I often have a pretty sporadic race calendar, because to be honest, I prefer only having one or two big races on the calendar every year. That means I don’t get a ton of race days in, which means in the last few years, I’ve had to do more ‘race day simulations’ within training to get ready for the big events. Honestly? I get as much satisfaction from those efforts than I do at the actual races, if not more—I find them much less stressful from a planning perspective.
Now, before I dig into the benefits, I’ll add a caveat: It doesn’t take the place of racing, and to some extent, the fact that it’s less stressful actually makes it problematic since it doesn’t prepare you for the start line on race day. So there’s a balance, and I do recommend adding local races to your schedule if you’re someone who doesn’t do well on start lines. Your A race should never be your first race of the year unless there’s a really, really good reason for that! (Even when I raced my 100-miler in 2021 in early February, I hunted out a mid-January 6-hour just to get a start line ahead of it.)
But anyway, if you’re trying to stay on a budget/can’t travel to many races but have ultra-endurance running or biking goals, I love the idea of race day simulations and I think most of us can use more of these and less real race days. Here’s the benefits/how to make them count:
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, and setting a strict early ‘start time’ rather than just meandering out of the house when I felt ready to roll. 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!).
Put it on the calendar NOW
Final tip: These should be put on the calendar well in advance, since you do want that element of scheduling and planning—and race prep. It won’t look the same as your A race, obviously, but you’ll still want to taper/recover, and do the nutrition ‘stuff’ like your standard pre-race meal and breakfast. The more seriously you take these as ‘race days,’ the more useful they are. So put some on the calendar for early spring now!