“Tune-up races” are a key part of any solid marathon training plan and have plenty of benefits. Although the long runs, tempo efforts, lactate threshold repetitions and interval sessions are designed to improve your marathon specific fitness, there really is no other way to recreate race day feelings than to step on the start line.
A Tune-up race is simply a race at full effort or close to full effort, in the build-up to your main A-race marathon which will help prepare you mentally to race.
After many weeks of grinding out the miles, a well-timed hard race effort will not only act as a great training stimulus but will also serve as a good secondary goal and provide some very healthy competition. It is also fun, can give you a solid confidence boost and it acts as the perfect dress rehearsal for your main target marathon/A-Race.
A typical marathon training program will require you to gradually increase the number of miles ran at your target race pace. Some people find it very difficult to run long efforts at race pace without the pressure of competition and the effects of race day.
A well timed Half Marathon can help you achieve the race pace effort you’re looking for with the added benefit of fun! It will also give you the opportunity to test your race day preparations and you’ll notice you find it much easier to push yourself during a race.
When to do a Tune-up race?
Planning or factoring in a Tune-up race is very simple. When you select your main target marathon, work back between 3 and 5 weeks and find a well-placed half marathon.
Races of 15k-25k provide the greatest physiological and psychological benefits for a marathon and you will need to take 4-5 easy days after the race before your next hard session or long run.
Tune up races make great dress rehearsals
Try to make the preparation as similar as you will for your marathon. Try to keep the following choices in the preceding days:
✓ Carb loading-depleting
✓ Shoe choice
✓ Sleep pattern
If anything goes wrong, the Tune-Up race isn’t your primary objective and you can make changes before your target A-race.
In the week’s leading up to your marathon it’s easy to lose focus and make hasty decisions instead of trusting in your process. Although tried and tested by many something as individual as diet, in particular carb depleting-loading is better to trial run, test and improve rather than go deep into the unknown when you’re mentally pretty vulnerable.
In addition, especially if this is your first marathon it’s easy to predict that you’re going to have pre-race nerves which often affect your sleep the night before.
My personal advice:
✓ Bank as much sleep as you can in the week or two weeks leading up to your race – Sleep is key for performance but one bad night’s sleep the night before a race isn’t a big deal if you are well rested.
Test out your taper or run on tired legs!
There are two schools of thought in relation to Tune up races –
✓ Either you train through the race and do the race on tired legs OR
✓ Perform a “mini-taper” and perform near your best.
My advice is that if you lower the volume of your mileage by around 20-25% in the 4-5 days preceding your Tune-up race including lowering the total volume of your mid-week harder sessions, then you can effectively train through your Tune-up race.
That way you don’t miss out on key training stimulus but at the same time you freshen your legs up a little to be able to give close to your best, plus you give yourself a great training stimulus in your Tune-up race!
Where your program suggests 8x800m, perhaps lower to 4-5 x 800m.
Take Home Message
The final advice is to enjoy your Tune-up race! Some marathon training programs can be as long as 24 weeks, that’s nearly half a year of training alone towards a single objective.
Another race, together with the masses, is where you can put into practice everything you have trained for so far should be fun!