We asked Run SMART coach Malindi Elmore a few questions about warming up properly and how to approach a 5k or 10k race. Learn how an Olympian does it and what she recommends for runners of all levels.
What’s does your typical warm-up routine consist of for an easy run, quality session and race and why?
My warm-up routine certainly varies according to my workout objective. Something of high intensity – a race or quality workout – takes me between 45-60 minutes to warm up for! I usually start with 15-20 minutes of easy running and then do 3-6 minutes or so of “steady state” running so I actually start to “prime the pump” before the hard work begins. I will either do a short fartlek (2 x 3 minutes) or short tempo run (5 minutes) where I gradually build my pace to about marathon pace. This helps to warm things up and get my body more ready for the hard work ahead – a sort of bridge between the easy jogging and fast running. Next, I will do a series of drills and dynamic movement drills which help with form, recruitment, stretching, etc. Finally, I will do some “strides” which progress from longer and slower to faster and shorter the closer I am to the beginning of my race or workout.For an easy run, I generally just head out the door nice and easy until my body warms up enough to start running more normally. I certainly notice a significant difference with both my age and training workload – I used to dash out the door at a quick pace but now I am a bit of a “hobbler” for the first few minutes until things warm up and stretch out enough to start running better. If things don’t start to feel better by 10 minutes into a run then maybe it is time to consider a change of plans: day off, easy day, cross train, etc.
What type of stretching do you subscribe to?
I am not big on conventional stretching. As I mentioned above, I use drills, strides and dynamic movement to warm up. Studies show that conventional stretching is not very effective – and in fact counter-productive – to running performance. A certain amount of muscle tension is necessary for fast running and you actually don’t want to be too “loose”: consider the energy in a tight versus a loose elastic band.
When do you typically do strides before your races?
I do my strides approximately 15 minutes before my race. This may change depending on the circumstances of the race and how easy it is to find space to do strides. Sometimes people need to do strides before going to the start line – then you just need to bounce around to stay warm while waiting for the countdown. Optimally you are warm and your system is charged prior to the gun but not exhausted from a long and hard warm-up! I make sure my last strides is several minutes before the race start so my heart rate has a chance to drop down again.
You mentioned your warm-up varies depending on the race distance…can you elaborate?
Absolutely! The shorter the event, the more dynamic and zippy I like to feel. Prior to a long road race, I will focus on longer strides (30-45 seconds) so I actually feel like I am getting into race pace. When I drop down to events as short as 800m I like to feel very sharp – but this would do me no good in a long road race. I think it is important to adapt the warm-up for the race and to hit strides which prime your body for the work ahead. For a long event like a marathon or 1/2 marathon, I would keep the warm-up much shorter, although I would still advise some warming up so you feel ready to go when the gun goes.
What would you recommend to a beginner level runner looking to finish a 5k or 10k race?
One of the key pieces of advice I could give a beginner as well as a veteran runner looking to run 5k or 10k is to keep the first third of the race very controlled. It is much easier and much more fun to pick up the pace at the half way mark when everything is feeling great than it is to suffer through the pain of having gone out too quickly and hitting the wall midway through the race. Given all the excitement, energy and competition on race day it is really easy to fly off the start line feeling like a million bucks, only to find the pace is too rich later in the race. It is very hard to recover from going out too hard and you lose much more time than by starting conservatively and building throughout the race.
What about for someone looking to run fast? What are the key components they should understand?
I would say the exact same thing to a more experienced runner looking to run a fast time. Hopefully the athlete has done enough training to have a very good idea of what pace they realistically can sustain; starting the race at desired race pace (and not faster) and trying to run a negative split race is a much more positive race experience and usually nets a faster over all performance.
Any general warm-up tips, suggestions?
Give yourself more time than you need – race day logistics often take longer than you think. The bathroom lines get really long 15 minutes before a race and so you need to plan on some time standing around in line – don’t wait until the last minute! Also, changing shoes, changing into your racing gear, and putting your number on your jersey all take time, especially when your hands and fingers are a bit jittery from nerves. It may also take longer to get to the start area because of the crowds – so these are all things you need to factor into a race day. Races are nerve-wrecking enough, so try to anticipate other stresses in advance and plan your morning accordingly. When you get to the start area, take a couple nice deep breaths and remind yourself that you are doing this for fun and all you can expect from yourself is your best. Don’t worry – everyone is a bit nervous but the euphoria at the end is worth the pre-race nerves!