Tune-up races before your main race are super important. Why? It helps you get an indicator of your current fitness level and also gives you the experience of racing.
We train, train, train all the time and need to remember that we absolutely have to practice racing. At practice, that race pressure is off. It is not hanging over our head that we need to execute and perform. At practice, the workouts can be hard, even harder than the race, but we tend to give ourselves a little cushion and sometimes excuses. We might be tired from yesterday’s training, a weight routine, or work. With a new race coming up, we might back off of training, or intensity, or take a day off of work leading up to the race to feel fresh. So, there are fewer excuses leading up to a race.
I like to practice the same routine going into a race and practice, because why not? Why do something different on race day? There are often times uncontrollable circumstances like weather, race start time, warm-up time, food availability, traveling and more. However, it’s best to keep it as similar as possible. Travel with your own pre-race food! I do something as simple as instant oatmeal packets. Do your same warm up, jog, drills and strides. Sometimes for a race, I do more or even fewer strides based on race logistics. Just make sure you stay close to your normal routine and make sure your mind and body feel good.
Racing tends to build confidence for me, especially going into the next race. The tune-up race lets me test out my fitness and helps my coach and I figure out what weaknesses I might have and areas to improve on. This fall, I raced the Rock N Roll San Jose Half-Marathon during my marathon build up. I wasn’t super fresh going into the race as I was saving the focus for weeks later. I ran a solo effort from start to finish, chasing some men down throughout the course. I was pleased with my result, but it wasn’t my best time or performance. However, it did give me confidence moving forward. I felt strong afterward and now I feel like my current training is effective. The race has me excited to tackle the rest of my training along with other races in my season.
On the flip side, we all know races don’t always go well. It can be a disaster at times. Whatever the reason might be, it might not go your way. I’ve experienced this myself, and yeah, sometimes it does drag you down. However, that’s a bad way to look at it. You have to find the positives in all situations. I’ve been on the negative side. All it does is drag you into a big dark hole that is hard to get out of. It can be so draining and make you really question why you are even bothering training. But, with a disaster race, it is an opportunity to look at what went wrong, what you might have done during training or within the race itself and how to improve for the next time. It can be a mind game, but use it as fuel for the next time! If you need a few days off or active recovery, take it, then reset and refocus. I could have quit when I’ve struggled, but with hard work, focus, consistency and overall just wanting it for MYSELF, I got through it. So can you.
We are all stronger than we think we are!
Regardless of a good race or a bad race, it’s a litmus test. It’s an indicator of fitness in preparation for the big show. A good race can indicate some negative results as well, like where you might have fallen asleep, or relaxed too much. Same with a bad race, pull the good from it. Use the tune-up race to get data and dissect it, find ways to improve for next time. Don’t over analyze it either, make notes, act on them and move on.
Good luck with future training and racing!!