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.
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.
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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Do you do a shakeout run before racing?