a race. For shorter distance races, the addition of higher intensity drills following a shakeout run could be beneficial. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that adding sprinting and bounding drills to slow running and stretching resulted in increased neuromuscular function compared to a group that only did slow running and stretching.
Despite the research, many elite runners do their shakeout runs hours before the race, then complete a more intense warm-up ritual immediately before the race. Some runners say that a shakeout run helps take the nervous edge off, while others report that it gets things "moving along," ensuring they'll be able to use the bathroom before the race.
Although top runners each have their own routine and their own reasons for doing shakeout runs, they all do them. Why not take a page from their playbook and give it a try at your next race?