When designing a training program for the marathon, I often include a “marathon simulation” workout. This workout provides us with a chance to practice pre-race routines, check out the gear we plan to wear, and refine our in-race fueling strategies. This simulation is often very educational and confidence building.
There are generally 3 types of simulations from which I choose: 15 mile Simulation Run, Half Marathon Simulation or a Half Marathon Race. In all 3 types we would be sure to do the following: match the goal marathon course layout as much as possible, practice planned pre-race routines and meals, wear the same shoes and clothes we plan to use on race day, run the simulation at the same time of day (i.e. 7 AM start), and practice using the in-race fueling strategy we plan to use in the goal marathon.
15 Mile Simulation Run: This is a 15 mile tempo run done at goal marathon pace. The advantages of this simulation option are that we can control most variables, such as the course and time of day, and we get significant work running at marathon goal pace. We would do this 3-4 weeks out from the goal marathon and would not fully taper for it other than adding an extra easy day before and after the workout.
Half Marathon Simulation: This is a half marathon race that we are using as a simulation workout rather than a race. We would target a pace about 1% faster than goal marathon pace. The advantage of this option is that we get the race day atmosphere and routine similar to what we will experience in our goal race. We would do this 3-4 weeks out from the goal marathon, and would not fully taper for it other than adding an extra easy day before and after the workout.
Half Marathon Race: This is an all-out half marathon race performance usually done 4-6 weeks before the goal marathon. The advantages of this option are that we get the full race day atmosphere and routine, and we get great lactate threshold work to keep marathon pace feeling easy. This would include our full non-goal race pre-race taper and post-race recovery. In this we would target a pace roughly 4% faster than goal marathon pace.
By doing a simulation workout/race, we learn how well our planned pre-race routines and meals work, as well as discover any issues with our fueling strategies or clothing/shoe choices. This allows us time to make tweaks to the plan, in needed, before race day arrives. Additionally it helps the body and mind get comfortable with the course layout and time of day we will be racing. If we do the simulation properly and don’t get too aggressive with it, it is a great confidence builder for race day, as we have the peace of mind during the first half of the race by knowing that we just successfully did this a few weeks earlier.
Caution: do not get overly aggressive with your pace expectations – be realistic. A successful simulation run can build great confidence but a bad simulation can have the opposite effect. While it is often good to challenge yourself (or your runner), this simulation is a time you want to set yourself up for success with realistic expectations.