Signing up for a big goal race and following an official training plan is a sure sign you’ve caught the racing bug. Once you’re in this racing mindset, all those local 5Ks and 10Ks start to look like a fun way to pad out your training for your big event. So, you sign up for a couple, then it dawns on you as you look at your specific training plan, “Um, how do I fit this into what I’m supposed to be running this week?” Never fear, fellow racers, I’m here to give you some options and specific tips on making races fit into your training plan.
There are a few different ways you can approach a race scheduled during your training program. There’s no right way, or wrong way to decide which approach is best for you, but you should decide ahead of time what you want to do so you can adequately prepare for your training races. THE RACING APPROACH: If you want to take advantage of the opportunity to race, then you can run a race during training as a fitness/speed test without jeopardizing your goal race result. For this approach, you should ease off for two to three days prior to the race. Make sure your long run is early in the week to give yourself as long as possible to recover. If you have a speed work run scheduled that week, make it easier, with a longer warm up and cool down. Run a couple of miles at tempo instead of doing a planned intervals workout, for example. Do a short shake-out run the day before the race, and take the day after the race off, or do some easy cross training. If you take the racing approach, remember, even with a mini-taper, this is not the event for which you’re training, so give yourself a little leeway with your goal for the race. THE LONG RUN APPROACH: Let’s say you’ve signed up for a 10K four or five weeks out from your half marathon – at this point in most training plans, your long run is usually 9 or 10 miles. So, turn your 10K (6.2 miles) into a longer run, with an extended warm up. (This is also a great way of familiarizing yourself with part of the course you’re about to run). Take it easy for the 4 mile warm up, running a little slower than your normal long run pace. Time it so you finish the warm up at the last possible moment before you have to line up, so there’s not much of a break between your two running segments. Run the 10K either at your long run pace throughout, or you could start at your long run pace and try to gradually get faster, to get used to running fast when you’re already tired. The dual benefits of this approach are that you don’t need to adjust your training plan – the race just becomes your long run – and you are also learning how to take it easy at the beginning of a race. THE SPEED WORK APPROACH: Make the race your speed workout for the week. Enjoy the crowd support and adrenaline of a race environment and use it to your speedy advantage! Take your speed workout for the week and modify it for the race. Do a warm up before the race, then you can run the race as intervals, half mile repeats, or if you’re following a very conservative training plan that doesn’t call for much , run it as a fartlek (that’s Swedish for ‘speed play’ – usually you’re randomly picking points in the distance, speeding up to get there, then backing off until you feel like trying the next speed segment). If you choose this approach to your race during training, be careful to keep the recovery portions of the race/workout as a true recovery, so you’re not inadvertently running the whole race faster than you would if you were racing. Finally, remember that regardless of which approach you choose, these races during training should be considered training for your goal event, not the be-all and end-all. If you do try to race one and get a disappointing result, don’t feel too bad about it – unless you’re training specifically for an event and tapering adequately, it won’t be indicative of your best racing effort, regardless of how well your program is going and how excellent your fitness level. Always keep your eyes on the real goal race.
Good luck! And happy training and racing.
Carly Pizzani is a mama to a rampaging toddler, a personal trainer, the author of the fitness blog Fine Fit Day, a freelance writer, and an ex-pat Aussie living in Brooklyn. She loves running, lifting weights, yoga, spin class, dancing with her son — basically anything active. Keeping mamas (and mamas-to-be) fit, healthy and motivated is what she loves most about her job. You can connect with Carly on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.