The BMO Vancouver Marathon is almost sold out and marathoners are gearing up for the big day on May 5th. Runners have diligently trained over the last several months to be in peak condition, but to truly do their best they must have a plan for race day. According to Pete Pfitzinger, an Olympic marathon runner and two-time winner of the San Francisco Marathon, warming up for a race is vital. In his book, Advanced Marathoning, 2E (Human Kinetics, 2009), Pfitzinger maps out a strategy for race-day warm up.
The purpose of a warm-up is to prepare your body to run at race pace. This involves increasing your metabolic rate, your body temperature, and the circulation of blood (and thus oxygen) to your muscles. The warm-up activates your aerobic system to work optimally from the start of the race.
Thereís a downside, however, to warming up for the marathon. One of the challenges in the marathon is to reach the finish line before becoming glycogen depleted. Carbohydrate loading before the marathon is important as well as taking in carbohydrate during the marathon to help ensure that you donít run out of carbohydrate before the finish. But during a warm-up, you burn a mixture of carbohydrate and fat, thereby slightly reducing your glycogen stores. The key, then, is to find the minimum amount of warm-up necessary to prepare your body to handle race pace as soon as the starterís gun is fired so that you save as much of your precious carbohydrate reserves as possible for the 26.2 miles (42.2 km) ahead.
The optimal warm-up for the marathon depends on the level of the marathoner. For beginners, whose main goal is to finish, no warm-up is necessary. They can warm up during the first couple of miles of the race. For more serious marathoners, who will attempt to run the distance significantly faster than their normal training pace, the optimal warm-up consists of two runs of about 5 minutes each, with some gentle stretching in between.
You should start warming up about 30 to 40 minutes before the start of the race. Start your first warm-up run slowly, and gradually increase your pace so that you finish at about 1 minute per mile (per 1.6 km) slower than marathon race pace. Next, stretch for about 10 minutes, including loosening up your shoulders and neck. Follow that with another 5 minutes of running, this time gradually picking up the pace until you reach marathon pace for the final 30 seconds or so. Then stretch a bit more.
Thatís it. Try to time your warm-up so that you finish no more than 10 minutes before the race starts. If you warm up too long before the race, youíll lose some of the benefits of the warm-up yet will have still used up some of your carbohydrate stores.
Before the start of the Olympic marathon, the athletes do a bit of nervous jogging around, but almost no one does more than 10 minutes of easy running plus one or two accelerations up to race pace. This is enough of a warm-up for these runners to handle a 5-minute-per-mile pace for the first mile. A similar routine will get you to the starting line prepared to handle your goal marathon race pace.
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