Tune-up races are a key part of your training cycle if you are looking for a personal record (PR) in your next race. They are a great way to check in on your training, so you can see if you need to make any tweaks before the big day. Tune-up races are also a great way to experiment with anything new you may want to try on race day.
What is a Tune-up Race?
A tune-up race is kind of like a dress rehearsal for race day, but at a shorter distance. Tune-up races give you the chance to assess your training to date and to play around with things that you are looking to do on race day– think fueling, hydration, race outfit, etc.
Tune-up races should be scheduled strategically in your training cycle–not just races you to decide to do on the spur of the moment. For example, if you pick up any of the more popular half marathon training plans, you will probably notice a 5k race around the 6 week mark and a 10k around the 9 weeks mark. If you are going for the marathon distance, you will likely see a half marathon race on your calendar at the half way mark!
The length of your tune-up race depends on the length of your goal race. If you are racing a 5k, you won’t need a tune-up race, since it’s such a short distance. If you go above that distance, it can be helpful to add a tune-up race to your schedule. Let’s say you are training for a 10k (typically 8 week training block), and it’s not your first time doing the distance, you might race a 5k at 4 weeks and an 8k at 6 weeks. If you don’t feel like doing both, you could just pick one.
A sample of tune-up race distances for the half marathon would be as follows: 5k (6 weeks) and 10k (9 weeks). Since marathon training takes a lot out of your body, just stick with the half marathon midway through your training plan.
What You Can Learn From Your Tune-up Race
Assess training progress to date
Running a tune-up race is a great way to see how your training has progressed. For example, if you are training for a half marathon and you race the 10k and feel absolutely horrible; you may want to determine if there’s something missing in your training. Are you over tired because you’re running your long runs too quickly? Did you not drink enough? Did you fuel for your long run appropriately??
After you complete your race, do an evaluation of your pre-race, race, and post-race routines. Is there anything you would change, or are you happy with the result and right on track? Tune-up races are a great learning tool!
How to Manage Race-day Jitters
Everyone gets the inevitable pre-race jitters (or at least every runner I know!). Sprinkling a race or two into your race training will help you go through the race day experience and learn to manage the anxiety that comes along with it. Race day jitters can be a good thing, but it’s also important to learn how to relax your body as much as possible and not let anxiety get the best of you on race day.
You work hard in training to learn how to pace yourself and execute a race day plan, and you don’t want to blow it by crashing and burning during the first half of the race. Use your tune-up race to practice race day visualization and staying as loose and relaxed as possible pre-race. It’s also a good time to perfect your pre-race warm-up routine– depending on the race distance, do a short jog and some strides.
Learn to push your limits
Racing also helps you learn to push your limits. Sometimes in a race, you are too conservative and feel like you could have pushed more; other times, you feel like you went out too fast and crashed and burned. When you do a practice or tune-up race, you can make those mistakes and learn from them BEFORE your big day.
When you get more comfortable pushing your body a bit, it will be easier to do on race day. You will know what it feels like to run hard at race pace. Having a tune-up race or two will give you some race-day confidence under your belt. Get ready to run your best race!
Do YOU incorporate tune-up races into your training plans?