How long should you warm up for before a tough workout?

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I’m training for my second marathon, and lately I’ve been running a three-mile warm-up before my speed workouts, which are usually once or twice a week. Is a three-mile warm-up too long?

A three-mile warm-up is long, however that doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad thing. While a one-mile warm-up is usually adequate before most speed workouts, what’s more important is your intention behind that longer priming period. If your goal in doing a longer warm-up is to increase your total weekly mileage, this can be a great way to get in a few more miles. The slower, easier pace is kinder and gentler on the body as opposed to lengthening the speed portion of your workout.

When doing specific speed workouts, you should have a goal pace to target. Take note of your pace during these faster sessions and be sure you are hitting these prescribed paces. If you are, then you can be assured that the longer warm-up is not detracting from your workout. In fact, since you are training for a marathon, these longer workouts should help you achieve your marathon goals. If your legs feel tired and you’re not hitting those paces, then it is possible the longer warm-up is taking too much out of your before you even start.

Recovery is also important, so look for signs of overtraining when running higher mileage. A higher than normal resting heart rate, aches or pains, lack of motivation, a higher than normal perceived exertion level or missing your times on your workouts can all be signs of overdoing it.  If that happens, take some recovery time, reassess and cut back on mileage where you can.

Another option for increasing weekly mileage is to add on during the cooldown phase of your run. Again, this can help simulate the marathon experience by helping you become accustomed to running on tired legs. Speed workouts are typically three to five miles in length, so running a two or three mile warm-up and a one mile cooldown could give you a total of six to nine miles, which is not bad for a weekday training run.