The Warm-up Factor

Ever lace up your shoes and head out the door, only to have that the first mile blow you away with how easy and natural it feels, then look down to find a fabulously fast time on your watch at the end of it?

Neither have I.

In fact, I usually feel like the first part of every run is a total slog, calling into question whether I have any business being out there; if I shouldn’t just pack it in and head for the couch. Other runners I’ve talked to say the same thing.

Run with a GPS though, set to show current pace, and you may be able to watch what’s happening. Going out strong, that first mile pace is likely a full minute (or two) slower than your brain says it ‘should be.’ Get distracted by the traffic, the scenery, music or thoughts, and the next mile comes up faster, with the same perceived effort, and the next one may be quicker still.

More than reading any articles or books, observing those times has proven to me that there really is such a thing as warming-up – that first few minutes (or at my age, fifteen!) when the body is shifting gears, re-allocating resources and getting its bio-chemical support systems up to full operation. Getting on a treadmill with a heart rate monitor tells a similar story – for the first few minutes my heart rate seems way higher than it should be, even at a moderate pace, then gradually settles down. Halfway thru the workout, I find myself running a faster pace at a lower heart rate – and with less perceived effort.

Recognizing this can play into strategy for events. For short distances, make sure you are thoroughly warmed-up before the start. That’ll make every measured mile count in your favor, and since it’s a short event, you don’t have to worry about your warm-up draining energy reserves enough that it might hurt overall performance.

For a longer event, where stamina is the key and a slow start can get evened out over many miles, you may choose only a minimal warm-up, and let the rest happen in the first part of the event, conserving your body’s reserves for the long haul. That’s especially true in mass starts, where you’re going to be held back by the crowd anyway, so you may as well let that initial ‘Times Square Shuffle’ be your intro.

Any way you play it though, recognizing the Warm-up Factor can help reduce that ‘what was I thinking?!?’ reflex to a minimum.

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