Here’s Why You Should Run a Tune-up Race During Race Training

A practice race, or tune-up race, is essentially a dress rehearsal for your race – whether that’s a 10k, half marathon, marathon or ultra.

A tune-up race is an opportunity to test out all your race day strategies and experience a little of what your actual race day will feel like.

This means your morning routine, your start-line warm-up, as well as your fueling, hydration, and pacing strategies can all be road-tested with a practice race.  Before you show up to your practice race, think through each of these elements and how you can test them. 

A tune-up race also allows you to experience the nerves, anxiety, and adrenaline of race day, so you’re better prepared when it’s time for the main event.

In this post, we’re going to get into:

  • Deciding on a suitable tune-up race distance and pace
  • When you should schedule your tune-up race in relation to your main race
  • How to approach and plan your tune-up race
  • Things to bear in mind for your tune-up race
  • Mapping a tune-up race into your training plan.

Ready?

Let’s jump in!

tune-up race

Does a Tune-up Race Need To Be An Actual Organised Race Event?

No, it doesn’t. A tune-up race can be done on your own, either as a virtual race or as just a solo run.

However, I recommend that runners use an actual race as their tune-up race – so if you’ve got a marathon coming up, try to find a local half marathon as your tune-up race.

Why?

Running an actual race event means you’re mimicking the environment of your target race. Therefore, it helps a lot to have things like:

  • Looking at race day logistics, getting to the start line, planning your schedule
  • Experiencing start line nerves
  • Sticking to your own pace strategy when in an actual race
  • Planning around fuelling stations, how to carry your own fuel, hydration strategies, etc.

So ideally, a tune-up race should be a real race!

How Long Should My Tune-Up Race Distance Be?

tune-up race

In terms of length, a good benchmark is that your practice race should be 50% of your actual race length, or a little more – but shouldn’t near your longest long run length.

So for running a half marathon, you could complete a 10-15k practice race.

For a full marathon, a half marathon or 30k race would be suitable.

What Pace Should I Run My Tune-Up Race?

tune-up race

It’s typical to run your practice race at your actual target race pace, or close to it.

If you’re aiming for a new PB or ambitious finishing time, running the practice race at your target race pace can serve as a bellwether and give you an indication of how achievable your goals are.   

If your goal is simply to finish your race without any specific time-based goal (such as a sub 2-hour half marathon), try and run the practice race at roughly the same pace you’ll run on race day, so you get an idea how it feels.

Normally, in training, your long runs should be done at a slow, comfortable pace – but the practice race gives you the opportunity to see how it feels to run at a higher rate of exertion for a longer distance.

How Long Before My Actual Race Should I Run My Tune-Up Race?

tune up practice race

Your practice race should ideally take place in the last few weeks of ramping up your training – a week or two before your longest long run and starting your taper.

So for a half marathon, you’d typically look to do a practice race 3-5 weeks before your event.

For a marathon, you’d want to schedule your practice race 4 -7 weeks before the event.

3 Tips For Getting The Most Out Of Your Tune-up Race

practice tune-up race

1. Treat the Practice Race as a Dress Rehearsal

A practice race is a great opportunity to do a ‘dress rehearsal’ – this means running your practice race in exactly the same gear as you plan to run your main event.   

Same running shoes, shirt, vest, socks . . . sometimes, chafing or discomfort only manifests after running hard for a long time. So use your practice race to uncover any snags with your gear before race day.  

Same goes for the use of lubricants such as Bodyglide, or sticking Elastoplast on your nipples – try it out on your practice race first.

tune-up race

2. Mimic Actual Race Day Conditions

If at all possible, you want to pick a practice race that mimics the conditions of your actual race as closely as possible.   This means the start time, gradients, the underfoot terrain, as well as the temperature and weather conditions . . . all of these play a part in both your approach and your performance, so being able to mimic race day conditions will go a long way in helping you prepare!

3. Allow Time For Recovery

Finally, if you’re planning to run your practice race at your target race pace, it’s worth highlighting that this is probably the most challenging run in all your training – so allow yourself the necessary time to recover before resuming your training plan.

6 Questions To Ask Yourself After Your Practice Race

tune-up race

Some questions to reflect on after your practice race:-

  1. Did you give yourself enough time to get ready on the morning of the run?
  2. How did you feel at the start line?  Were you cold, would it be worth taking an extra layer to stay warm on race day?
  3. How long before the race start did you need the bathroom? 
  4. Did the adrenaline at the start line cause you to go out too fast?
  5. How did those energy gels (or other race nutrition) sit in your stomach?
  6. How did your shoes and gear feel towards the end of the race, any issues?
tune-up race
Thomas Watson

Thomas Watson

Thomas Watson is an ultra-runner, UESCA-certified running coach, and the founder of MarathonHandbook.com. His work has been featured in Runner's World, Livestrong.com, MapMyRun, and many other running publications. He likes running interesting races and good beer. More at his bio.

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