How to Warm Up for Your Next Marathon, Half, 10k or 5k Race

Warming up for a 5k, 10k, half or full marathon

Why Should You Warm Up?

Warming up will help prepare your body for the event to come. Warm-ups will vary, depending on the race you’re warming up for, your current level of fitness, and what sort of access you have to a warm-up area.

A warm-up

  • increases the flow of blood and therefore delivery of oxygen to the working muscles
  • increases body temperature which will speed the flow of oxygen throughout the body
  • helps to reduce the risk of injury by lubricating the joints and tendon sheaths
  • helps the heart and blood vessels to adjust to the body’s increasing demands that will be placed upon them
  • improves messaging between the brain and the working muscles which will improve muscle power and contraction
  • a tried and tested warm-up routine which you run through before each race (or hard workout) can settle any pre-race nerves, and get you in the right frame of mind to race

Warming Up For a 2 Hour (Plus) Race

For many people, this is anything from a half marathon and upwards in distance. If you’re more around the 90 minute mark or better for a half marathon, this doesn’t apply so much to you.

With a race that’s around two hours or more in duration, one of the prime things you need to take into account when warming up, is preserving your energy. You want to use as little glycogen as possible before the race starts.

  • Wake up at least a couple of hours before your race. It takes at least 2 hours to get your body temperature up to optimal level and for you to become fully awake.
  • As soon as you wake up, go for a light jog or walk for 10 minutes. If you’re running, be sure to keep it very easy.
  • Include some light stretches. Stretch out anything you know tends to tighten up. Include some lunges forward and backwards as part of your stretching.
  • When you’ve finished your light warm up, have breakfast. This is important as it will help to replace any glycogen you’ve lost overnight, and in your warm-up shuffle.
  • Use the loo. That little warm up shuffle gets every muscle primed, including those of your digestive system!

At the starting line

Unless you’re an elite runner, you’ll be standing at the start for quite a while.

  • Keep warm. Wear old clothes which you can throw away. (They’ll be collected and given to charity). You want to expend as little energy as possible at this stage of the proceedings, so the last thing you want is to be using your energy to keep warm.
  • If it looks like rain, wear a rain poncho or an old garbage bag. You can put old shopping bags on your feet to keep your shoes dry. You might want to think about wearing an old pair of shoes you can throw away, or at least take a fresh pair of socks you can change into just before the start. There’s nothing like starting off in dry feet-even if it lasts less than a minute!
  • Keep these clothes on for as long as possible. You don’t have to take them off before the start. You can run the first 5 minutes or so in them, then take them off and leave on the side of the course. This doesn’t really apply to tracky dacks of course, but a light jumper and some gloves are easy to shed once you warm up.
  • Warm up your legs by doing lunges and squats, and leg swings. Ideally, this won’t be the first time you’ve ever done a lunge before a run! It’s always good to practice these things prior to race day.

The first few kilometres

  • The rest of your warm up will really happen in the first couple of kms of a 2 hour run. It’s not that critical to be primed to blast off as soon as the gun goes. You want to be a bit slower than your goal race pace in the first few kilometres anyway. This will give you a chance to get a handle to how you’re feeling on the day, and the sort of pace you will be able to settle down into.
  • Be careful not to get caught up in the excitement of the race. Always think of the first 2k as a chance to complete your warm up and test the waters as far as how you’re feeling on the day.

Warming Up for a 5k, 10k or a Fast Half Marathon

  • Start your warm up about 40 minutes before the start time. This will give you time to warm up and get to the loo before the race.
  • Have a very easy run for around 10 minutes.  It should not feel difficult at all
  • If you normally stretch before a workout, you can stretch for 5-10 minutes. If you don’t normally do that, don’t start now. Some dynamic stretches such as lunges, ankle rotations, and leg swinging can help to loosen you up for the race. Holding a prolonged, strong static stretch is not recommended prior to racing. (For example a hamstring stretch which you find a bit painful and you hold for 30 seconds or more)
  • Run  3-4 thirty-second efforts, at a pace slightly above your goal race pace. You should use the first one to build into that pace. Have 1-2 minutes rest between each of these.
  • Go the the loo
  • If you’re going to be standing around before the race start, keep warm, and shed clothes just prior to the start.

Ideally, this warm up routine would finish about 5 minutes before the race start. It’s the nature of large fun runs that you won’t be able to do this though. There are usually queues for the loo, and often not much room to warm up. Try to finish your warm up as close as possible to the race start time. You need to balance this between the panic you feel when you’re still in the loo queue when there are two minutes till the start!

Pace Runners: How to Use Them Wisely

How to get the most out of a pace runner

Do you struggle a bit with pacing yourself in those races you’ve trained so hard for?

If so, you’re not alone. So it makes sense to use a race pacer in your next big event, right?… Or not

Most big races these days have race pacers which will help you to get to the finish line on target. Pacers are expected to finish on their pace time, or no more than 2 minutes faster. It sounds like a good strategy to hook up with a pace group and hang onto them for  as long as you can, but running with a pace group isn’t always the best way to hit get your best time.

Consider This When Using a Race Pacer

  • Race oganisers often ask local running clubs to supply pacers. It’s possible your pacer is pacing a group which is only slightly below their own ability – which means if the pacer is having a bad day, they are going to find it hard to make the target time themselves, let alone help you to reach your target!
  • Usually, pacers are targeting a time which is quite a bit slower than their ability – which does come with it’s own issues. The pacer is most likely running at an easy or easy/moderate pace to hit the target pace that you have to work so hard for. They therefore won’t need to vary their pace over different terrain. For example, let’s say you’re aiming for a 1:50 half marathon. Your average pace will need to be a bit over 5:10 per km. But your pacer might be able to complete a half marathon at 4:10 per km pace. They can easily maintain 5:10 per km going up a hill,  but you most likely can’t without burning too much gas. Sticking with the pacer as they power up a hill could cause you to blow up later in the race. Because the pacer doesn’t need to employ optimal racing pace to achieve the target time, an inexperienced pacer will stick to the same pace, kilometre after kilometre.
  • Pacers are keen to get you to the finish line within your goal time. Sometimes a bit too keen. Because they have the ability to run quite a bit faster than your goal pace, it won’t matter to a pacer if they run too fast at the start – they will have no problem finishing the race still in the target time, but you will.
  • Don’t assume that all pacers have a lot of experience, either as pacers, or even as race participants. Like the rest of the field, pacers come at all experience levels. And just like the rest of the field, there will be some pacers who think that if they take you out faster at the start, you can “bank” time, and afford to drop off a bit at the end. Really, that strategy just won’t work. And logically, if you go slightly slower at the start, you won’t have to slow down at the end!
  • I remember seeing a post once from a pacer which showed her finish time as 17 minutes faster than the target time, and the caption “Whoops”. Imagine if you’d been following this pacer – any hope of hitting your target time would be out the window (unless you’d grossly underestimated your ability and you did a massive PB by staying with her!)
  • Most recreational runners over estimate the speed they can run a race in, and women are more overconfident in their race time predictions than men. Choosing a pace group when you are likely to have over estimated your ability, and sticking with that pacer, even if you feel the pace is a bit fast for you, is the worst race strategy possible!
  • Pacers usually pace on gun time, not on their timing chip time, so they start timing your race from the moment the gun goes, not from the time you cross the start line. If it takes you two minutes to get across the start line, the pacer could be aiming for a target time which in real time will be two minutes faster than their pace time. In a half marathon, that could be six seconds per km faster. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a fair whack kilometre after kilometre.

How to make good use of pace groups

Don’t get too attached to a pace group at the start of the race

Your first priority when you start an event is to settle into a good rhythm and pace you’ll be able to maintain for the entire race. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement at the start and go out too fast, and that applies to pacers as well. For the first quarter of your race, ignore the pacers. Spend this time settling into your race, and run on how you feel. After about the first 5ks in a half marathon, and the first 8-10km in a marathon, have a look around for a pace group which is running around the same pace as you are.

Don’t get too attached to a pace group during the rest of the race!

Each of us have our own strengths and weaknesses, often related to terrain. You might be an awesome uphill runner, but struggle to make up much time on the downhill. Or you might be able to power downhill like their’s no tomorrow, but tend to fall off a bit on the uphill segments. How much you will lose and gain on the hills is a very individual thing, so be prepared to fall off the group if you know you’ll be able to catch up a bit when the terrain is more suited to your strength.

Be prepared to feel good (and not so good)

There’ll be parts of your race where you feel like a god, and there will probably be parts of your race when you question the wisdom of ever entering the event in the first place. Whilst running with a pace group can help you through these rough patches, it may also push you to run faster than you’re up to at that point in time, and spoil any chance you have of hitting your goal time.  Sometimes you’ll just have to run parts of your race slower than planned. At these times, you’re mentally a bit fragile. If you’re not prepared for it, dropping off the pace group could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Conversely, when you’re feeling good, you want to be able to capitalise on that, so staying with the pace group may hold you back.

Move away from the group at water stations

If you’re running in a big pace group, it might cause overcrowding at water stations, or when you’re running  around tight bends. You should consider either moving forward of the pace group before water stations if you’re feeling good, or be happy to drop off the back a bit. You want to be sure to take on board the water you need, and you also want to avoid tripping in that crowded water station or tight bend.

Ask the pacer what their strategy is to get you to the finish on time

Once you’ve settled into a good rhythm and pace and you’ve found a pace group that suits you, ask the pacer what time they have on their watch. If you’re aiming for a net time (that is the time from when you cross the start line until when you cross the finish line), this could make a difference to how you use the pace group. If the pacer has 30 minutes on her watch, and you’re only at 28 minutes because you started your watch when you crossed the start line not when the gun went, you know you have 2 minutes up your sleeve. So if the pacer is urging runners on and you’re not feeling like you can go with them – keep in mind that they are running for a gun time, not a net time, and that you can afford to let them get away on you a bit and still finish on target.

Ask the pacer if they are planning on running even splits – each kilometre the same pace, or if they are taking hills and fatigue into account. You can use this information, along with your own sense of how you’re feeling, to keep on top of things mentally through the race. If you know the pacer isn’t going to slow down going up a hill, but isn’t going to get much faster down a hill, it makes it a lot easier mentally to let them go, if you know you can catch up on the downhill.

I’m all for people who give up their time to help other people reach their goals, so I applaud pacers. For the most part, they do a great job. They don’t intentionally go out too fast, or push too hard up a hill. They just don’t realise that to keep up the pace, you’re pushing yourself every step, whilst they’re breezing through the race as if it’s a training run! At the end of the day, you have to race on how you feel. Pacers can be good motivation, but you need to trust your instincts. Talk to the pacer to find out their race plan, make use of them and their surrounding group for motivation, but if you can feel you’re really struggling to hold onto a pace group, or you feel they are holding you back, your best bet is to let go.