Most people will warm up an hour to 30 minutes before they race. They may walk the course, or go out for a jig jog to get loosened up and warm enough to stretch. This is normally a good idea and I do not want to in any way discourage this practice. In fact, that is how I normally prepare for a race.
Another strategy, though, is to not wait until right before the race to do your warm up. Instead, you should go out for a mile or three when you first wake up and before you head to the race to begin with. How much you run first thing in the morning depends upon your level of fitness and the race you are preparing for. If you are racing in the evening, then this advice can still apply, but it will not be exactly the same thing unless you run just a few hours before the race.
Running first thing in the morning will wake your muscles up and prime them. You’ll have blood flowing a little easier a little earlier, and you will feel peppier after you get to the race. The car ride and standing in line to register will not bother you quite as much. Your digestion will get moving a little earlier as well, especially if you do the run before breakfast.
I will be the first to admit, that I rarely do this anymore. I used to do it on a regular basis in college before cross country meets, especially if we stayed in a hotel the night before the race. The team that I joined when I moved to Maine, Run to Win, was coached by Brian “Ziggy” Gillespie; Brian always wanted us to run first thing in the morning. I always raced well and enjoyed the experience when I did it, but getting up that extra half hour to an hour early just never seems to happen. This is funny coming from somebody who has no trouble getting up at 4:30 am if he has to.
If you do decide to give this a try, be sure that you still do your normal warm up before the race itself. This is not a replacement for the normal warm up, it is a supplement to it. Come back afterwards and let us all know how it worked out for you.