What's a Tune-Up Race and Should You Run One?

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A tune-up race can mean different things to different runners, but essentially, it's a race that you run a few weeks or months before your goal race. Depending on your fitness level and goals, the tune-up race can be run at an all-out effort or it could serve as a paced run.
If you already have a goal race on your calendar, why spend time and money on additional races? There are two main reasons to consider a tune-up.

Assess Your Fitness Level

The primary reason is that tune-ups can be essential when it comes to assessing your fitness level. For example, if you're training for a marathon and you're able to easily run a half marathon at goal pace, you'll know you're right on track. If, on the other hand, a tune-up race doesn't go as well as expected, it can help you adjust your training or time goals.

Treat It as a Dress Rehearsal

Tune-up races can also serve as a dress rehearsal for a big race. We all know it's never a good idea to try something new on race day, so a tune-up is the perfect opportunity to test out your clothes, shoes, fuel and your entire routine. A sports drink or gel that works on an easy run may feel pretty different in the midst of a harder effort. Practicing in race-like conditions is a great way to figure out how your body responds.

Get Started

If you're ready to add a tune-up race to your training calendar, the timing and distance will depend on your goal race. Here's how to get started:

  • If your goal race is a 10K, aim to run a 5K two to three weeks before the big day.
  • If you’re training for a half marathon, consider a 5-miler or 10K three to four weeks before the race.
  • Marathon on your calendar? Many runners like to race a half marathon four weeks prior to get an indication of their fitness. In addition (or instead), you might want to schedule a 10K two weeks before the marathon.

Approach on Tune-up Race Day

One way to approach a tune-up race is to run it at an all-out effort. After you've given it everything you have, head to an online pace calculator (like the McMillan training calculator) to convert your tune-up race results into an estimated goal race time. For example, if you run a 1:50 half marathon, it's reasonable to assume that you can run a 3:50 to 3:55 full marathon, assuming conditions are similar.

You could also use a tune-up as an opportunity to practice goal pace. For example, if you have a 10K on the calendar, try running a 5K race a few weeks ahead of time but do so at your goal 10K pace. The effort should feel comfortably hard—if you're completely wiped out (or the pace feels TOO easy), it's time to consider adjusting your goal.

Supported Long Runs

Finally, some runners simply prefer to use tune-up races as supported long runs. If you have 20 miles on tap for the day, incorporating a half marathon race into your plans ensures you'll have running company, water stops and porta potties available for most of the run.

READ THIS NEXT: How to Perfect Pacing for Running