Tune-up races during marathon training can help you nail your goal race. I ran a half marathon five weeks before the Boston Marathon and here’s how it went.
A few months ago my running coach, Enoch, suggesting running a race in mid-March as part of my Boston Marathon training plan. So last Saturday, I ran the Feed Stokes Half Marathon in King, North Carolina.
As we got closer to race day, I wasn’t 100% sure if I’d run since I’d been having some issues with my knees (some swelling, locking and pain). But Enoch adjusted my plan, I got into PT for some dry needling and we felt confident about my running the race.
It ended up being an AMAZING race day – I ran a PR on a very hard course and I was the first overall female!! I’ve won a couple 5Ks and 10Ks but that was my first half marathon win! It was so fun!
- Time: 1:31:49
- Average Pace: 7:00
It was a tiny field – fewer than 60 runners – so it was a little easier to win. But regardless, I was ecstatic about my time, especially on the course. You can see the elevation chart and my splits towards the bottom of the post.
My tune-up race for the Boston Marathon
There were multiple races last weekend – the Wrightsville Beach Half Marathon (I ran the full marathon a few years ago) and the Charlotte Corporate Cup Half – but ultimately I decided on the Feed Stokes Half for a few reasons:
- It’s closer to home.
- I suspected the the course would be similar to Boston.
I registered the night before at King City Hall, and it was just the loveliest experience. Everyone was SO nice and it was almost like stepping back into time into the small Utah town I grew up in. At registration, I met a older man (perhaps the race director?) who was obviously a very experienced runner. He gave me lots of pointers about the course and explained why it would be a perfect tune-up race for Boston with some climbing and some downhills to condition my quads to the pounding. He was right!
- Logistics were easy.
I needed to do some extra miles before and after the race. Given the small race and where it started (at a park), it was super easy to tack on time.
I ran 2 miles before the half and 2 miles afterwards to get a total of 17 miles in for the day, which fit in nicely with my marathon training plan. It also helped me warm up to run hard and flush the legs after doing so.
It was cold (36 degrees) and misty but thankfully I was mostly warm when the race started. I was planning to do some strides and drills to further warm up, but I ran out of time. Lesson learned for my next race: build more of a buffer to incorporate shoe changes, strides and drills! These are all new to me since hiring a running coach.
But wait, what’s a tune-up race?
A tune-up race is a race, about half the distance of your goal race, that you run during your training. It’s not your goal race but it should help prepare you for your goal race. It’s a great opportunity to practice your plan, your pacing, your gear and your mental game.
Why should I run one?
- Build a routine.
I have a pre-race routine I always follow, starting with the night before to help improve my sleep. It makes race day feel a little more comfortable, a little more familiar, which decreases nerves.
I test my planned gear, fuel, and racing flats on tune-up race day. All of these are things you should be testing in training. Then again in your tune up race. THEN, your big race will feel like just another day…to some degree.
- Test your gear.
If something is going to annoy you at all during your big race, you’ll find out during your tune-up race or even your long runs. This is how I’ve learned I don’t race with my Apple Airpods, even though I love them for the most part (review here) and I don’t race in my Lululemon shirts (they ride up).
- Test your fueling.
This is where you refine what you’ll eat before your big race and how to time it. You should be testing it in training but pay extra attention on race day since nerves may cause your GI system to react differently. I’ve eaten the same thing before races for years but I still pay attention since our bodies change over time.
- Refine your mental game.
Racing almost always involves nerves, for nearly every runner. Even elites share this sentiment! And nerves are especially expected if it’s a big goal race — like the Boston Marathon is for me! A tune-up race lets you practice dealing with race day nerves.
Things will go wrong. You’ll drive to the wrong parking lot (I did!). You may intentionally get run off the road mid-race by a crazy person in a giant truck (yep that happened too). Ten people may be standing in the middle of the path as you’re finishing the race and don’t get out of the way, even when you call out “behind you!” (Yep.)
There are so many things on race day you can’t control. And it’s important to be able to take them in stride without it wrecking your big race. A tune-up race is good practice for that!
When should I run a tune up during my marathon training?
If you’re training for a marathon, run a half marathon tune-up race about 5-6 weeks out from your goal race. Boston is exactly 5 weeks from today, so it was perfect timing for me!
How hard should I run it?
Your plan or coach should guide you through that. My coach told me to focus on effort and gave me a goal pace range.
But the BEST advice my coach gave me? To not wreck myself since this half marathon isn’t what I’ve been training so hard for the past few months!
To start, my goal pace 6:55 – 7:10. It was a cold morning and I needed to warm up my muscles — and see how my knee was feeling. Then, if I was feeling good, the plan was to work my way down to a 6:45-7:00. And since it was a hilly course, he reminded me again to focus on effort, not hitting the exact paces.
My tune up race for the Boston Marathon
The Feed Stokes Half Marathon ended up being the PERFECT tune up race in my Boston Marathon training schedule. Here’s why:
- The logistics are super easy. I parked at the starting line, which is also where the race ended. That meant I didn’t have to spend a ton of energy managing logistics!
- Easy access to my car allowed me to easily switch my shoes and drop my jacket after after my warm-up jog. (I warmed up in my Brooks Launch and raced in my Nike Vaporflys.)
- The course profile is somewhat similar to Boston. The hill at mile 9 was rough but I got through it! Perfect for building mental toughness for Heartbreak Hill! And the downhills helped condition me for the pounding of Boston and practice staying in control.
Being out there without spectators or really other runners near me helped build mental toughness. And while the field was tiny, it still gave me the race nerves to work through and a major confidence builder by winning!
I finished the race feeling SO happy and SO grateful. My last PR in the half marathon was over two years ago, and to run my fastest time on THAT course shocked me. I give HUGE CREDIT to my coach, Enoch, for helping me get that time. I’m so, so grateful for his knowledge, encouragement and wisdom along the way!!!!
I’d love to hear your experiences! Are tune-up races part of your training plans? What things do you get nervous about on race day?
You may also like:
- What I’ve learned about having a running coach for a month
- Recovery runs + how fast/slow to run them
- Dry Needling for running injuries
- How much sleep you need in marathon training
- What I eat in a day
- Training for a marathon on a gluten-free diet
- My running shoes for marathon training
- 2018 Boston Marathon recap
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