Q+A: Why do I feel sluggish early in races?

Our experts answer real-life questions


Posted: 9 September 2000
by Bud Baldaro

Q. Whenever I race, I find that I feel sluggish during the first few miles. Can you give me some tips to speed me up during the all-important opening section of a race?

A. The first thing you need to look at is your pre-race warm-up. If you don’t warm up and get yourself ready to run, you’re bound to feel sluggish. Your muscles will be tight, your lungs will be struggling to keep up with the demands you’re putting on them, and, by and large, you’ll feel terrible. And feeling bad at the start of a race is a pretty sure way to feel bad at the end!

You can’t expect your body to go straight from standing still to, say, eight-minute miling. Instead, coax it up to speed. Begin with 10-15 minutes of very gentle running. Once you’ve done this, run four to six reasonably quick strides. Over the six strides, try to build up to roughly the speed you hope to run during the race. This way it won’t come as a shock to the system when the gun goes. (It wouldn’t do any harm to do a few of these strides after long runs as well.)

After the strides, give yourself at least five minutes to relax and compose yourself before the start – sit somewhere quiet, listen to some music, perhaps even visualise having a great race. Being tense and nervous at the start can also contribute to your sluggish feeling.

Another tip is to make sure that you’ve had enough sleep in the build-up to the run. Concentrate on getting plenty of rest in the week beforehand, and especially two nights before the race. And don’t turn up at the start just a few minutes after getting out of bed – you want to be wide awake when you arrive.

Of course, you also need to make sure you’re ready to compete. And as the starts of races tend to be quick, it’s well worth training for them. Include some short interval work in your training. After a good warm-up, run 6-10 x 30- to 45-second efforts with a pre-determined rest between each repetition. Progress by increasing the speed of such efforts or increasing the number or reducing the recovery – only change one variable at a time though.

Bud Baldaro, coach and RW Contributing Editor


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