Should You Use a Race as Your Long Run?

First Master!
If only this was how every long run ended!

During the last weeks of 2014, without any goal races on the horizon, I started getting comfortable with 5-6 mile runs, and the thought of going longer seemed awful.  I found myself really struggling to do long runs!  But it’s a new year, and my first goal race of 2015 is the New Orleans 70.3, a half Ironman, so I know I have to somehow get out of my funk and figure out a way to start making those miles more interesting.

Luckily just before Christmas I received a discount on a race entry fee for a half marathon in mid-January very close to home.  I’m normally very hesitant to register for winter races in advance since the weather is such a factor, but the need to push my mileage back up again motivated me to sign up.  I signed up for this particular race with no time goal, no pressure on placing–just a way for me to commit to running long, especially since I had to start doing some longer runs right away so that 13.1 wouldn’t be too painful.  That logic ended up working, at least, because the 2 weekends prior I did an 8 miler and 10 miler, which is more than I had done consecutively since November.  But was running a race as a long run the right choice, especially this early in my training?

I won’t get into a full-blown race report, but I will provide a brief summary of the race.  My friend, Eddie, decided to join me and we ran together when we could.  (We actually finished at the same time). We ended up being very fortunate with the weather because after 3 days of high winds, things calmed down just enough to be bearable.  The course was somewhat hilly, winding through neighborhoods and a bike path.  We even ran on switchbacks!  The course was challenging, but once we got going, I found myself back in a racing mindset, focusing on the runners ahead to see who I could reel in.  I even threw in a couple of surges when someone came up on my shoulder and sat on a couple of women before passing them.  It was great to get that toughness back.

I completely surprised myself by running 1:35 and coming in as first master and 4th overall.  All finishers received a pint glass, and for my big win I even got to take home a special, well-crafted pint glass in the shape of a cowboy boot! After awards, Eddie and I decided on a 2 mile cool down which gave me time to reflect as to whether this was a good/bad idea.  I came up with the following pros/cons list to share.  Or rather, cons/pros, since it’s always best to get the bad news over with:

Cons:

1).  Entry fees.  We all know that it costs money to race.  It’s free to put on your running gear and run from your house–or meet your running friends at the local trail for your long run.  You really can’t beat a free run!  Especially with race prices going up and up and up…I honestly wouldn’t have signed up for this one without a 25% off code.  Even then it was $50, which is cheap for a half marathon anymore, but it’s still $50!

2).  You’ll likely run harder since you are in a race.  Wait…didn’t I mention that above as part of the ‘pro’ list?  I did, and I feel that it can go both ways.  Ultimately, your long run is really supposed to be slower than your race goal pace, so pushing the pace may not be the best idea, especially if you have a tough workout coming up soon or if you are already feeling sluggish.  Some training plans (notably the Hansons method) even discourage runners from racing during their training cycle!  Racing can wear you out if the timing isn’t right, so it’s important to consider your training as a whole before you start signing up for races willy-nilly!

Pros:

1).  No need to carry water or sports drink!  I hate wearing fuel belts.  I simply cannot find one that doesn’t chafe or move around so much.  For long runs I usually opt for wearing triathlon shorts or leggings that have side or butt pockets that are big enough for 1-2 gels and an 8 oz. water bottle.  Still, it’s not enough to cover me for a run longer than 10 miles.  During the race, I had no worries about water since there were plenty of aid stations along the course.  I did take along 2 packs of my favorite Vanilla Bean Gu (!) since I didn’t care for the gel that was offered.  But I didn’t have to carry a water bottle or listen to it sloshing around the whole time.

2).  Someone is around to run with.  Running with a friend is always fun, but sometimes it’s hard to coordinate schedules–and even to coordinate paces.  During this ‘long’ run, someone was always around me, so I didn’t feel lonely.  It helped keep my mind from playing silly mental games.

3).  You’ll likely run harder since you are in a race.  This was definitely true for me.  I went into this race thinking I would run easy, but once I started, that race mentality kicked in.  The first mile was slightly downhill, and I was cautious not to run too hard, but still I found myself pushing a little harder to shake off a woman who was trying to sit on my shoulder. Once I realized I could run a little harder and not feel as winded as she sounded (she was breathing heavier than me), I decided to see if I could push it a little bit.  It was definitely a risk since I hadn’t run long for awhile, but since I didn’t have a goal race in the near future, I decided to take a chance.

4).  Racing without stress.  Sometimes the biggest challenge with racing is dealing with the stress of a finish time and age group placing.  If you plan to use a race as your long run, that stress tends to go away if you’re simply racing to log miles.  I do think letting go and not worrying about how their results will look to others is a big problem for many runners.

 

This may be my big cowboy-boot-shaped trophy talking, but for me I think racing this long run was the right choice!  I not only had a great experience, but it was also just what I needed to get my motivated for long runs again.  If I can find a longer race again at a decent price, I’m up for it!

Have you ever used a race as your long run?  If so, how was your experience?  If not, would you ever try it?

Native Ohioan now living in Boulder, Colorado. I love to run, tri, train, eat good chocolate, drink good rum, and laugh (a lot). I am a CPA by trade and work for Newton Running.

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9 comments

  1. Congrats! I like to run races as long runs, particularly if I am trying to hit goal race pace. I’ve run a half at goal marathon pace a couple of times prior to my goal race. It is fun not to be all-out racing, yet to have people, food/drink, and support. Bonus when you win an AG award along the way!

    1. Hope you’re running is going well this winter! I think I will try it again sometime, but I have to watch myself not getting caught up with the racing mentality creeping in. At least it got me over my long run blues!

    2. Hope your running is going well this winter! I may try this experiment again soon-but I do need to watch that I don’t get hung up with the racing mentality! I finally felt like I got over my long run blues, which is a good thing heading into 2015 training.

  2. Trying to train for my spring race has been challenging, especially with the freezing cold, rain or snow this year. Thanks for the positive tips just before my run in the rain.

    1. Thanks for the feedback, Harvey! Good luck getting out there in the bad weather. It can be tough and unmotivating, but I always tell myself I will be stronger because of it. Thanks for reading!

  3. I’ve used races as supported long runs a lot. I wouldn’t say it’s a good idea for someone who can’t hold themselves back (if ‘racing’ isn’t part of the plan for that day), but I find for me the pros outweigh the cons.

    1. I definitely see your point. It can be tough to hold back if you need to. I got caught up with the race mentality, but overall, it helped to push me out of my rut.

  4. Like Jen said, I think it’s mayyyybe something to consider more heavily (based on the potential to overextend yourself) if, say, you’re in the middle of an intense training program. But there’s nothing wrong with pushing yourself and going for broke either, as long as you get adequate recovery time! And I think you were in the perfect spot to really kill it, since your goal race is a ways off.

    I just loved this picture so much when i saw it on facebook – you’re the cutest!! I was so glad to see the story of that race here! Congratulations, you master. (: