The 20 Miler: Your Marathon Dress Rehearsal


An essential part of marathon training is the 20 mile long run. Depending on what type of training plan you are following you will be doing at least one, if not two or three 20-milers during the course of marathon training. Regardless of your preferred training plan, and even if you don’t plan to run over 16-18 miles for your long run, it is always important to have at least one training run that is designated as a “dress rehearsal” for marathon day.

What do I mean by “dress rehearsal”? Quite literally wearing exactly what you plan to wear the day of the race, including footwear, hydration belt, eyewear, headband, hats, etc. Anything you plan to wear or use on race day should be tested out.

Additionally, you should do a “dress rehearsal” in regards to your nutrition and hydration strategies, along with your general pacing strategy. Also consider running on a course that mimics your planned marathon course. Ideally, after a well-thought-out training run you will have a much better idea of what to expect on race day and what works or doesn’t work for you.

Generally this type of training run should take place about three to four weeks out from the day of your race. Remember to keep it as a training effort and not a racing effort; while you want to get a good simulation, you do not want to jeopardize your recovery and leave yourself fatigued going into the actual race. After this type of run you will generally want to take the following day off and then begin your taper for the weeks leading up to the race.

Below are some tips to consider when trying to simulate the race day experience.


  • Wake up at similar time as race day
  • Eat your planned race day breakfast
  • Drink your planned race day fluids
  • Start your training run at same time as race 

During the Run:

Pacing Strategies

  • Use an identical pacing strategy you plan to use on race day (i.e. even, negative or positive splits)


  • Wear identical clothing as race day
  • Wear same accessories, hat, sunglasses, arm sleeves etc.
  • Use same timing device: stopwatch, Garmin, iPhone etc.

Hydration and Fueling

  • Replicate your preferred hydration strategy: what, when and how much to drink
  • Use the exact same gels or sports drinks (including flavor) 


  • Have a post-run recovery plan so you will be ready come the actual race
  • Use your run data to determine race day goal pace

Post “dress rehearsal” run, you will want to take a hard look at your total training time, heart rate and overall effort. You want to use this training run to give you the best information on predicting your goal time on race day. Additionally, evaluate what you did well and what you might want to change the day of the race. In general you are not trying to be perfect, but just get a better idea of the realities of covering the marathon distance.

The race is as much of a logistical challenge as it is a mental and physical challenge. Overall, having a specific training run set aside to practice the race day experience is one of the best ways to prepare and give yourself confidence going into the big day.

If you are looking for a structured dress rehearsal, consider running the Orangetheory Ready to Run 20 Miler.


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