Why the “Race-Simulation” Is My Favorite Thing—and I’ll Be Doing More!
Last summer during the 2019 season, I had a pretty sporadic race calendar that had a pretty large hole for most of July in it, so after talking to my coach, we decided to do a couple of ‘race simulations.’ So during July and August, I did two trail marathons (one with a friend, one solo until the end when Peter joined in for the final miles) and honestly? I got as much satisfaction from those efforts than I did at the actual races.
I started writing this last summer, but it’s becoming even more and more true in the upcoming 2020 season for me. What’s better than racing? I love racing, but there was something so magical and badass about doing a low-stress race effort on gorgeous trails near home. It was free, there was no aid station waste or travel time involved, and I think it’s why I had great results in August and October when I was racing.
I don’t think runners do this often enough, and endurance athletes definitely don’t! As we head into the 2020 season, I admit I’m getting a little stressed as people ask me what my race schedule looks like and I don’t have any dates on the calendar. I realized a big part of that is that we have a (hopefully) big spring/summer planned with getting a puppy and the second Shred Girls book coming out in July. So I hesitate to pack the calendar with races. And honestly, I know I still have a lot of training gains I can make without being on a start line.
I though through the idea of race day simulations and I think most of us can use more of these and less real race days—and here’s the benefits:
Low-stress game play
Doing a proper race simulation rather than a long or hard workout means setting a start time and basically pretending that your driveway is the start line. You may even coordinate some water stops if you have a partner who’s willing to drive to meet you, and you definitely have a set route and distance. Basically, you’re running a race of one, from home or the trailhead. For me, this actually meant channeling race day nerves and then moving past them. After a couple of these, I was honestly so much chiller at the start of the last races of the season.
I’m all about doing local races to practice racing, but we don’t always have a local 50K happening, and frankly, that can add up to a lot of extra $$$ pretty quickly if you’re doing a couple each month and have an A race or two that include a lot of travel. Skipping a couple of races and staying home can save hundreds, and the time-savings are pretty great too…
Save energy / travel
For most of us, whether you’re talking about your personal energy levels or your family as a whole, we only have a couple of weekends each year where we can truly check out of real life and be athletes. If you’re constantly trying to race, you’re probably risking annoying your family and using up all of your vacation time at work, and likely end up spread so thin that the night of your A race has you still responding to emails from the office. When you skip a few travel days for races and just go from your door, you gain back a lot of hours and energy so that when your big race comes around, you can actually give it 100% focus.
Figure out what doesn’t work
Let’s be super honest here, if a certain drink mix is going to cause serious stomach distress at mile 22 of a marathon, wouldn’t you rather know that when running solo, versus when you’re in the race with a bunch of people around?
It teaches you to self-motivate
In every ultra-run I’ve done at this point, there’s a fact that you have to accept: You will spend big chunks of time solo on the course. It will be lonely at some moments—even if you’re surrounded by people, you’ll likely need to retreat into your own head for a while. Doing a race simulation solo helps you figure out your own pacing, and your own motivation, so that when race day rolls around, you’re not at the mercy of the guy ahead of you.
It’s freaking fun
If you have friends with similar goals and can set up a race that has a few of you together, it’s even more fun. I was lucky to find a few friends up for doing one of our trail marathons this summer—a few joined for the first 10 miles, then my friend Karen and I finished off 17 together. The other time, Peter did a water stop for me at mile 13, then dropped the van at the end of my route and ran backwards on ‘the course’ to meet me around mile 22 to finish the run together. Adorable.
Now, all of that said… Racing is still awesome and it’s a huge priority for me. But I want to feel like I’m ready and completely committed on every start line that I step up to. So, for me, I’m happy to self-motivate and do race simulations instead of the real thing so that when my A races roll around, I’m good to go and ready to crush souls (or at least make the effort to crush souls!).