Should You Do a Shakeout Run before a Race?

Should You Do a Shakeout Run before a Race?

When I first started racing, I thought a shakeout run was absolutely necessary. It’s ingrained in racing culture; many races or groups even offer hosted shakeout runs before major races. Every single plan out of Runner’s World or Hansons included a shakeout run. But what is the purpose of shakeout runs, exactly? Should every runner do one in their training?

I will preface this post with a disclaimer: I do not do shakeout runs before half marathons or marathons. Sometimes I do a shakeout run before a 5K or 10K. I determined this through trial and error. Some of my athletes include them, but some do not before a half or marathon. In this post, I’ll break down the purpose of shakeout runs along with practical considerations. It is important to remember that coaching and training are simultaneously a science and an art.

Should You Do a Shakeout Run before a Race?

The Purpose of a Shakeout Run

In runner vernacular, a shakeout run is a short easy run which you do the day prior to a race. It is one of the final pieces of the taper (learn more about how to taper for a half, marathon, and 5K/10K). 

The purpose of a shakeout run is to maintain neuromuscular fitness and promote good circulation. A short shakeout run sends oxygen-rich blood flowing to the muscles, rendering the muscles looser. Twenty-four hours certainly is not long enough to gain any physiological adaptations, so don’t try to cram in any miles you may have missed during race week.

Duration matters. You will not improve your fitness at all – the purpose of the run is different. A shakeout run should be no more than 50% of your normal daily mileage. You will get benefits from even a 10-20 minute shake-out run – and shorter is often better. A shakeout run should not even slightly fatigue you. The duration should have an inverse relation to the distance of your race; 15-30 minutes is fine before a 5K or 10K, while you may opt for only 10-15 minutes before a half or marathon.

So elite runners may be doing four miles the day before their marathon, but it is vital to understand the context. Four miles for them is easily a small fraction of their daily mileage. For recreational and competitive runners, a shakeout run should be shorter than that of the elites.

Travel Considerations

The day before big races can involve significant time on your feet. Marathons in particular often include travel, navigating large expos, and walking through new cities. You can easily log a few miles worth of walking. You will benefit

If you anticipate spending lots of time on your feet before the race, you may opt out of a shakeout run. A short walk will help your legs feel fresh.

If you are traveling the day before a race, a shakeout run or short walk will benefit you. If your schedule permits, you will want to do the run or walk after you arrive at your destination. Sitting in a car or on a plane for several hours affects circulation; you want to encourage good blood flow afterward to counteract any stiffness. If you arrive at your destination the night before a race, opt for a short walk.

Should You Do a Shake-out Run before Your Race?

Ultimately, the answer depends upon individual preference. Don’t just do a shakeout run because you “should.” Training and racing are not about “should” – they are about deliberate decisions based on science, the art of training, and individual considerations.

You determine if you prefer shake-out runs based on trial and error. Ideally, test out shakeout runs before tune-up races or lower priority races.

If you only race a few times per year, use your training to observe how you feel. Do you feel better if you run or rest the day before a long run or a hard workout? Ideally, your pre-race routine will mimic your training routine.

The number of days you run must also be considered. If you only run three nonconsecutive days per week, then maintain that routine and take a rest day before your race. If you run six days per week, a short shakeout run may maintain your normal training routine.

Some runners prefer to rest the day before a race. As a coach (and a runner who prefers to rest the day before longer races), I truly believe that if you perform your best with a rest day before a race, you should rest. Performance is both physical and mental; while a shakeout run may have physiological benefits, you may benefit more from the mental aspect of rest. If you choose to take a rest day, take a short 20-30 minute walk to promote good circulation.

Your answer might also depend on the race distance. You may prefer a shakeout run before a 5K and 10K and a rest day before a half marathon and marathon. 

Your body also changes and adapts with your experience as a runner. Just because you always did one does not mean you have to continue to do one.

Whether or not you do a shakeout run, you will want to pay attention to other important factors before a race. These factors include a pre-race warm-up, good nutrition, ample hydration, minimizing stress, and adequate sleep.

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13 Responses

  1. If I end up racing 5ks, a shakeout run will definitely be part of my warmup! For longer distances, I prefer to save it for the course.

  2. This is a great topic for me to reference! I always wonder about shakeout runs and whether they help or hurt. I was wondering if I should do a short run on Friday before my half marathon, but now I’m thinking I’d rather focus on recovering from my flight with a nice walk!

  3. I think it’s important to do a shakeout run the day before a race. It gets you acclimated to the new race course, will help you decide what to wear (the weather will be similar, hopefully), you’ll get a lay of the land if you’re in a new place, plus all of the benefits you mentioned in your article.

  4. There were a lot of races where I did run the day before as a shakeout run and then I have also chosen the day before as a rest day. I think my PR half had a rest day the day before so ever since then, for a half i would choose rest over shake out.

  5. I’m so glad I read this today! I’m running a half marathon on Saturday and with the travel and expo on Friday I probably won’t have a time for a shakeout run – something I didn’t tell my coach (sorry Laura!). Instead of stressing out about missing the shakeout, I’ll take it easy the day before and then run a warm-up before the start.

  6. When I was younger I usually ran a couple miles the day before a race. These days I usually take the day off but take a walk just to move my legs a bit. With my clients it varies. I have some who feel they benefit others don’t.

  7. A shake out run as defined by Kenyans I have spoken to, is a run several hours before a race. What you are describing is a taper.

    1. I would agree with this.

      A shakeout run is usually 10 to 15 of EASY running three to four hours prior to a race.

    2. The taper is the 2-3 week process of gradually reducing mileage and intensity before a race, so in a sense, yes, the run the day before a race is part of the taper. I have heard some groups define a shakeout run as done in the hours before a race, while others use it in the context here (such as Greg McMillan when he hosts shakeout runs the day before Boston) and refer to the race day run as a warm-up. There is an issue of semantics in the running community, but whether it is the day before or the hours before, the purpose is the same.

  8. Great article, Laura. I was trying to decide whether a shakeout before my upcoming marathon, but after reading this, I think I’m going to opt for an easy walk instead.

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