Half Marathon, Marathon, Running, Training

Why you should run a training race before your real race?

Whether you want to run a full or Half Marathon, you probably have come across a training plan that features a test or training race a few weeks before your real race. You might have thought: “why should I run a race other than my real one?”

The simple answer is: you can simulate a lot during training, but there are a lot of things you can only experience and practice during actual races. I am a huge fan of racing often, not only to feed your medal addiction, but also to be better prepared for the big race that matters.

training race wolfgangseelauf
Running Wolfgangseelauf as training race for NYC Marathon

So here are my top 5 reasons why I love training races:

You can test your progress in a training race

How do you know if your training is going well? If you are really capable of running your goal time on race day?

Right, you test it out over a shorter distance. And from there you evaluate and readjust. If the test race is close to your real race you might even be able to predict you goal time and set a good race strategy.

You can test your gear

You want to run a new pair of shoes on race day? Take them out for a race before. Thinking of running in a new fancy race singlet? Wear it. Nothing will test your gear the same way a proper race does. Why? Because you will run differently than in training. You will run faster, maybe sweat more, have different stride. You might then chafe in different places, where you never chafed before. Don’t wait for the real race to find out.

You can practice your nutrition

Yes we all have heard it: you need to teach our body to digest food during a race. Your body will draw blood to the extremeties while running, and this can upset your stomach. You want to test in advance what you can and can’t digest. Don’t wait for real race day to discover that your tummy does not like pre race donuts. Trust me. Not fun.

Don’t be that person.
Also you need to practice the act of eating and drinking. Everyone who ever tried sipping water in tiny cups at the aid station knows that

You will gain more experience

Everyone will react differently to race day. You might get nervous and anxious. You might need to be on your own. Or want to be distracted. For sure you will need to go to the loo before a race, but how often? (Especially when using the coffee and imodium strategy I describe here.)

Do you prefer running with a pace maker? What about some music to run to? How do you run when there ate lots of people around you? How do you make sure you don’t fall running over thousands of slippery water cups?

These are things you can’t simulate in training. You will have to properly race to experience these. A training race is the perfect opportunity for this.

Especially if you suffer from a lot of pre-race anxiety training races are key. My strategy to race often allowed me to learn how I react to racing, what issues might come up and what I can do about it. I still suffer from anxiety, but I am now more used to it.

A training race will push you to go harder

The ambiance of a race is much different than in training. There is an obvious countdown, cheering crowds at the sidelines, and your fellow competitors around you. All this will push you to go harder than what you might go in training.

Also you are less likely to skip a training race than a normal tempo run as you paid for it obviously.

So a test race can actually be a good and valid workout in your normal training session.

Have you done any training races? Let me know how they went in the comments below.

5 thoughts on “Why you should run a training race before your real race?”

  1. Hi Carola, i like reading your messages and blog. Very informative. Yesterday i ran my first half marathon (Melbourne Half Marathon) during the lead-up to this race i completed a trail run series, running different distances over the 5 races, this allowed me to test different process and equipment before yesterdays run… So i totally agree with you that running other races is very important, they don’t need to be the distance of the main race, just racing takes your training to another level. Keep up the great blogs and emails.
    PS: I set myself a sub 2hr target and managed the actual race in a time of 1:55:21 – So very happy. I also used the Runtastic training APP for running a half marathon in 2hrs. This worked very well.

    1. Wow! 1:55 for a first Half Marathon is great! it took me years to get there.
      I also looooove trail races. The ambience is just so different, and the views are worth the effort.
      Glad that you like my blog.
      BTW: I might come to Australia next year in case I get my sabbatical approved!

      1. Would love to catch-up if you come to Aussie… Melbourne is where i live, would love to show you the country trails, maybe depending on time of the year you could join me with a run in the 2018 trail run series… Yeah i’m pretty happy with my time. Going to train next year and complete a few more half marathons, and push for a full marathon in 2019…

  2. I agree completely as well. Ran my first marathon in April and had done a Half 5 weeks before. both went great and no surprises. But I ran Chicago 2 weeks ago and had not done a half before. Went from 3:05 in Paris with a constant pace to 3:14 in Chicago having to stop for a few kms of alternating walking and running although I had gone through halfway in 1:29:07.. big mistake.

    1. Hey Ben! Sorry to hear that your Chicago Marathon did not go as planned. But I heard it was a really hot day.
      Right now the Berlin Marathon Ballot is open. Try that one and I swear the sub3 is within reach!

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