Practice Makes Perfect: Tips for Warm Up Races

By Dave Harding, Coach, Ottawa Running Club

I enjoyed watching the winter Olympics and the incredible abilities of athletes performing under intense pressure. Often we heard that in addition to the huge amounts of physical training these athletes endure, it is their mental conditioning and ability to focus that allows them to compete successfully at such a high level.

As recreational runners trying to achieve very different goals, we can still take something from the experience of these athletes. By now, you are probably well into your training program, spending lots of time running to improve your physical fitness. But often we forget about the importance of mental preparation.

And that’s where practice races can come in. Every training season, I like the runners in my group to schedule a practice race in their program. A practice race can act as a tune-up, physically and mentally, for the race that you are primarily focused on, such as the marathon or half-marathon at the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend. You can use a shorter distance race earlier in your training program to practice pacing, nutrition, gear/equipment, your mental focus, and as a dress rehearsal for your pre-race activities.

The start of Hamilton’s Around the Bay Race, a popular tune-up for the Ottawa Marathon (Photo: Dean Gugler)

Ideally, the practice race is 3 to 6 weeks before your primary race and is at least one step down in distance (i.e., a half-marathon practice for a full marathon, 10K for a half-marathon, etc.).

Because you won’t be fully tapered or rested before your practice race, you need to set realistic goals. Think of the race as part of your training, be conservative with your time goals, and emphasize the mental aspects, such as practicing your ability to maintain a positive outlook, keep even pacing, and focusing on your form and cadence.

It’s also important to recognize that your training plan may not afford very much recovery time following the practice race. Pace your practice race to leave something in the tank at the finish, and start your recovery process immediately afterward.

As follow-up from your practice race, take note of a couple things that went well and use these to build confidence going into your primary race. For example, perhaps you were able to sustain your cadence and goal pace. Or you were able to stay focused with a positive mind-set during the race. Maybe your shoes were comfortable and left you free of blisters.

If there are areas that need improvement, use the remaining weeks of your training program to focus on these. It might be to work on even pacing, make adjustments to your race nutrition, or your ability to keep positive thoughts flowing when you start to fatigue. If you didn’t leave enough time for a warm-up and other pre-race needs, use this experience to plan better for your primary race.

Mental conditioning takes practice, it doesn’t just happen on race day. A tune-up race built into your training plan is a great way to help you prepare mentally and physically for success at your “A”-goal race.

Ottawa-area races leading up to the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend

– Run for Reach (Ottawa) – April 13, 2014 – Visit Site
– Wakefield Covered Bridge Run – May 3, 2014 – Visit Site
– Ottawa Physio Race – May 3, 2014 – Visit Site
– Carp Diefenbooker Classic – May 3, 2014 – Visit Site

David Harding is a coach with the Ottawa Running Club and Ottawa Triathlon Club. For the past two seasons he has led the Ottawa Running Club’s marathon training group in preparation for the Ottawa Marathon.