This post originally appeared on Runkeeper’s blog. I am an ambassador for Runkeeper and compensated in exchange for my work for them, including blog posts.
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. You certainly wouldn’t want to run a half marathon to tune up for a 5K! Rather, you want to choose a shorter distance or, if you are running a 5Kas your goal.
- 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 2 to 4 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 5K or 10K every 4 to 6 weeks throughout training for your goal race will provide an accurate assessment of your progress without interfering with your weekly workouts and training schedule. Ideally, you want to tune up with the 5K, but if you want to boost your confidence or practice pacing, then a tune up 10K will work as well.
- 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 3 to 5 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 4 to 8 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. Pick a racing strategy and follow it on race day – don’t let yourself get caught up in the excitement of the crowds and race it too hard.
- 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 and turn off your audio cues on your Runkeeper app. Instead, 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 was a workout. You can treat a 5K or 10K as a tempo run or do a workout within a half marathon and use the first 5K and last 5K as a warm up and cool down. Be creative! Using your race to do a workout will allow you to enjoy the race but prevent you from going all-out – especially if you set specific easy paces for your warm up and cool down miles.
- 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.
Linking up with Coaches’ Corner!
Do you run tune up races when training for a goal race?
What other advice would you offer on tune up races?