Should You Run The Day Before A Race? [Top Benefits of a Shakeout Run]

You’ve put in the blood, sweat, and tears of training for your big race, and naturally, you want nothing more than for everything to go smoothly on the day so you can crush your goal time and achieve a new PB. We feel you. 

Now that you’ve finished your training block, tapered, and mastered your nutrition, you’ve reached the day before the race… Should you do a shakeout run the day before your race? Or are you supposed to put your legs up and relax? The answer may surprise you.

Below, we’ll look at whether you should lace up your shoes the day before a race, whether running before a race will help or harm your effort, and what your fitness level and race distance dictate you should do.

Should You Run The Day Before A Race?

Should you run the day before a race?

Even if your training plan has a short shakeout run scheduled the day before your race, you may still be wondering whether you should. We want our legs to feel fresh and springy on race day, ready to tackle what the race has in store. 

The main concern with running the day before a race is potentially causing muscle soreness or tiring our body, setting us back and inhibiting our performance on race day.

With that said, the answer to the question – in most cases – is YES; you should have a short shakeout run the day before your race.

But how much should you run, and what sort of effort or pace should you aim for? Well, as with most other elements in running, your racing experience, fitness level, and race distance impact the answer.

Let’s have a look at the factors that influence your pre-race run.

How Far to Run Based on Experience

No matter your experience level, most runners are best served doing a short run the day before their race. This run can be anything from 10 to 30 minutes, based on your experience and fitness level.

Beginners (less than 6 months of experience) doing their first race – no matter the distance – should do an easy 10- to 15-minute run of around 1.5 to 2 kilometers the day before.

Runners with 6 months of experience under their belt should do a 15- to 20-minute run that’s around 2 to 2.5 kilometers. 

If you’ve been in a training block of 16 to 20 weeks for a longer race (10 kilometers and longer), 20 to 30 minutes of gentle running will be ideal.

Your shakeout run shouldn’t exceed half the length of your typical easy runs. However, the distance of your shakeout run is a personal preference, especially as you become more experienced and use races as training runs.

Intermediate, competitive, and experienced runners should aim to do 4 x 20 – 30 second strides during their shakeout run to prime the neuromuscular system for the effort required on race day.

Should You Run the Day Before A 5k?

As we mentioned, no matter the race distance, it’s a good idea to do a gentle shakeout run the day before, even if it’s just a mile. The shorter your race distance, the shorter your shakeout run needs to be.

If it’s your first 5k race, do a shakeout run of around 2 to 3 kilometers based on your fitness level. Your shakeout runs should always be at a very easy, conversational pace. If you’re an experienced runner, you can push your shakeout run to a full 5k.

As the 5k is a fairly short, quick race, add a few strides (no more than 4) into your shakeout run.

Should You Run the Day Before A 10k?

Like before a 5k race, you should do a shakeout run before your 10k race. Aim for an easy 3 to 6 kilometers and throw in 4 x 30-second strides. If you’d rather run based on time, a gentle 20- to 30-minute run is more than enough.

Should You Run the Day Before A Half Marathon?

Running your first half marathon can be intimidating, and you may be worried about conserving your energy for race day. You are more than doubling the 10k distance, after all. If you followed your training plan and feel fit and strong, doing a shakeout run shouldn’t negatively impact your race day performance.

That said, if you’re still feeling anxious about running the entire distance without stopping, do a shorter 15- to 20-minute shakeout run. Add a few strides to get the nerves out of your legs, but if you’re not feeling up to them, they aren’t as vital for the half marathon distance as they are for faster distances, like the 5k.

Intermediate and advanced runners who are confident in their fitness level and training should do a shakeout run of 20- to 30-minutes.

Should You Run the Day Before A Marathon?

As with a half marathon, if this is your first marathon and you’re anxious about covering the distance and having enough energy to reach the finish line, a slow 15- to 20-minute jog is sufficient. Intermediate and advanced runners should aim for 20 to 30 minutes at an easy pace.

Elite and competitive runners may choose to run up to 45 minutes based on their confidence level and personal preferences.

Why You Should Run the Day Before Your Race

There are many reasons why you should run the day before your race – both psychological and physical:

1. Calms Your Nerves

No matter how experienced you are, the day before a race is often tense and anxious. One of the biggest upsides of doing a shakeout run is to calm your nerves. You can use the time to review your race plan and mentally prepare for the challenge ahead of you. This is especially helpful for longer distances.

Some runners prefer doing their shakeout runs with a running partner or group to distract them from their nerves. From an emotional and physical standpoint, a shakeout run reduces nerves and anxiety. Try mindful running to help you relax.

2. Loosens Your Legs

Shakeout runs increase the circulation to your connective tissues and muscles, making your muscles feel looser. After the run, use a massage gun, foam roller, or stretch to make your muscles even more limber before race day.

If your training schedule had you take a few days off in the week leading to your race, your muscles might feel stiff and tight from inactivity. Your shakeout run will stretch the muscles, mobilize your joints, and help you feel ready to run.

3. Improves Your Blood Flow

Similarly to increasing your circulation, a shakeout run improves your blood flow, delivering the oxygen and nutrients your muscles need to perform. Runners who don’t run the day before their race often don’t feel ready to race as their muscles feel cold and tight.

For shorter distances, like 5k and 10k races, being flexible and loose helps you open your stride naturally on race day. For longer distances, like half and full marathons, shakeout runs assist your muscles in storing extra glycogen, your primary energy source, so you can run longer.

4. Keeps Your Nervous System Ready

Your central nervous system is responsible for firing your muscles when running. The more efficient and quick your system fires, the faster, stronger, and more coordinated the muscle contractions will be.

Adaptations and depredations in the nervous system are extremely quick, and changes can occur in as little as one or two days. So, not running for a few days, especially before a race, can compromise your neuromuscular function.

5. It’s Routine

Running becomes a big part of your daily routine when training for a race. If you break that routine, you may end up feeling off-kilter. If you get a bit fidgety and anxious when you take a day off from running, a shakeout run will do you a world of good.

It can also be beneficial because running is something you do regularly, and maintaining that routine will allow you to feel calm and in control.

6. It Won’t Deplete You

Many runners won’t run the day before their race because they’re worried it will deplete their energy stores and tire them. A shakeout run won’t tire you if you’ve been training properly and consistently. 

Your body has slowly adapted to the effort and stresses of running, so the shakeout run won’t do any damage. You’ll run slower and shorter than your normal recovery runs, so your body won’t be fatigued.  

Should You Always Run The Day Before Your Race?

While in most scenarios it’s good to do a short, gentle shakeout run before your race, there are a couple of exceptions where you should rather skip it.

If you’ve got a niggle or twinge (that hasn’t developed into an injury) but are still planning to race, you can do a 15- to 20-minute low-impact cross-training activity the day before your race. The best options are cycling, elliptical, swimming, or aqua jogging.

The second scenario is if you’ve been sick in the weeks leading up to your race. You’d be best served doing an active recovery session using a massage gun or foam roller and stretching to loosen your muscles to avoid stressing your body.

Naturally, you’ll develop a pre-race shakeout run (or lack thereof) routine that suits you as you gain more experience. But if it’s your first race, we recommend lacing up your shoes and heading out for a short shakeout trot.

Embrace The Shakeout Run

Running the day before your race doesn’t have to be a scary, complex thing – the beauty of running is its simplicity, and that’s true of shakeout runs too.

Many runners overthink the fatigue factor, but this isn’t a concern if you run at an easy, gentle pace and you’ve done your training properly. Remember: keep it simple – loosen your muscles, break a light sweat, and release your nervous energy. You won’t regret it!

Author Profile

Thalia Oosthuizen

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Thalia started running during the the pandemic as a way of getting out of the house. The running bug bit, and now much of her life revolves around everything to do with running - videos, podcasts, studies, books, articles, and interviews. She's also done several courses on running nutrition and mechanics to aid in her training and advising others.
Thalia Oosthuizen

Revel SPorts Contributor

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