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. Should you go for a run today, or 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. The bottom line is that you really need to see what works best for you.

Reasons to Run Before a Race

Every runner is different. Those who are in favor of exercising or running the day before a race cite several reasons for doing so.

  • Confidence: Running the day before may give you more confidence on race day.
  • Calmness: An easy, 20-minute run the day before a race can help you loosen up and shake off nervous feelings.
  • Relaxation: Light stretching or foam rolling after a short jog helps you stretch out and relax.
  • 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.

Day-before running may have benefits for specific distances. Running the day before a 5K can help improve your stride and flexibility on race day. Just like your regular warm-ups, a 15- to 20-minute run the day before a race helps improve blood flow to your legs. This can help stave off fatigue during your run. Similarly, a 20-minute jog or relaxed run the day before your 10K race will help keep your muscles loose and ready to perform during your event.

Running the day before a longer-distance run, such as a half-marathon, can help your muscles store glycogen more efficiently. This will help you power through the grueling miles on race day. An easy run the day before an endurance event (like a full marathon) can help shake out muscles. The goal isn’t to push yourself, but just to get into racing mode. Limit your run to under 20 minutes to avoid depleting glycogen stores.

Reasons Not to Run Before a Race

Race day is taxing. Some runners choose to dedicate the day before a race to relaxing, so they feel fresh and ready at the starting line. Benefits of a day off include:

  • Rest: 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 routine: If you are used to taking a recovery 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 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 performance by about 3%.

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 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.

Most importantly, whether you run before a race or not, remind 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 exercise or 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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