You picked your goal race for the season and you have already put in weeks of hard training, but your race feels weeks away. You’re eager to test your fitness and enjoy a race atmosphere – so why not run a tune-up race? When done correctly, a tune-up race can boost your fitness and your confidence before a goal race.
The Benefits of Running Tune-up Races
What exactly is a tune-up race? A tune-up race is a race run in preparation for a goal race. It is not a goal race itself but rather incorporated into training for the bigger race.
A tune-up race is not a necessary part of training. If you don’t want to run one or it doesn’t work out for your schedule, there is no need to stress. However, many runners find that it helps them prepare both mentally and physically for their goal race. For many runners, long training cycles become monotonous. Tune-up races interject excitement and variety from the normal weekend long runs or workouts.
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 refine your pacing strategy.
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.
Finally, a tune-up race can provide a physiological boost before a big goal race. Whether you race it or treat it as a workout, the hard effort will give you a huge fitness boost. Just be sure you recover well from the tune-up race; without recovery, you won’t adapt.
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, with the exception of the 5K, in which you use other 5Ks as tune-up races.
- Goal race: 5K; Tune-up race: 5K. Since you can recover quickly from a 5K race, you can race one every few weeks. Have your last tune-up race 2 to 4 weeks before your goal race. This allows you time to recover, sharpen with a few more workouts, and save your mental strength for race day.
- Goal race: 10K; Tune-up race: 5K. A 5K as a tune-up race for a 10K can provide an assessment of your fitness or serve as a hard workout. The 5K also teaches you to be more comfortable with the pain of short distance racing, which is valuable before a 10K.
- Goal race: Half Marathon; Tune-up race: 10K. Racing a 10K in the three to six weeks before your half marathon will provide an accurate assessment of your fitness. You can race it or run it at goal half marathon pace – either will be beneficial.
- Goal race: Marathon; Tune-up race: Half Marathon. A tune-up half marathon should occur four to 10 weeks before your goal marathon. Whether you race it or treat it as a workout, the half marathon serves for your long run that week (you can add a few miles before or after).
- Goal race: 50K and beyond; Tune-up race: Marathon. For ultra runners, marathons provide the opportunity for a supported long run. If you are doing your long runs alone, the company can be welcome! A trail marathon can also give you the chance to complete a long event on terrain similar to your ultra. If you are using a marathon in preparation for an ultra, resist the temptation to race it – you want to be able to recover quickly and resume your high mileage training. A tune-up marathon should be three weeks or more before your ultra.
How to Incorporate Tune-up Races into Your Training
Depending on the timing of your tune-up race, your fitness level, and your recovery rate, you can take one of multiple approaches:
- Race it. If your tune-up race is more than four weeks out from your goal race, you can race it. Racing a 5K or a 10K as a tune-up involves treating the race as one of your weekly workouts and maybe scaling back your long run for the week. If you do race a half marathon as a tune-up for a marathon, include a mini-taper in the week leading up and then recover with a few days easy running. Racing a tune-up race provides an accurate assessment of your fitness. This approach can also reveal areas for improvement. Does your mid-race fuel sit well on your stomach when running at a hard intensity? Do you need to improve your mental game?
- Run it was a workout. You can treat a 5K or 10K as a tempo run. For a half marathon tune-up, you can do a workout (such as one of these) within the race and use the first few miles as a warm-up. Be creative! This approach works well for runners who enjoy racing frequently throughout a training cycle.
- Run it at goal race pace for your upcoming race. If you want to run a goal marathon at an 8:00/mile pace, one of the best ways to prepare for this is to run a half marathon at an 8:00/mile pace. This will teach you how to hold that pace for a long period of time. You can practice how to control your pace early on and then push the pace at the end when tired. In this approach, you do not taper for the race but treat it as a weekly workout and/or long run. A tune-up race at goal race pace also doubles as a peak workout. If you can hold half marathon pace for a 10K or marathon pace for a half marathon in the peak weeks of training (without it becoming an all-out race), it’s a good indication of how prepared you are for your goal race.
- Run it by perceived effort. If you frequently start out at a blazing pace and then bonk in a race, use tune-up races to refine your pacing abilities in a race setting. Cover up your GPS watch and use the race as an opportunity to practice your pacing. Use these strategies on how to pace a 5K or 10K race and how to pace a half marathon to guide you.
Do you run tune-up races when training for a goal race?