During week after week of marathon training, we test our limits and prepare ourselves for running 26.2 miles as best we can. No matter the workout—whether it’s fast intervals around the track, a steady hard-effort tempo, a long run endurance builder, an easy shakeout or a super-slow recovery run—every time we lace up our shoes we run purposefully and with our marathon goal in mind. These runs all tell us something about ourselves and give us an idea of what to expect on marathon day, but no one singular effort will teach us nearly as much as a tune-up race. For that reason, I like to run a race (anything from a 10K to a half marathon distance, ideally) a few weeks before I toe the starting line at a marathon.
It’s almost time for my cadet Kristi to run her first marathon in Chicago! A couple weeks ago she did a local half marathon as part of her longest run ever, doing a few miles before and a few miles after the race. She practiced her fueling and hydration, tested shoes and apparel and ran longer than she ever had before in one single effort. It was tough—but she persevered and rocked it. Kristi is now cruising into her taper knowing that she can tackle 26.2 miles along the streets of Chicago!
If a race before your race sounds like too much, think of a tune-up as an opportunity to have fun doing what you love, and learn something in the process!
A late-cycle race gives the chance to practice race day logistics. What are you going to eat the day and night before your race, and the morning of? What will you wear and carry in your race day bag? What will you eat and drink during the race? Addressing all of these questions at a tune-up race gives you more confidence when it’s time for your marathon.
Testing, testing 1-2-3
A tune-up race is a fitness test. Whether you decide to race it all-out and see how well you can run that particular distance, or you use it as a chance to practice a goal marathon pace, it’s an opportunity to test your fitness. It’s also a valuable reality check and opportunity to examine marathon day expectations. Running a tune-up at marathon pace requires a great deal of self-control that will come in handy on marathon day. Pushing to your limits will perhaps show you are capable of more than you realized. Whatever the outcome, learn from it and adapt your marathon goal to your current fitness.
Keep Calm & Carry On
Toeing the line before the big day can really help with easing nerves about how things will go and how you will handle the unexpected on race day. Doing a test run builds our confidence in our abilities to stay strong and relaxed when things don’t go how we envisioned they would.