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Should You Run or Rest the Day Before a Race?

The jury is out on whether it’s better to rest or run before you run a race. Of course, not all races are the same, so it’s hard to say definitively which is better.

Resting a day before a weekend neighborhood 5k may not be a big deal, but what about the day before a marathon? Do you keep your body tuned up or pump the brakes to build your energy reserves and allow your body to recover?

If you’re going for performance, you want your body to be in peak form the day of the race. Even if you’re not a competitive racer, you want to enjoy the experience, finish successfully, and feel good while you’re in the race. How can you guarantee maximum performance and comfort?

A lot of the answer boils down to listening to your body. Now, we know that’s not a blanket statement on what all racers should do the day before the race, but everyone’s body is indeed different, and how you’ll react to rest vs. a run the day before a race will vary from person to person.

athlete getting ready to run outdoors

Michael Jordan, the basketball great, famously ate steak and potatoes before most games.

For a lot of athletes, the thought of eating a heavy meal like that an hour or two before an intense sporting event is a huge red flag. They’d feel bloated and lethargic when it’s go-time.

We can, however, offer some information about why resting or running may be beneficial and how you should think about both when it comes to your race.

Here are some reasons to run before and some reasons to rest. Take a look at which runner sounds like you and give it a try. The best thing you can do is race and give both a shot and see which one makes you feel better!

Why You Should Run the Day Before a Race

For serious racers, having a run before race day, also called a shakeout run, is a must-do. A lot of races even offer to host or facilitate shakeout runs for interested people.

There are a lot of runners who will get together and run the day before to get in the spirit and build up before the race. The thinking behind a shakeout run is that it helps keep your circulation good and keeps your muscles primed for the race. Many competitive racers feel like they’re a step slower or rusty with just a day of rest.

Generally, shakeout runs aren’t very long. Most shakeout runs are less than 20 minutes and run at a relatively slow pace.

The point is to keep warm but not to stress your body out to the point where it will sacrifice performance the following day. Here are some things to think about for your shakeout run:

Young female runner stretching on sunlit race track

Take it slow – Running before the race should be around half the pace that you would usually run. You don’t want to push yourself too much because the worry is that you’re not going to be 100% when it comes time to race.

If you’re traveling – If you’re going on a plane to get to your race, then a warm-up race the day before is probably a good idea. Your body goes through all sorts of changes in the air.

You get bloated, the way you retain water is a bit different, and your internal clock will be off if you’re crossing time zones. A lot of racers say the best way to snap back before a race is done by going out for a quick run.

Get your nerves out – Most racers will feel some level of anxiety before a large event. If you’re a beginner, then you probably will get nervous before any type of race. A shakeout race will lower your jitters and keep you calm as you head to the starting line.

Walking is an option – Depending on how serious of a runner you are, you could get by with a pre-race walk. Walk at a brisk pace just to keep your muscles loose.

Listen to your body – Elite runners will only log a few miles on their shakeout race. That’s a small fraction of what they would usually do. The purpose, again, is not to wear yourself out but to simply keep yourself in a rhythm.

The best advice we can give is to try a shakeout race before your event and see how you do in the race. Of course, we wouldn’t advise you to change your routine before the biggest race of your life. It’s better to experiment with your routine on events that will be slightly competitive or leisure in nature.

Why You Should NOT Run the Day Before Your Race

There are only a few reasons why you wouldn’t want to run the day before your race. Let’s cover them so you can make the best decision for yourself. Here’s what you should consider:

Possible injuryWe know it’s unlikely, but anytime you run, you’re exposed to the risk of injury or something else that could adversely impact your performance in a race.

young woman drinking coffee while resting on bed in morning at home

This is especially pertinent if you’re flying somewhere new where you’ve never run before. You’ll be on unfamiliar terrain, often in downtown settings, where there is a lot to be aware of.

With your mind on the race tomorrow, you could be running distracted. There won’t be the same safety measures set up that there will be on race day. It’s not a huge risk, but one worth noting.

Changes to your running routineSticking to a racing or running plan is a big part of every runner’s success. When you run a shakeout race, you could run the risk of changing your routine and impacting your race day results.

Again, you’re in a new place, you’re probably nervous and excited about the race, and it’s easy to get swept up in the moment.

A lot of people run shakeout races and end up pushing themselves too hard. They feel great so they decide to go longer than they’d planned, damaging their energy levels and recovery.

No restFinally, if you run the day right before a race, you’re not giving your body as much time to rest and recover.

Feeling good on the day of the race will hinge on many things, including the condition of your muscles, your diet, and how you slept the night before. Rest could be a good idea if you want to make sure you’re feeling good when it’s time to race.

Testing Out What Works for You

No two races are the same. A three times a week runner is going to feel and react differently to a shakeout race than a full-time competitive runner will. If you’re just starting out as a new runner in the racing world, then the stakes aren’t going to be that high.

Give a shakeout run a try to ease your jitters and have fun with the race. As you run more events, try both with a shakeout and without and see how your body responds. If running the day before a race helps, make it part of your routine and keep tinkering until you find the sweet spot.