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Here’s How to Warm Up For Distance Challenge Races

Now that we’re knee deep into the 2014-15 Austin Fit Distance Challenge series, one of the most ignored aspects of racing should get your attention: Doing a proper pre-race warm up. If you want to run your best in the series, focus on doing a good warmup in the next two races—the Decker Challenge and the Rogue 30-K—so you can run your best.

If you’re like most recreational racers, you probably do a short pre-race jog and figure that’s all you need. It isn’t. A good warmup is a direct path to a PR, while a bad one inevitably leads to a lousy race.

But not all warmups are the same. Different distances and different weather mean different types and length of a warmup, but in any race of any length a good warmup gets your body (and mind) ready to roll.

A good warmup does exactly what the word implies: It warms the temperature of your running muscles so they flex and contract optimally (another words, making you able to run) right from the starting gun. A good warmup also raises your heart rate which means there’s less stress on it during the first few minutes of the race and you’re less likely to go into oxygen debt.

So clearly, warming up before a race is an important first step. But how do you do it? Do you just jog around and then rest for a few minutes before the start of the race? Or do you sprint back and forth right up to the starting gun?

Neither.

You should warm up for at least 10 minutes before any race and get your heart rate elevated by a series of pre-race sprints. The longer the race, the shorter the warmup and the fewer sprints.

But rather than run for 10 minutes and then rest for another 10 minutes before the race begins, you should continue to do some light jogging right up until a minute before the race starts. If you rest longer than that after warming up, your heart rate slows, your muscles cool and you have negated the entire purpose of the warmup.

After a series of 50-100 meter sprints, try to continue with some light jogging as long as you can before you line up in the starting area. Also do some strides at whatever you expect your race pace to be. Move your arms and get up on your toes.

Also, begin to focus your attention on the start of the race. Visualize the first few hundred meters of the race. Make sure you know which direction the course goes and check for any obstacles (curbs, railroad tracks, parked cars, etc.) that might get in your way.

Once you’re done with warming up, grab one final drink, maybe hit the bathroom and then duck into the starting area at the last possible second. Get rid of any extra clothing you might have worn during the warm up.

Once in the start area, jog in place, move your arms and try to keep loose and warm. Move around, massage your legs, stretch—anything to keep moving.

If you are warming up for a half-marathon or full marathon, warmup for about 10 minutes with some light, easy strides. The longer the race, the fewer sprints. (In a marathon, the first couple of mile are a warm up anyway so anything you do before the race should be very easy.) After warming up, grab a sports drink to top off your tank.

When you line up in the chute for a marathon or half, the wait to start may be longer than smaller, shorter races. To keep you muscles warm, wear an old sweatshirt and sweatpants that you can toss. Again, try to keep moving by doing light stretching or running in place. If there’s any tightness in your muscles, stop jogging in place and try to stretch it out before the race begins. (If you need to, lie down right on the road to stretch.)

Weather will play a role in your warm up. If it’s especially warm, limit your warm up to just a few minutes as your muscles’ temperature will increase quickly. If possible, try to find a shaded area to warm up.

If it’s cold, you can take your time and warm up easily. But give yourself adequate time and keep your warm up clothes on until the last possible minute before chucking them.

A good warmup will become part of your pre-race routine. The more often you warmup properly, the more ingrained it will become into what you do before every race.

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