On race day before a 42km race, I would go for a light 5-10 minute jog. I’d do that in an area away from the race precinct; somewhere quiet, just to be alone. I’d involve some short sprints to pick the pace up, walk back, do another short sprint. When you go for a light jog, it helps you identify any tightness. You can then stop, stretch your calf, hamstring or quad and then jog again. It’s a bit like dialing into your body and just making sure everything, including your breathing, is fine.
At the top end you’re running close to three minutes per kilometre. It’s hard to do that with no prep. The warm-up pumps you up a bit, gets you ready, gets you fired up, puts you in the zone. For me, the warm-up’s psychological benefits possibly outweighed any physiological advantages. Obviously you’re not going to get any fitness out of it, it’s just an opportunity to think about what you’re about to do.
With the marathons at the top end, you’re either going for a win, or you’re going for a time; depends on what opposition you’re up against, and what sort of shape you’re in. At the end of the day, most elite marathoners have a very strong feel for what they’re capable of pace-wise. When the gun goes off, you have an idea of what kilometre pace you’re going to be maintaining throughout the 42km. If you’re in a very competitive race and the gun goes off and half-a-dozen guys just tear off down the road at some ridiculous pace, you just know yourself that’s not sustainable – you just can’t do that. So sometimes you have to literally run your own race.
If you’re in another marathon where you’re the favourite and better than the other runners and you just want to go for the win, it’s more than likely you’ll be feeling pretty much in control from when the gun goes off because you’re going to be running slightly within yourself. So it really depends on the runners you’re up against.