What's in a Warm-Up?

Sat, 3 Dec. 2011 - 12:47 a.m. MT
Credit: ARA Staff - American Running Association

Racing is part of what we love as runners. It is an opportunity to test our mettle against others, or to set goals and meet them in an internal test of will. Races motivate and shape our training. We use them to stay on target, and to see if we are hitting the bull’s eye in our day-to-day running. Of course, racing differs from training, usually requiring more intensity, focus, and mental psyching. Yet much of the preparation on race day is not so different from our daily training; indeed, it’s important to find common ground between the two. So what are the essential components of effective race-day preparation? The following are some general characteristics of a good race warm-up.

 

Muscular activity. It may seem obvious, but you should concentrate on the muscles that are going to be doing the running. You will enhance your performance with a slight elevation in muscle temperature. Keep in mind, though, that more than a degree or two of increased muscle temperature can lead to a worse performance. If the race is longer than one mile, and the weather is very humid, be careful not to overdo it on the warm-up; if, for example, the weather is warm enough to sit around without a warm-up suit on, it is too warm to wear one during your warm-up. One known enemy of all distance runners is heat. Far better to put on your warm-up suit between the warm-up and the race if you feel you will cool down.

 

Stretching. Following the bulk of warm-up activity, stretching prepares your body for efficient movement and allows time for a bit of mental prep. Avoid stretching more than is usual for your regular training, otherwise you might find yourself with increased muscle soreness on subsequent days.

 

Quality running. For shorter distances, quick strides or even more prolonged threshold-intensity running prepares the body for the task ahead. The idea here is to make fuel sources readily available while obtaining a feel for race pace. High-intensity running stimulates carbohydrate metabolism, which is useful for most distances, rather than fat oxidation. The exception is a marathon warm-up since this distance uses a combination of fat and carbohydrate fuel sources, the latter being a precious commodity to be used sparingly ahead of time. Stick to easy running and stretching for full and even half-marathon distances.

 

Mental prep. Vast individual differences can occur in this area of pre-race routine. Some athletes want quiet time, others talk incessantly with their coaches, friends, or other supporters right up until the gun. Some runners need to avoid thinking about their race, others seem to thrive on constant visualization of how things will proceed from start to finish. Do make a point of thinking only positive thoughts. Visualize yourself adjusting to mid-race surprises, your legs effortlessly carrying you as you float over the ground, and then your mind and body achieving a strong finish. Have a plan for the race but stay flexible.

 

Finally, remember that each race is a chance to learn, no matter the outcome. The best that can happen is your pre-race expectations are exceeded, the worst is that they are not met. Look for a lesson and log the experience in a positive way. If you felt great and performed well, remember as many specifics about how you ran the race and how you felt along the way. If you fell short of your goals, think about how the race could have been run differently. Remember to relax before, during, and after every race. 

 

(Daniels’ Running Formula by Jack Daniels, PhD, 1998, Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL, pp. 221-227)

 

(RUNNING & FITNEWS® April/March 2006 • Volume 24, Number 2)





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