“Probably one of the best things you can do is move your warm up closer to your race. You might have less time for whatever routine you normally do, but you don’t want to warm up and then cool down,” says Jon Clemens, coach of San Diego’s Milestone Track Club.
A new study from the United States Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine backs Clemens up. Researchers found that a 30-minute wait in the cold between warming up and racing nixed the benefit of warming up. (Namely, preparing the body to work by increasing blood flow to your muscles.) But a five-minute delay had little negative impact on performance.
If you must warm up more than five minutes before the race, make sure to dress in layers. “Buy cheap sweatshirts to keep your skin warm,” says the study’s lead author, Sergeant Marissa Spitz. Many runners like to buy clothes at second-hand stores, then leave them at the start line, where races often collect the clothes to donate to homeless shelters.
Clemens usually recommends a marathon warm up of 10 to 15 minutes of easy jogging. But if that’s going to leave you cold and miserable as you stand in a never-ending start corral, reconsider what it means to warm up.
“If you’re stuck in line, try doing some push ups or air squats,” Spitz says, to get the blood flowing. That can be enough to get you ready to race.
“In the marathon, you’ll have plenty of time to warm up,” Clemens says. You don’t have to be prepared to haul right off the gun. “It’s more important to be in a great mental state,” Clemens says, “than to stick to some routine, just because.”
In Spitz’s study, runners were exposed to 41-degree temperatures between their warm up and run. Spitz believes the performance loss in runners who waited 30-minutes to race wasn’t entirely due to cooled muscles. “They didn’t feel good,” Spitz says. Performance is “also about how you feel at the start of the race.”
The bottom line: It’s best to move your warm up as close to the race start as possible. If marathon logistics make it difficult to finish warming up within five minutes of your race, you can warm up earlier, but be sure to dress in layers to help keep your muscles warm. Or do a simple warm up of air squats and/or pushups while you’re hanging out in the start corral, and use the first few miles of your marathon to get fully primed to go. Good luck!