When I was in high school, we did most of our runs pretty fast (some runs under 7:00 pace). We were a pretty low mileage program so all of our runs were quality…and we were also really competitive and pushed the pace.
Before races, I always liked to run fast to get my legs ready to run the next day. We never did more than 20 minutes so we were always pretty rested. Even if I felt bad, I felt like I should be running fast. Slow running just resulted in slow racing.
When I went to college my freshman year at North Carolina State (a much higher mileage program), I remember overhearing the coaches saying that you don’t necessarily need to cut back on mileage before a race but rather the intensity.
NC State’s program was much higher mileage than what I was used and my pre-race runs became just as long (or longer!) as what my “regular” runs in high school used to be. How did that make sense? How could I be rested if I was still running far the day before a race? Clearly NC State didn’t know what they were talking about (totally kidding – NC State is home to the most reputable coaches in the NCAA, countless all-Americans, and many conference team titles). When I transferred to Richmond, our pre-race was more similar to my high school pre-race. We usually just ran the course and threw in a few strides and called it a day. I was content with that and no longer debated how long / fast pre-race runs should be.
It wasn’t until years later that I started thinking about this again. Before racing the Sweetheart 8k this year, I did a pre-race much longer than I am used to (35 minutes–seriously that’s a lot considering I usually just do 20) BUT I ran slower than I typically do. The run felt really nice and for once I wasn’t freaking out about distance or speed or feeling tired the next day. I left the run feeling happy and relaxed. The next day at the race, I felt great. 35 minutesdidn’t killed me after all. I felt like my life changed (yes, I know I am dramatic) and was looking forward to testing out if this “higher” mileage/slower pace pre-race routine could work for me (before I couldn’t run for awhile, ha). It was reassuring to know that I could slow it down and still feel good (not sluggish) the next day. I know additional factors go into pre-race tapering but the day before the race is what I always focus on.