Monday, February 1, 2016

Should I Warm Up for a Race?

by Gina Kehr

There was a time when 500 people at a triathlon was a lot of people. It would be fair to say it was a BIG race. At that time, you could leave in and out of transition all the time, up until race start. I say this because at that time the leeway of the transition allowed for athletes to warm up in any manner they wanted. Now that races have become so much bigger, stricter rules have come into play. Bikes are not allowed to leave transition once they are in and some races take the swim warm up away, only giving you five minutes before your start. So how does one warm up for a triathlon? Is there a difference between each distance in what one needs? How do you decide what is best?

I remember getting so nervous about warm up. As a swimmer it is in engrained in you to have quite a lengthy warm up for your sub-5-minute event that doing a triathlon with no warm up seemed crazy.

Through my 21 years of racing and coaching I feel I have developed a good feel for what needs to happen in a warm up. As much as the stricter rules increased my anxiety when I was racing, it also helped because it eliminated options to have to worry about. While a warm up is an individual preference and should be tailored to what works for you, I do believe there are a few key points to consider when deciding what you will do.

  • The shorter the race the longer the warm up. A sprint distance tri will need more warm up then an ironman. A 5K run will need a longer warm up then a 10K. For a half and full ironman I will only suggest getting a run in before a swim warm up as it helps at the swim start.

  • Know ahead of time what you will be allowed to do on race morning. Will they allow a swim warm up? If so, how long and when does is open? Will they allow bike warm up? Many courses do not allow bike warm up due to traffic and having to close down roads on race morning. What time does transition close?

  • Always include a run with either pick-ups or strides to increase heart rate prior to the swim start.

With the above said, I have one general warm that I tailor to three types of athletes.

  1. The Experienced Athlete - If they have access to a trainer, some athletes will bike for 15-20 minutes first thing in the morning after they wake up if they won’t be able to bike at the race site. This helps wake up the body and will help the athlete warm up even better at the event site. If the athlete is a runner, he or she may go for an early run instead of the trainer ride. At the race site after the staging transition area, the athlete will go for a 10-20 minute run with pick up efforts. These efforts are intended to work on cadence and feeling good; they are not all out. The point is to get the heart rate up and get any lactate moving. The athlete then gets back to transition, grabs his or her wetsuit and heads to the water for a nice 10-15 minute easy swim with the option of a few pick up efforts. The athlete finishes warm up with about 15 minutes to spare.

  2. The Non-Swimmer - I keep this athlete from doing any long swimming in warm up as this sport causes fatigue. This athlete will have the option of the bike warm up noted above but will do the run warm up once transition is staged. If the athlete chooses to not bike, he or she will run at least 20 minutes with pickups to get heart rate pumping. After the run, the athlete will get his or her wetsuit and get in the water to get water through the suit, with a possible swim of about five minutes made up of 25-50 meter out and backs.

  3. The Beginner - This athlete will have the option on the warm up as the first time doing a triathlon can be overwhelming with the set up alone. If the athlete does do a run warm up it will only be 10 minutes with no pick ups. His or her focus is to make sure there is plenty of time at the start to get the wetsuit on and comfortable. The swim warm will be based on his or her swim experience but may only consist of swimming about 25-50 meters out and returning to shore and doing this several times.

Here are a few sample race morning itineraries to use as an reference, working backwards from the race start time.

8:00 am RACE START
7:45-7:50 - Done with swim warm up
7:30 - Back in transition to grab wetsuit and walk to swim start
7:00-7:10 - Leave for warm up run **KEY**
6:30-7:00 - Set up transition
6:15 - Arrive at race and walk to transition
5:30-6:00 - Leave for race site and give time to park (this changes pending on how far away you are)
5:00-5:30 - Eat
4:30-5:00 - Trainer (optional) and shower
4:15 - Wake up

8:00 am RACE START
7:45-7:50 - Done with swim warm up
7:30 - Back in transition to grab wetsuit and walk to swim start
7:00-7:10 - Leave for warm up run **KEY**
6:45-7:00 - Finish setting up transition
6:15-6:40 - Bike warmup
6:00 - Arrive at race and walk to transition and do small set up
5:15-5:45 - Leave for race site and give time to park (this changes pending on how far away you are)
4:45-5:15 - Eat
4:15 - Wake up and shower

I hope this gives you an idea of what may work for you as your pre-race routine the morning of the race.

I will leave you with this. The year it was suggested to me to run as a warm up for Ironman I thought it was crazy. But I listened and made my way to the back of King Kam and started running the long stretch of parking lot. To my surprise I saw most of the top 10 pros (men and women) whom I had been racing against year after year. Apparently, I was the late to the party...

Happy racing.


Gina Kehr was a professional athlete for 15 years, competing in events ranging from Olympic Trials to Ironman World Championships, where she achieved five Top 10 finishes in her career. She coaches athletes of all levels and all distances. Her experience comes from her journey as a novice age group triathlete who quickly worked her way to becoming an established professional triathlete. Gina also works with the Stanford Tri team, is a coach with Stanford Masters and leads a squad of short and long course athletes. You can read more about Gina at AffinityMultisport.com.
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