You picked your goal race for the season and you have already put in weeks of hard training. But how can you be sure if you are on track for your goals for your upcoming race? You don’t want to try to race your goal distance before your race or burn yourself out with an incredibly hard training run. However, you can use tune-up races to assess your fitness and rehearse all of the details of pacing and fueling before your goal race.
What exactly is a tune-up race? A tune-up race is a race you use to practice for your goal race and build your confidence in your running fitness before your big race day. Let’s break down a tune-up race by the ideal distance, how you should pace it, and the benefits of including a tune-up race in your training.
Why should I include a tune-up race in my training?
A tune-up race is a practical opportunity to rehearse all the fine details of racing before your goal race. You can wear your outfit to ensure that it won’t chafe, practice your fueling and hydration strategy and learn how to avoid GI distress, and rehearse your pacing so you don’t go out too fast from the starting corral.
A tune-up race also offers mental benefits as well. You can learn how to conquer pre-race nerves, practice coping strategies for physical discomfort, and build confidence in your fitness for your goal race.
How far should my tune-up race be?
The distance of a tune-up race depends on the distance of your goal race.
- Goal race: 5K. Tune-up race: 5K. Since you can recover quickly from a 5K race, you can race one every few weeks during your training for your goal 5K. Have your last tune-up race two to four weeks before your goal race, so that you can recover, include a few more hard workouts, and save your mental strength for race day.
- Goal race: 10K. Tune-up race: 5K-10K. As with the 5K, the 10K does not require a long recovery period. However, you do not want to race a 10K as frequently leading up to your goal race. A 10K race every three to five weeks throughout training for your goal race will provide an accurate assessment of your progress without interfering with your weekly workouts and training schedule.
- Goal race: Half Marathon. Tune-up race: 10K. Even though the half marathon is over twice as long as the 10K, both races are run close to your tempo pace (lactate threshold). A 10K race three to give weeks before your half marathon will provide an accurate assessment of your fitness in order to help you set a goal race pace.
- Goal race: Marathon. Tune-up race: Half Marathon. The half marathon provides you an opportunity to practice your fueling and hydration strategy for the full marathon and rehearse all of your race day gear to ensure no chafing happens during your marathon. A tune-up half marathon should occur four to eight weeks before your goal marathon and should serve as your long run for that week.
What should my goal be for my tune-up race? Should I race it?
Your tune-up race is not your goal race of the season. You want to be able to resume training for your goal race without compromising recovery. While you may not all-out race a tune-up race, you still have multiple options for how to approach it in terms of pacing.
- Run it at goal race pace for your upcoming race. If you want to run a goal marathon at a 9:00/mile pace, one of the best ways to prepare for this is to run a half marathon at a 9:00/mile pace. This will teach you how to hold that pace for a long period of time and pace through the start, middle, and end of a race setting.
- Run it by feel. Cover up your GPS watch or turn off your audio cues and run the race based off of a combination of perceived effort and how you feel on that given day. Feel like pushing the pace a bit? Then allow yourself speed up near the end (but again, not quite all out for the entire race). Need an easy day? Then keep the race as a training run with no pressure on your finish time.
- Run it as a time trial. Time trials are an excellent way to assess your fitness. A race provides a pre-measured course and chip time for accurate measurements, which make its ideal for running a time trial. If you run a race as a time trial, be sure to include a warm up mile or two before the race begins. Run the race at a hard effort (but not all-out) and aim for consistent pacing. Once you have your finish time, you can plug it into a calculator and have an estimate goal time for your next race.
- Run it for fun. If you are running with a group of friends or in a beautiful destination, have fun and enjoy the race! Use the race to remember why you love running—a reminder which many of us need during the hard weeks of training for a goal.
A tune-up race is not a necessary part of training. However, many runners find that it helps them prepare both mentally and physically for their goal race. You don’t want to race so much that you detract from your training, but a well-planned tune-up race will benefit your running and offer a fun alternative to your normal training schedule before your goal race.
Photo Credit: Jesica D’Avanza