Shake it Off

Posted on 15/01/2020

Feature Image: Rory Scheffer at Karkloof 100 (KZN)

About the Author: Toni McCann is an above average baker who is currently mastering the art of bread making, in-between running full time, a full time job, a part time job and doing her masters in nutrition. She also sometimes writes stuff (see below)

I remember doing my first big race (‘big’ as in longer than my usual 5km ‘training’ loop) – the Two Oceans Half Marathon – I pretty much sat on my butt the entire day before. I was convinced that I needed to conserve as much energy as possible. I gobbled down a dairy-free pasta because I’d been told that dairy creates mucus, and no-one wants to have to hock a loogie. Etiquette says that it is not very ladylike (I have since very much unlearnt this social norm, sorry mom). I woke up early, ate my usual breakfast, donned my race bib and set off for the start line. I was ushered into my start batch, way towards the back end. We were packed in like tinned anchovies so there was little to no chance of a decent warm up, except for the nervous hopping from side to side, up and down.

Now I am older, and wiser (sort of) and slightly more physically prepared. If someone had told me then that I should run the day before, or morning of, my race I probably would have laughed in their face. Is there any benefit to a prerace shakeout besides depleting those ever-precious glucose and glycogen stores? Well, lets’ crack open those anchovies and see.

What is a Shakeout Run?

A shakeout run is a short, very relaxed run that can take place either the day before or morning of the race. Note that this is NOT your warmup, a shakeout is the precursor to your actual warmup.

Intensity and Duration

It’s tricky to blanket statement this, but the general consensus ranges from 10-30 minutes. Intensity depends on the athlete, your level of fitness and usual regime. What is known, however, that sitting sedentary to ‘conserve energy’ is not helpful.

When we say fitness and usual regime, we mean; if you are running 6 days a week then running the day before may help to keep to your legs turning, mind focused and will by no means affect your glycogen stores (especially if you have had a good taper). If you’re running 3 days a week or maybe not as fit as you should be, a nice brisk walk to keep the blood flow is good – don’t add a run where there wasn’t one before.

Also, you’re not gaining fitness from this run. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can use it as a last-ditch effort to be more prepared. Keep it super light and social.

When should you ‘Shake out’?

There are, again, many things to consider here. Have you travelled to the race? Have you been or will you be walking around at an expo or new city all day? Do you perform better when you rest the day before hard or long efforts? Endurance races usually have shakeout runs the day before an event as a sort of social gathering of nervous people. With shorter efforts such as 5km, 10km or even 21km races you might want to do them just a few hours before (yes – it’s an early start, I know). Ultimately the timing is, like most things with humans, very personal and should be tested and tried on training efforts and B grade races throughout the year.

Again, just to note this is not your warmup. A warmup should contain some short drills, strides or bounds to get the blood flowing and your body primed for the start. The journal of Sports Medicine noted that starting a race with an elevated VO2 (oxygen consumption) improves performance – this would of course come mostly from the actual warmup. Conversely, however, it found that extended duration/intensity adversely affected performance. So, finding your sweet spot is integral into your prerace preparation.

Why should you shake it out?

Although pretty much everything else about the how and when of shakeouts is ambiguous, at least the why is a bit better understood. A shakeout run is great for many reasons:

  1. It helps to stimulate circulation and the neuromuscular system, meaning your body is better primed for a hard effort. On top of this it allows you to shake off any stiffness that you may have gained from travelling from afar or sitting for too long at work.
  2. It helps ease the pre-race jitters, so you go into the start with a focused rather than nervous energy.
  3. It helps get the bowels moving so you’re not getting 15minutes into the race only to realize that you need to go. Like now.
  4. It’s fun, and social. When not done at 3am.

Test it out for yourself the next time you have a race, or a hard effort planned. You may find that with just a little extra running, you have the race of your life. And if not – Shake it off, cause there’s always another one.

Have you had any experience with shakeout runs? Would you recommend doing one? We would love to hear your feedback and to share your experiences with the RUN community. Until then, Happy RUNNING!

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