With May and June not far from view, many marathon runners are enjoying a few final spring races before beginning their 18-week treks towards a fall marathon date. For many, marathon training means isolation from racing in order to focus oneself solely on marathon prep. But this season, I encourage marathon runners to consider incorporating an appropriate amount of racing into their fall marathon build-up.
While there may only be one target race, there can be more than one race day. Races can serve to be intermediate steps along the way of a well-designed training plan.
Racing is Training
Every run, even races, are training efforts. Race day or not, there is a training adaptation anytime you head out to run. Racing can often be as specific of a workout as they come. A 5K race is often a great VO2 max training effort; a 10K or half marathon race can serve as an ideal tempo run effort. As long as the pace and distance match to the desired training benefit, the word “race” does not negate the training benefit of the run. When using races as training efforts, runners do need to stay committed to the training goal and avoid allowing a controlled effort to become more than it was intended.
Change Your Comfort Zone
When you get to marathon day, you want marathon pace to feel comfortable; you need to feel in control and well within your comfort zone through the race’s early stages. A hard 5K or 10K race effort a couple of months prior to your marathon can make marathon pace feel more comfortable and in control. The intense feeling of the shorter lead up race will stay with you on marathon day, and help you feel like you are on cruise control through your marathon’s early miles.
While I encourage marathon runners to join a local group training program, like the ones offered through the Chicago Area Runners Association, many will undoubtedly find themselves putting in a mountain of miles alone. While these lonely miles have their own challenge, they do lack any healthy external competition from peers to help push oneself to another level.
Signing up for a race gives the lonely weekday runner a wealth of weekend training partners. Using race day to let the competitive juices out that you had to hold in all week can allow for some great training efforts that will challenge your body and help it adapt to new fitness levels.
A progression of marathon paced runs is an important part of most training plans. Using local races to provide support for these long runs is a great way to make them happen successfully. You will not only have “training partners,” you will also have aid stations along the way, which allow you to practice proper fueling techniques. Using a 10K race to do your first marathon pace run about eight to 10 weeks out of marathon day is a good start. Then a few weeks later, find a 15K or 10 Miler, and later a half marathon to provide a nice supported progression for these critical workouts.
Periodic races are an excellent dress rehearsal for race day logistics. As much as we need to train ourselves physiologically, training ourselves to manage race day logistics can be just as important. Lead-up races can get one comfortable with all of those race day tasks that stress us out or give us the jitters. Practicing tasks such as planning pre-race meals, packing for race day, traveling to the race, getting into a start corral and more will make those parts of the important race day run smoother.
Keep these training focused races in perspective; they are a tool to get you ready, and not all of them will result in new personal bests. Give yourself a little extra recovery time after a race day effort, compared to a hard workout. But avoid the temptation to taper going into these training races. They are a complementary part of the build-up, not something that should distract from the main goal.
Aside from training, including races in your marathon build-up can help break up the monotony of long training blocks. You will enjoy new courses, new people to run with, inspiration from fellow runners, and you will reap one of running’s greatest rewards, a regular connection to the running community.