Should I Exercise the Day Before Running a Race?

Man running in New York
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It's the day before your half-marathon and you are looking forward to the race. But it can be confusing as to whether you should go for a run or simply take it easy and rest. There are lots of opinions about whether or not you should run the day before a race, regardless of whether you're running a shorter race like a 5K or a long-distance event such as a marathon. But the bottom line is that you really need to see what works best for you.

Pros

Every runner is different, but those who are in favor of exercising the day before a race often site these reasons why:

  • Running the day before may give your greater strength on race day. Other runners swear by an easy, 20-minute run the day before a race, saying that it helps them loosen up and shake off the nervous feelings. Some runners will do some light stretching or foam rolling after their short jog to help them stretch out and relax.
  • It helps you stick to your routine. Sticking to your schedule is important before a race, since making any big changes in how you prep can lead to poor performance or even injury.

In terms of its potential benefit for specific types of races:

  • 5K: Running the day before a shorter race such as a 5K can help improve your stride and flexibility on race day. Just like your regular warm-ups, running the day before a race for around 15 to 20 minutes helps improve blood flow to your legs. This can help stave off fatigue during your run.
  • 10K: A 20-minute jog or relaxed run the day before your race will help keep your muscles loose and ready to perform during your event.
  • Half-marathon: Running the day before a longer-distance run can help your muscles store glycogen more efficiently, which will help you power through those grueling miles on race day.
  • Full-marathon: Running an easy 20 minutes the day before an endurance event can help shake out those muscles. The goal here isn’t to push your body, but just to get yourself into racing mode. Limit your run length to under 20 minutes to avoid depleting your glycogen stores.

Cons

That said, race day is a taxing one. Other runners choose to dedicate the day before a race to relaxing, so they feel fresh and ready at the starting line.

  • It's good to rest your running muscles in preparation for a race, especially if it's a long one, such as a half-marathon or marathon.
  • Recovery days are a critical part of any training program. If you are used to taking a rest day before a more aggressive run day, there’s really no reason why you shouldn’t be able to safely take a rest day before an event.

Tapering and Athletic Performance

Maintaining your running intensity while progressively decreasing the duration and slightly decreasing workout frequency for between four and 28 days before a marathon (what's known as tapering) can help minimize fatigue and boost your performance by about 3 percent.

Testing Out the Course

Running the hills on the course just to "test them out" and be mentally prepared for them could actually backfire as a strategy. If you think that could be of benefit, it is best done a few days earlier rather than the day before a race. If the course is local to you, make it part of your training runs.

The course is likely to be very different during the race when it is closed to traffic and there are crowds of runners. If you've traveled to the race and the course is unfamiliar, you'll have to decide whether it will be psychologically beneficial or not to take a course tour. It could dampen your anxiety, but it might also feed it. It may be better to study a map of the course, especially spotting where the on-course support will be for hydration and toilets.

Keep reminding yourself that you're well-trained and ready for your race.

A Word From Verywell

If you're the type of person who gets race anxiety, it might be beneficial for you to run the day before your race. Just make sure that you don't do a significant, hard workout, like a long run, speed workout, or strength training. If you think you perform better on rest and you don't need a short shake-out run, then just relax during those 24 hours leading up to the race. Do what you feel is best for you.

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