How to Use Races as Tune-Ups for Your Training

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Whether it is your first 13.1 or a big goal race, running shorter tune-up races before the big day is a smart strategy. You can use the race to practice all kinds of things from gear to nutrition to pacing.

Coaches often prescribe tune-up races in their training schedules for runners in order to assess fitness levels and get feedback about perceived effort.

Additionally, these race-before-the-big-race can serve as confidence boosters when going after a bigger goal. Here’s how to make them work for you:


The shortest of the regular race circuit offerings, the 5K is a great time to test speed obviously. Nix your speed workout for the week leading up to the race and substitute the 5K.

Depending on where you are at in your training schedule, tack on extra miles in the beginning to give yourself the feeling of perceived race effort while amidst the race.


This distance is the perfect length to substitute a tempo run if the goal race is a half marathon. With a 1-2 mile warm-up and 1-2 mile cool down, it is an excellent way to also get a longer run in on the weekend.

If your goal race is more than 6 weeks away, runners can safely race hard without an detriment to their recovery for the goal race. If you are inside the 6 week window, proceed with caution about hitting your maximum speed.


While not as popular as 5Ks and 10Ks, the 10 mile distance is the best race to get in a long run for a half marathon goal race. Especially if you can hold back your pace and truly run at your easy long pace, this race distance is a great place to test things such as gear and nutrition.

Half marathons

For runners who have a marathon or even an ultra-marathon on the horizon, a half marathon is a great tune-up distance.

It can serve as distance to test your fitness, be a fun way to squeeze in a long run (with warm up and cool down miles), or a perfect distance to test marathon pace miles.


A select group of high mileage marathoners will use a marathon as a long run and simulate the goal pace through a portion of the race. However, it is far more common for ultra marathoners to use this distance as a way to tackle long runs.

They can enjoy the perks of hydration stops and the satisfaction of crossing a finish line while en route to their big goal race.

Carissa Liebowitz has run the Boston Marathon as well as dozens of marathons and half marathons. You can follow her running adventures on StravaInstagram and her blog.

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