Marathon Monday: Add Races to Marathon Training

Happy Monday, friends! How was your Fourth of July weekend?

Today’s post is part of an on-going series about all aspects of marathon training. If you want to catch up, you can find all Marathon Monday posts here.

Part of my Independence Day festivities included participating in a virtual 5K/10K Run Ride Hydrate race with Nuun Hydration. I serve as an ambassador for Nuun and just love their hydration products. I never finish a run without enjoying a glass of Tri Berry Nuun or another refreshing flavor. Nuun invited all of their athletes, employees, and ambassadors to race together from everywhere across the country to benefit Girls on the Run. 

Naturally, I immediately wanted to run this race when I received the invitation. However, I knew I would be a few weeks into marathon training, so I wanted to carefully balance racing with my training. Since currently I still have three months until the Portland Marathon, I was obviously not worried about pushing myself too hard before the race.

(I know I could have just ran the 10K as an easy run, but I am competitive and a bit of an all-or-nothing type, so of course I had to race it if I signed up.)

Whether it is a virtual race, a charity 5K, or a bucket-list destination race, the chances are high during the 12-18 weeks of a training cycle that there will be a race you want to run. However, the chances are also high that if you are in the middle of training, you have your sights set on a PR or completing a new distance. You don’t want a race to exhaust you from a whole week of training or to push yourself too hard too many times before your goal race.

A majority of elite runners do not actually race frequently, nor do many top coaches or training programs advise racing frequently while you are training for a goal race. The all-out effort of racing is hard on the body and requires more recovery time than a normal speed, tempo, or long run. Even if you plan on running the race at an easy effort, the adrenaline of race day can quickly alter those plans and you will find yourself pushing the pace. So how do you add races to marathon training without compromising your training?

Add Races to Marathon Training


Race early in your training cycle.

Any good training plan builds progressively. The earlier weeks call for less mileage and lower intensity, while the weeks closer to the race demand high mileage and race-specific workouts. It makes the most sense to run a race when you have less fatigue in your legs, less challenging workouts with specific paces to run, and more flexibility in your training schedule.

Additionally, racing early in your training cycle can assist you in setting specific goals for your primary race and provide a baseline from which you can pace your workouts during training. This baseline is particularly beneficial for new runners who are not quite sure of how fast they should be running. More experienced runners can benefit from this as well, as it provides an honest assessment of your current fitness and helps you pinpoint your strengths and weaknesses for the training cycling.

As I’ve mentioned several times, I’ve set the goal of running a Boston Qualifying (BQ) time at the Portland Marathon. For women my age (18-34), the BQ standard is 3:35:00 or faster, roughly an 8:12 minute per mile average pace or faster. For the Run Ride Hydrate 10K, I ran a time of 46:12 seconds (7:27/mile average pace). This time provides me with both a baseline for my speed work and a reality check on my marathon goal. To determine your training paces and what your equivalent times would be for other race distances, simply plug your time into a calculator such as the Jack Daniels VDOT Calculator or the McMillan Calculator. The calculators will give you different equivalent race times; as a rule of thumb, the McMillan assumes you are faster at shorter distance races, while the Jack Daniels Calculator is the better fit for endurance runners who can lock into a pace and hold it for miles.

Since I tend to run better at longer distances than shorter races and am training for a long distance event, I opted to use the Jack Daniels Calculator. The race equivalency table indicated that I should be able to run a 3:32 marathon, which affirms that my goal is not completely out of my reach.

Add Races to Marathon Training

Switch out an appropriate workout for the race.

The Hansons Marathon Method recommends switching out a hard workout, not an easy run, if you wish to add races to marathon training. Running a race, even just a 5K, would put too much stress on your body in one week and make it more difficult for you to properly recover for the next week of training. Instead, run the race in place of the most similar workout: a 5K in place of speed work, a 10K or half marathon instead of a tempo run, and a half marathon or (if you really must) a marathon instead of a long run. If you need to add on extra miles to get to your scheduled total for the day, run a couple very easy miles as a warm-up and cool-down (which you should already be doing for any intense workout). Of course, races will not always fall on the same day of the week as your speed or tempo workout, so you will likely have to move around your schedule a bit. Just be sure to adjust the rest of your week so you are not doing hard runs on back-to-back days.

For example, I ran my 10K race in place of the 6 mile goal pace workout on my training plan and kept the day before and the day after at very easy paces. 

While you will taper for your goal race, you do not want to forgo important training miles for a taper for a race during your marathon training. Instead, keep the effort of your easy runs very easy before and after the race, but do not decrease your weekly mileage unless you experience any pain from racing.  

Use the race as a tune-up race.

A smaller race during your training can help you prepare for your goal race. During the smaller race, practice taking your fuel of choice and drinking water while running fast. This can help you avoid any frustrations, under-fueling problems, and GI distress on the day of your goal race. You can also rehearse mental mantras, pacing strategies, and your gear selections during this practice race. Learn more about running a practice race on your training here

Portland Marathon Training Week 5

Monday: AM: 8 miles on the treadmill, 1-2% incline. 2.5 mile warm-up, 5 x 1000 m at a 6:58/mile pace (4:20, 4:20, 4:20, 4:20, 4:20), 1.25 mile cool down.  PM: Recovery yoga and 10 minutes Pilates. 

Tuesday: AM: 6 miles easy, 8:55/mile. PM: Lower body and core strength training. 

Wednesday: 7 miles easy, 9:23/mile.

Thursday: Run Ride Hydrate 10K, 46:12 (7:27/mile), with a 2 mile warm-up and 0.8 mile cool down for 9 miles total. This was a 4 minute PR from the last 10K I ran back in April 2014! 

Add Races to Marathon Training

Friday: 6 miles recovery on the treadmill, 10:00/mile, 0-5% incline for rolling hills. 

Saturday: AM: 12 mile long run, 8:26/mile. PM: 7 miles hiking in the Cascades, 1300 ft vertical gain. 

47 miles total for the week.

Add Races to Marathon Training

[Tweet “Learn how to add shorter races to your marathon training via @thisrunrecipes #fitfluential #runchat”]

Questions of the Day:
Did you run long or race this weekend?
Do you normally race while training for a goal race?
What did you do for the Fourth of July?

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26 Responses

  1. Last year I did a half about 6 weeks before my marathon, which fit in pretty well as I just cut back my long run that week. I have had the same 10k PR for over 2 years now, and I have actually beaten it on training runs so I really need to race a 10k! I am doing one in August but it is extremely hilly so not sure if it will be the best course for racing. Great week of training!

  2. Great post Laura, very helpful information here. I am sure many people will be able to take a lot from it. I am glad you made the right choice, and yes, elites do have to pick and choose as we run so hard when we can race. Thanks for bringing that up. Thats such a fun thing to do though 🙂 Training is going well,I like it!

  3. Helpful post, thanks. I’m doing a 10k on 8/1, which is the weekend of the first week of my marathon plan – I’ve never raced within a training cycle before, so I’ll look at your tips. Good luck on your BQ, seems like you’re on track!

  4. Congrats on another great week of training and an excellent virtual 10K time! You are going to get that BQ. I hit my BQ time by 54 minutes last year, but to get in the past two years runners have needed to secure their time by 1:02 and 1:38 respectively so a 3:32 would be a safer bet. I have no doubt you can and will hit that or better 🙂 Also, nice tips on racing. As a coach I agree with these tips. I’m ok with a 5K or 10K a few times throughout, especially as the week’s tempo run and to gauge speed work adjustments. A half marathon about 6 weeks out for a dress rehearsal is also nice. I’m a big fan of racing less and racing stronger 🙂 Wish we could train together!!!! Keep up the great work. xo

    1. Thank you, Jesica! The narrow BQ security window does make me nervous. And I’m glad to hear that you agree with the tips! Race less and race stronger is my philosophy as well! Wish we could train together also! 🙂

  5. I try to incorporate at least one or two races into my training cycles, but generally as part of a long run. But then again, I don’t do a lot of races (cheap and also cursed, lol). This cycle, I don’t know what is really going to happen, but I hope I’ll get something in!

  6. I just finished week 1 of NYCM training so my long run was just 10 miles. But I was able to get them in on Nantucket, so the change of scenery made the run fly by! I always race when training, and I usually do a half marathon tune up 3-4 weeks out from marathon day. I find it’s a great way to practice fueling and pacing. Great tips! Love the series : )

    1. Nantucket sounds so beautiful for running! And yes, practicing fueling and pacing is so important, especially because those can so easily mess up a race. Glad you’re enjoying the series!

  7. I’m training for a half marathon (with about 10 weeks to go..) and have been using some 5K and 10K races to help improve my speed. I know what you mean about recovery though. The 10K races seem to take a few days to recover from. I was thinking of running a half marathon Rock n Roll race in a few weeks just for fun, but as you say, the adrenaline can take over, so I might have to give it a miss..

  8. I always like to do a half marathon about halfway through my marathon training! It mixes things up a bit, and that’s when I like to try new pre-run drinks or mid-run gummies. That way if it doesn’t agree with me, I’m not ruining my marathon over it! My first half marathon ever I drank Gatorade on the course when I had never had it during a run before – let’s just stay it didn’t stay in my stomach long…YUCK! Luckily then I knew to avoid it like the plague during my marathon!

    1. Gatorade is so rough on tummies, I can never tolerate it! Good idea to race to practice fuel – you’re so right, a bad half is more bearable than a bad marathon.

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