Using Races for Training
Specificity workouts are key to optimally preparing for a race. Sometimes these types of workouts can be loathed by runners as they force us to set aside the comforts of a casual running pace and put us into an environment closer to the hard part of racing. These stress inducing stimuli that ultimately make us stronger runners can be made more enjoyable by embedding them into the race-day environment.
Since I started ultramarathon running, I have told myself that I wanted to use races as key workouts. It seemed to be a goal for me each year that never quite seemed to come together. Sure, I would race the occasional ultramarathon without tapering or as a workout, but I really didn't take advantage of sub-ultra distances for some of those higher-paced workouts. With my relatively new change in geography and how I spend my day, I have finally begun to implement this sought-after training tool.
An added benefit to using races as workouts is you get the chance to experience the social atmosphere pre- and post-race venues offer. One of the greatest parts of racing is the community of runners and volunteers, so why not be a part of it as much as possible?
So, how should you go about using a race as a workout? These are my top three tips, and how I used an event for the purpose. The three events I will use as examples include: Scena Performance Sonoma Trail Marathon, Healdsburg Half Marathon, and Overlook 30k.
Identify a purpose. The nature of this approach is you are using the event to help get a solid workout; presumably to prepare you for an A race. The purpose you are looking to achieve should match that of the workout you would have otherwise done in its place had you taken a more traditional route. At the Healdsburg Half Marathon my purpose was to get one last really strong tempo effort in preparation for the USATF 50 Mile Championships in Door County, WI. I knew I wasn't going to be 100 percent going into the race, nor would I adjust my training any differently than had I put a 13 mile tempo run on my training schedule. This meant not tapering any more than I would for any other key tempo run at this point in my training plan. The half marathon distance was a logical choice as with slightly tired legs and a hard push I would likely be right around tempo effort. It was also on rolling paved roads, which will match the environment of the Fall 50 in Door County.
Practice aid station transitions and race-day fueling. The world of ultrarunning is full of uncertainties. Being able to roll with the punches and execute your plan is critical in having a strong race. Opportunities to practice executing transitions and fueling can be vital in identifying possible changes or problems before the actual race, when it is too late to change. I used the Sonoma Marathon for this. This event was a technical course with approximately 9,000 ft. of elevation, so it was not a match in terms of specificity. It did allow me to practice fueling for an event that will last 5+ hours without actually running the distance of that event. It provided great opportunity to listen to my body, make changes, try different things as well as confirm things that I believed would work, and take some risks I may not otherwise do on race day.
Practice mental preparation. The nature of using an event as a workout is you will still go through all the motions of signup, packet pickup, transportation to and from the event, preparing your drop bags and/or fueling plan, and generally showing up to the starting line with everything you need. Having these steps and procedures firmly cemented into your brain is great to ease the stress and anxiety traditionally experienced before a race. I used the Overlook 30k for this purpose. I wanted a good hard final workout for the Fall 50; with some eccentric contraction. Rather than going out to a runnable downhill trial segment or paved road it made sense to acquire this final stimulus with an event; allowing me to also rehearse my prerace preparations. With this event being a point to point with bus transfers and drop bags I was able to check all the boxes of packing and planning the days before. I was also able to practice prerace and in race fueling one last time to confirm my approach. Overall, a great way to make race day much more routine and predictable.
Other Event Pics:
Healdsburg Half Marathon (post race)
Healdsburg Half Marathon (post race)
Overlook 30k (prerace)