The Benefit of Tune Up Races

Do you ever run tune-up races while training for a marathon (or a half)? They can be a good tool to sprinkle through a training cycle for several reasons: to evaluate progress, practice nutrtion, and see how your pace and/or race times equate to the marathon goal.

I usually have at least one or two half marathons in the lead up to the marathon I’m training for, but this year has been a little different. Partly because of family plans and partly because I wanted to focus more on the longer runs this time around, I haven’t raced a half marathon since Cowtown in May. Other than the Paris Pair 25k, I had not run any other races. But I kept seeing ads for the Fort Worth Marathon on my social media, and checked to see where the 20 mile race would fall in my training. It was a good fit. It would be a good gauge of my marathon goal pace, and a nice way to break out of the training rut. Also, races add that spark back into training and tend to energize me.

The race was on a Sunday, and since most long runs have been on Saturday, we adjusted the week for an extra rest day. Other than that, there wasn’t really any taper for this one. Race morning was cool – starting temperature was around 48 degrees. I was in a tank and shorts and felt amazing. The sun was coming up, and I was glad I remembered to put on sunscreen. My friend and I started the race together, as we usually do, and settled into a rhythm over the first several miles. The pace was faster than I planned (9:30s instead of 10:00s) but I felt like I was holding back and conserving energy, so I stayed with it.

The 20 mile race follows the out and back lap for the half marathon (and marathon) but on the second loop, there is an earlier turnaround. On the return path after the first turnaround near mile 7, I started to feel the heat of the sun on my shoulders. There was no breeze and I was heating up. I managed to maintain the same pace through mile 10, and then it slipped a little closer to 10:00s. At mile 14, I started to feel just icky. I had made the pass by the finish to end the first lap and was headed out on my second (shorter) lap, when I took a walk break to lower my heart rate. I had started feeling a little nauseous and woozy at times. I continued to hydrate but noticed I was going through my bottle faster on the 2nd part.

At one point, a guy running next to me said something. I took out my earbud. “Do you want to chat?” he said.

“Sure”

He was running his 10th marathon, he told me, and he had Parkinson’s. My mind instantly went to my mother-in-law who passed in October after a 10 year battle with Parkinson’s. I didn’t say anything about her, but I thought about how I admired his mindset, and his drive to keep moving. His goal was to qualify for Boston with the 6 hour time limit. We chatted for a few minutes about marathons, but I lost him at the aid station. That moment was a good perspective shift for me. Here I was just trying to finish this race, perfectly healthy, and kind of whining about the heat, and this guy is fighting a terrible disease and chasing a huge goal. It was humbling.

When I tried to take my gel at mile 16, I couldn’t stomach it and tossed it in the trash before I finished it. With four miles to go, I was out of fuel, but I had my electrolytes covered at least. I settled into a run/walk to cover the distance. I would walk anytime I felt nauseous and pick up the pace to run when it subsided. In the last mile, my stomach went crazy, and I darted into a porta-potty as soon as I came across one.

When I finally crossed the finish line, I was just barely under my time from last year. It felt good to be done! A 29 second PR and 2nd in my age group was the result, along with a renewed plan to stick to my goal pace at Dallas darn it. I will also be playing around with my nutrition for the next couple of weeks to get it right. I don’t know if it was the heat or what, but I can’t be having gels that make me sick. It actually took me a while after the race before I could take in any calories at all. That’s not normal for me. I usually can at least stomach the banana.

I’m also super grateful for the many training miles the two of us have put in together. You know you have a great training partner when you can be okay running side by side sometimes and not feel the need to say anything at all.

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