Should I Run the Day Before a Race?

Tomorrow is the day you’ve been waiting for, the day you’ve been preparing for over many months: race day! You want to do whatever it takes to get your body in the best condition to perform optimally tomorrow. You wonder if it’s a good idea to squeeze in one more run. Should you run before your race or save your energy?

Yes, you should run the day before a race for the following reasons:

  • Running prevents you from overthinking and getting nervous about the race
  • It’s part of your routine anyway, which also keeps you calm
  • Your blood flow increases, which might decrease muscle pain 
  • It’s a good chance to map out your race route

Ahead, we’ll elaborate further on the above reasons why running before a race is such a good idea. We’ll also talk about when you might want to just stay home ahead of your marathon. Make sure you keep reading! 

Here Are 4 Reasons You Should Run Before a Race

You Can’t Overthink or Be Nervous While You’re Running

Even the most seasoned runners get a little anxious before a big race. Competing is a lot of pressure, not to mention there’s the pressure you’re already putting on yourself to do your best. 

If this is your first race or the first one you’ve done in a while, then your nerves might be on overdrive. You can’t remember the last time you’ve felt this restless about anything.

Overthinking, according to Texas news site KERA News, can cause stomach indigestion, body aches, and headaches. None of these health effects are conducive to running well. That’s one such reason why we think running before a race is a good idea. 

When you’re running, you can’t really pay much attention to how nervous you feel about the big race coming up. You also can’t overthink. 

Sure, this is only a short reprieve, but it’s better than nothing. Once your run ends, try to keep yourself as calm as you can. Thinking too much is to your physical detriment, so remind yourself of that as many times as it takes.  

It Keeps up the Routine

People are creatures of habit, meaning we appreciate and take solace in our regular routines since they keep our lives grounded. Your nerves are already high since your race is first thing tomorrow morning. By changing your routine, you will only amplify those nervous feelings. 

Maintaining your schedule as you would any other day will make it easier for you to stay calm since everything feels like business as usual. For a little while, you can almost forget that your race is coming up tomorrow at all, and that’s not a bad thing! The less time you spend nervous, the better. 

You Might Increase Your Blood Flow for Less Muscle Pain

It would be your worst nightmare to wake up in the morning with stiff muscles. You want to feel limber and capable so you can hit new performance milestones during the race. 

By running the day before your race, those are the kinds of benefits you can expect.

All exercise increases your blood flow, running included. Healthy blood flow is needed to send oxygen to the muscles, says the association NFL Alumni. When muscles are oxygenated, they might get less sore after exercise so you aren’t stiff and achy the morning of the race.  

You Can Map Out Your Race Route 

Here’s one more very compelling reason to run the day before a race, to plan out your running route! By visiting the park or grounds where the race will occur and running there for a little while, you can get used to the conditions and the route itself. Just make sure doing this doesn’t break race rules!

Planning Your Pre-Race Running Distance

You’re thinking you’ll lace up your running shoes even though you have a race tomorrow, but how far should you run? 

Moderation is certainly key here, as you don’t want to burn yourself out (more on this in a moment). You also have to think about your own experience level (and be honest here) as well as the duration of the race you’re running tomorrow.

If this is going to be your first race, then we would recommend keeping your pre-race run rather short. 

Your run should be between 20 and 30 minutes long, maybe 40 minutes but no longer than that. You’re going to be more nervous than most runners about your race since you have no frame of reference for what the race will be like. You need to take care to conserve your energy.

For those who have done races in the past, then you can run for as long as you see fit. Perhaps you keep your run shorter and cap it at around 30 minutes. You can even run for 60 minutes since you’re a more experienced runner and you know what you’re in for during your race tomorrow. 

Could you run even longer than an hour? That depends on the duration of your race coming up. If you’re running a 5k or a 10k, then sure. Do make sure you’re listening to your body though. If you’re tired, it’s a good idea to quit your run, head home, and get some rest for the main event tomorrow.

If you have a marathon on the schedule, which is over 25 miles, then you don’t want to run anywhere near as long as 60 minutes the day before. Even 30 minutes might be too long since you want to maintain your energy. A 20-minute run will be enough to get your heart pumping and your blood moving. 

When Is It a Bad Idea to Run Before a Race?

The primary concern among runners who are worried about exercising the day before a race is that they’ll use all their energy on their practice run and have nothing left for the race itself. Yet the only way that would happen is if you ran around all night and didn’t sleep.

Exercise, when done properly, is not supposed to sap you of your energy, but increase it. This WebMD article mentions a 2008 study from Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics on the very subject

Researchers at the University of Georgia determined that low-intensity exercise can reduce fatigue (by a very high rate of 65 percent!) and boost one’s energy (by 20 percent) in participants dealing with fatigue.

If you’re worried that you won’t be able to fall asleep after a run, that shouldn’t be an issue either. A publication of Advances in Preventive Medicinefrom 2017 wrote this: “…physical exercise is an effective intervention for those who do not experience adequate sleep quantity or quality.”

So with those two issues out of the way, is there ever a time when you shouldn’t run before a race? Not really! 

Perhaps if you recently recovered from an injury, you might not want to push yourself too much unless you have to. Skipping one day of running won’t negatively affect your performance the next day for the race. Then again, right now might not be the best time for a race anyway.  

If you’ve been training and running hard every single day in preparation for the race, then maybe you want to skip running the day before the race since you’re feeling tired. This is another time when it’s fine to take a break. You wouldn’t want to be burned out on the big day! 

In the future, make sure that you’re giving yourself a recovery day at least twice a week. Exercising daily can be quite unhealthy. 

Tips for Preparing for a Race 

The following tips can gear you up for success for race day!

Prepare What You Need Ahead of Time

Either before or after your pre-race run, make sure you take the time to get everything ready that you’ll need for tomorrow. If you can, make your breakfast for tomorrow morning before you go to bed. Pull out all your favorite snacks and store them in your gear bag. Fill up your water bottle and put it in the refrigerator overnight.

As we’ve said, your nerves are going to be running high from tonight into tomorrow morning. You don’t want to make them worse by running around like a chicken without a head searching for your trusty water bottle or the box of granola bars that you swore you left in the kitchen cabinet. 

Get Your Gear out the Night Before

Besides readying what you’re going to eat and use, prep your race outfit as well. We’re sure you’ve put plenty of thought into what you’ll wear. If you haven’t, then now is as good a time as ever. 

If this is a cold-weather race, then you need a light, moisture-wicking insulating layer and then a weatherproof, windproof jacket. You might want to double up the layers on the bottom half of your body as well.

For spring and summer races, single-layer clothes are best. Make sure that you avoid cotton garments, as they trap in sweat that will leave you wet and uncomfortable. Moisture-wicking, breathable materials will allow you to focus more on the finish line than your clothing.

Lay out all your clothes, including your running shoes and socks. This way, in the morning, all you have to do is put on everything that’s already out. This too will prevent a stressful start to the morning so you can stay calm and focus on the race.

You could even sleep in your running clothes if you really wanted to, which is something we’ve talked about on the blog before. This probably isn’t comfortable for many runners, but if it is for you, then go for it! 

Take the Time to Eat

Your stomach is going to be in knots as race time draws ever so nearer, but you have to do your best to eat. Food is fuel, and without that fuel, your performance can suffer. 

We’ve written about fasted running before, which is when you run without eating, but it’s not for everyone. You might be more injury-prone without food in your belly.

Plus, we want to remind you of a study we talked about in that article from the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sportspublished in 2018. In the study, the researchers combed through nearly 50 studies on fasted running. They came to the consensus that your physical performance and aerobic abilities are both lessened without food.

No one’s saying you have to sit down to a full breakfast buffet, but at least nibble on something light to start with. Bring a mid-run snack that can keep up your glycogen levels when they inevitably begin sagging after your light breakfast. 

Go to Sleep Early

Prioritize getting extra sleep the night before a big race. Sleep affects your alertness, and when you’re feeling foggy-headed, it’s impossible to concentrate enough to cross the finish line before everyone else. If you normally get by on seven hours of sleep, then increase your amount of rest to eight or even nine hours.

Your anxiety about the race tomorrow might make it hard to fall or stay asleep. To reduce your nervousness, aromatherapy can help. Perhaps you light a scented candle before you go to sleep or you use a diffuser. 

A sound machine can introduce soothing sounds like rain or a lively forest that can put you in a sleepy mood. Audiobooks might also achieve the same effect. 

Some people find that their stresses melt away with the security of a weighted blanket, so try that as well. 

Set Two Alarms

Have you ever slept through an alarm? It happens, especially if you’re extremely tired. Getting enough rest should prevent this issue, but even still, it doesn’t hurt to set two alarms just to make sure you’re up and out of bed with plenty of time to spare. 

Final Thoughts

Running the day before a race can help you maintain your usual routine, which will alleviate your anxiety about the big race tomorrow. You can also prime your muscles so they’ll be ready to go in the morning. Best of luck with your race! 

Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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