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Confidence-Building Workouts From The Pros

Four top runners share the sessions that let them know they're ready to race.

Four top runners share the sessions that let them know they’re ready to race. 

Every runner has those key workouts from which they draw the most confidence; the ones that solidify in their minds that they are ready to execute on race day. These workouts not only provide important physical benefits, but perhaps even bigger mental ones. In the moments just prior to a race when we wonder, “Am I ready?” or  “Am I going to be able to do this?” we can look back at our training and answer confidently, “Yes!”

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Confidence is key, but it’s a fickle beast. When you have one of ‘those’ workouts under your belt, however, they seem to quiet that voice of doubt. Here are some go-to workouts of choice from four top pros, who battle the same nerves as everyone else on the starting line.

1) Tera Moody’s 15 Mile Marathon-Paced Workout

  • The Workout: “I would say one that makes me feel ready is a 15 mile marathon paced run in the middle of an 18-20 mile run.”
  • The Confidence: “It’s so intimidating when I start but after its over I feel really ready because I figure if I can handle 15 miles at race pace solo and untapered I am ready to go.”
  • The Results: Moody placed fifth in the 2008 US Olympic Marathon trials and now holds a 2:30:53 PR for the event.
  • Why it Works: Moody likes to do this workout on the treadmill because, “I train mostly alone and find it really hard to do this type of run solo. The treadmill helps keep me on pace and since I’ve done it that way several times I can compare the times.”

2) Josh Cox’s ‘Marathon Simulation’ Workout

  • The Workout: “10-12 miles at a good clip (5:45-6:15 pace), then we have the option of changing into our racing flats or just rolling straight into the final 8-10 miles at close to goal marathon race pace 4:55-5:20, capping it off with 2 miles easy. As we near race day we’ll add in a few 200 meter sprints before running the final 2 mile cool down.” To put things in perspective for a mortal runner aiming to run a 2:40 marathon, aim for those first 10-12 miles at 7 minute pace before cutting down to 6:10-6:20 pace for the next 8-12 miles before cooling down for 2 miles.
  • The Confidence: Cox shares that this workout stands out in his mind because, “It simulates the marathon, mentally and physically, like no other run.”
  • The Results: Post-workout Cox was able to roll out a stellar 2:13 marathon on three occasions, it then ushered him into winning the 2011 PR Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona enroute to his American Record-setting 50k (2:43:45).
  • Why it Works: “The workout simulates race day and the fatigued feeling one has from the 30k to the marathon finish…[it’s] a dry run for race day. From what we eat the day before and the morning of, to what we wear: singlet, shorts, socks, etc. The idea is to get race day to be a ‘turn-key’ as possible.”

3) Renee Metivier Baillie’s 10 x 500m

  • The Workout: “10x500m with 45 second rest at (Boulder, CO) altitude.” The resulting splits, when added together, were adept at translating to a 5k race time down at sea-level.
  • The Confidence: Before moving up to the marathon distance, Baillie credits this as the workout she relied on to best gauge her 5k fitness as living at altitude could sometimes make it tricky to extrapolate sea-level race times.
  • The Results: Used since college, she earned an NCAA Indoor 3k Championship Medal and stakes claim to a the 15:15.78 PR in the 5k. Most recently she ran a 2:27 at the 2012 Chicago Marathon.
  • Why it Works: “That workout was certainly a confidence booster,” explains Baillie. Interestingly though, upon switching to the marathon, “it now seems so short compared to my marathon workouts! That being said, I believe specificity is the key in any workout to build confidence that you are ready to race.”

4) Sara Vaughn’s 3 x 800m

  • The Workout: “The workout I like to do before a big race is 3x800m with 3 minutes rest starting at race pace and finishing a bit faster. If I can hit that workout, I know I’m ready to race.”
  • The Confidence: “The feeling of this workout is very much like a race. I like going out on pace and feeling somewhat controlled and comfortable the first 800m, not hectic. The middle one is tough and takes some focus to get through. The last 800m, you can really test your finishing kick.”
  • The Results: “I ran this workout the week before the Trials, where I had two great rounds, making it to the final, and where I really had to use that kick when I was tired.”
  • Why it Works: “I know for sure this workout is a physical and psychological boost. It’s always hard, and there’s always a section where I think I can’t do it. Breaking through that wall in a workout builds a ton of confidence. It also helps for perspective…I do each of the intervals at a pace that is faster than what my PR for 800m used to be. It reminds me that I’ve come a long way!”

About The Author:

Caitlin Chock set the then National High School 5k Record (15:52.88) in 2004. Still an avid runner, she works as a freelance writer and artist.