Running a marathon requires intense and steady training to ensure readiness. Most runners follow a meticulous training plan to prepare for the big day, full of tempo runs, speed workouts, long runs and strength training. These are the core elements of any good training plan, but there is one more component that can boost both confidence and performance for the marathon. Incorporating a few shorter races into your marathon training program can ensure that you are ready for the big race by giving you race experience to help prepare both your mind and your body.
There are many reasons why you should race shorter distances while training for your marathon. Race confidence, speed tempo, and fine tuning your overall race performance are in the top three, in my opinion. Race readiness has more to it than physical preparation; mental readiness is just as important. The marathon is all about mental strength. Racing a shorter distance with success will prepare your mind as well as your body. By proving to yourself that you can make it through a race, you will experience less race anxiety with the marathon. This is especially true prior to your first marathon, but it applies to veteran runners as well.
Racing shorter distances while training for your marathon also presents an opportunity to make a few mistakes and adjust accordingly prior to the big race. This provides the runner with the peace of mind of knowing how a race works, what to expect and veteran runner status. Even someone who has run many races will feel more confident with several more races under his or her fuel belt.
Tempering your speed is a great way to prep for your run. Racing a 5k, 10k, and even a half marathon will prepare you to know your race pace for each distance. Experience is the only way to know for sure how much you can push yourself in a race. Race energy will push you harder and faster than any training run will accomplish. The competitive spirit, positive push, cheering crowds and course music combine to create an intoxicating environment for running at your best performance. Ideally, you should incorporate each of these distances into your training program. Running a 5k toward the start of your training, once you have built beyond at least double the mileage, is a great starter distance for speed work. Half way through your training you should run a 10k, at race pace.
One important thing to remember about incorporating a shorter race into your marathon training is to separate them from your long runs with enough recovery time in between. If you plan a half marathon on a 16 – 20 mile long run week, do not run the distances within a couple of days of one another. Running at race pace will work your body harder than a slower, longer run will. If you are able to add in a few shorter races, separated from your long runs, you will find yourself ideally prepared for your marathon.