The final pre-race workout … for neurotic people

September 5, 2009

You’d think that, over the course of 25 years of racing, I would have settled into a tried-and-true routine for my final pre-race workouts. But you’d be wrong.

Conventional wisdom says that what you do in the last few days before your race doesn’t really matter as long as you don’t exhaust or injure yourself. Sneaking in one more really hard workout won’t change your fitness appreciably, so don’t even try. The hay is in the barn, as the saying goes.

I believe that the conventional wisdom is indeed wise in this case, and yet I continue to search for the perfect pre-race workout. I’m not trying to “cram” for the race, but as a perpetual worrier, I’m looking for one final indication that my fitness and health are where I want them to be. It’s reassuring to have completed a solid interval session a week before the race, but it’s even more reassuring to have done something good a couple of days beforehand.

When a race approaches for Liz and her running friends, I invariably suggest that they do four or five “fast but relaxed” 400s. Hypocrite that I am, I can’t bring myself to do this workout. If I did, I would want to run “fast” (with no qualifiers attached) and would risk straining my quads, leaving myself sore for the race.

Today I did 2 x 800m with a 200m jog in between. The longer interval distance (800s instead of 400s) dictates a slower pace and thus a lower likelihood of a strain. Still, for an ultramarathoner who hasn’t been doing a lot of 800s, some risk remains.

A couple of years ago, I tried an alternative tune-up: a 1600m in 5:20 followed immediately by an all-out 1600m. The purpose of the first 1600m was to tire me slightly so that I couldn’t run the second 1600m fast enough to hurt myself. The problem with that approach was that I had no idea what time I should be able to run for a 1600m preceded by a 5:20 1600m, so I never received the desired reassurance that my fitness was OK.

So the search for the perfect pre-race workout continues. Do any fellow neurotics out there have suggestions?


  1. How far out do you do this? A few days. I've been persuaded after reading Daniels' Running Formula, and then experience that 20 minutes at threshold (or up to 30 a little slower) 4-5 days out from the race is good. The test is then how I feel at threshold, rather than absolute pace. Lydiard's comment about pulling the vegetables out of the ground before they're ready is appropriate here!

  2. For someone like me who's just started running — like, today was my second run ever — and can only do intervals of 60 seconds running with 90 seconds of walking for 20 minutes, reading this is somehow inspirational.I mean, yeah, you're WAY, W-A-Y out of my league and I may never race like you do, but you run and I admire that.ccpup in NYC

  3. Trisha usually has me do a shorter easy run with just a few miles at tempo pace during the week before a Sunday race. For example, this Wednesday I did 8 miles with the middle 3 at tempo pace before my race this Sunday. They always leave me feeling great because it's so short and feels so easy because you're towards the end of your taper.

  4. For track, the day before a race i always run double my race distance, three times, at a relaxed pace, with almost a full recovery in between, but not quite. For example, if i was racing in the 400m, then i would run 3 X 800m. I wouldn't recommend this for the 1600m though.. When I have a 1600m race, I typically just run 3200m the day before.

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