Running Tips – Making Races Fit Your Training Plan

Signing up for a big goal race and following an official training plan is a sure sign you’ve caught the racing bug. Once you’re in this racing mindset, all those local 5Ks and 10Ks start to look like a fun way to pad out your training for your big event. So, you sign up for a couple, then it dawns on you as you look at your specific training plan, “Um, how do I fit this into what I’m supposed to be running this week?” Never fear, fellow racers, I’m here to give you some options and specific tips on making races fit your training plan.

Running Tips - Making Races Fit Your Training Plan. When you have a goal race for the season, it can be tricky to work out how to incorporate shorter, or fun races into your training schedule. Here are some tips and tricks for making short road races work for your running training plan.

There are a few different ways you can approach a race scheduled during your training program. There’s no right way, or wrong way to decide which approach is best for you, but you should decide ahead of time what you want to do so you can adequately prepare for your training races.

THE RACING APPROACH: If you want to take advantage of the opportunity to race, then you can run a race during training as a fitness/speed test without jeopardizing your goal race result. For this approach, you should ease off for two to three days prior to the race. Make sure your long run is early in the week to give yourself as long as possible to recover. If you have a speed work run scheduled that week, make it easier, with a longer warm up and cool down. Run a couple of miles at tempo instead of doing a planned intervals workout, for example. Do a short shake-out run the day before the race, and take the day after the race off, or do some easy cross training. If you take the racing approach, remember, even with a mini-taper, this is not the event for which you’re training, so give yourself a little leeway with your goal for the race.

Making Races Fit Into Your Training Plan

THE LONG RUN APPROACH: Let’s say you’ve signed up for a 10K four or five weeks out from your half marathon – at this point in most training plans, your long run is usually 9 or 10 miles. So, turn your 10K (6.2 miles) into a longer run, with an extended warm up. (This is also a great way of familiarizing yourself with part of the course you’re about to run). Take it easy for the 4 mile warm up, running a little slower than your normal long run pace. Time it so you finish the warm up at the last possible moment before you have to line up, so there’s not much of a break between your two running segments. Run the 10K either at your long run pace throughout, or you could start at your long run pace and try to gradually get faster, to get used to running fast when you’re already tired.

The dual benefits of this approach are that you don’t need to adjust your training plan – the race just becomes your long run – and you are also learning how to take it easy at the beginning of a race.

Making Races Fit Into Your Training Plan

THE SPEED WORK APPROACH: Make the race your speed workout for the week. Enjoy the crowd support and adrenaline of a race environment and use it to your speedy advantage! Take your speed workout for the week and modify it for the race. Do a warm up before the race, then you can run the race as intervals, half mile repeats, or if you’re following a very conservative training plan that doesn’t call for much , run it as a fartlek (that’s Swedish for ‘speed play’ – usually you’re randomly picking points in the distance, speeding up to get there, then backing off until you feel like trying the next speed segment). If you choose this approach to your race during training, be careful to keep the recovery portions of the race/workout as a true recovery, so you’re not inadvertently running the whole race faster than you would if you were racing.

Making Races Fit Into Your Training Plan

Finally, remember that regardless of which approach you choose, these races during training should be considered training for your goal event, not the be-all and end-all. If you do try to race one and get a disappointing result, don’t feel too bad about it – unless you’re training specifically for an event and tapering adequately, it won’t be indicative of your best racing effort, regardless of how well your program is going and how excellent your fitness level. Always keep your eyes on the real goal race.

Do you incorporate races into your training plans?

What’s the approach that’s worked best for you?


  1. I had wondered where Carla went….we miss you! This is a great post, and very relevant to me right now! I actually just wrote about this in my recap post, this is something I need to do more of, one of the biggest things actually. That will help me get to the next level. Thanks Carly, this is great!
    Tina Muir recently posted…Chicago Marathon 2014- The RaceMy Profile

    • Carly Pizzani says:

      You are most welcome! It can be overwhelming to make it all fit into a structured plan – it’s interesting to hear elite runners have the same issue as us mortal runners. 😉

  2. I’ll use a race as a long run or tempo run, but if I’m training for a big race I’m always afraid a “training race” will mess up the plan. I’m always worried that somehow I will get hurt!
    Julie @ Running in a Skirt recently posted…5 Reasons Fall Running is FabulousMy Profile

    • Carly Pizzani says:

      I don’t worry so much if it’s toward the beginning of a training plan, but I much prefer doing the long run approach if the race is closer to my big event, I get worried about injury as well.

  3. Great tips! I try to incorporate other races as training runs for bigger race distances.
    Lacey@fairytalesandfitness recently posted…Disney’s Villain BashMy Profile

    • Carly Pizzani says:

      It’s so much fun to race, even if you’re not going for a PR the atmosphere is great, so I love using them for training, too. It’s not like you’re getting people cheering you on your long runs when you go out solo, right? 😉

  4. I was wondering what happened to Carla!! I remember reading this on her site. It’s a great article!
    Britt@MyOwnBalance recently posted…Quick Prenatal Barre VideoMy Profile

  5. Oh – I miss Carla but still try to follow her on Facebook.
    I think I read this post on her site- great info!
    Kim recently posted…It’s the Little ThingsMy Profile

    • Carly Pizzani says:

      I loved following her training for the half on FB. I’m sure you remember this from her blog – it was just a few months back.

  6. Absolutely! It’s so much more fun to race then to do another running workout. I mostly use 5Ks as speed workouts and they are usually a lot speedier then what I would do at the track, since I’m in serious racing mode 🙂 Plus, I never get a medal after a speed workout but at a 5K race…
    I miss Carla too but I still have fun with her on Twitter and Instagram 🙂
    Allie recently posted…The Rundown: Ready, Set, Eat!My Profile

  7. Thanks for sharing Carla’s tips! I especially like the Long Run Approach. I’m not sure I’ll ever run to compete against anyone except myself, but I do plan on entering a race or two next spring!
    Jessica recently posted…Personal Vs. Confessional – Why You Need To Be Both Honest and Self-Censoring When WritingMy Profile

    • Carly Pizzani says:

      Yourself is the best person to compete against. 🙂 The long run approach is definitely the easiest to make work within a program, but if you want to really go for it, the speed options are do-able, with planning. You’ll rock some spring racing!

  8. I just ran a training race last weekend. Adding races to my training plan was one of my best running decisions.
    jill conyers recently posted…One of the Top 5 Proudest Running MomentsMy Profile

    • Carly Pizzani says:

      It keeps it interesting and if you mainly do your training solo, it can be a real boost to have crown support of fellow runners & spectators. Especially training for longer distances, I find that adding some races to training makes it a little less lonely & I’m less inclined to get caught up in my own head.