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How to get real about your running goals

Two effective ways to accurately predict a realistic time goal for your next big race

With fall races only weeks away, there’s no better time to take a step back from rigorous training to see if your preparations are on track.

RELATED: Are you on track to achieve your fall training goals?

Assuming you are healthy and your training has been consistent, you have every reason to start getting excited about your upcoming goal race. But to be successful, having a realistic and accurate goal to achieve is an important–dare we say, essential–part of the process.

Not only will your goal influence and guide your training to some degree,–such as the length, frequency, duration and paces of your runs–it will also affect how you approach the race itself including your pacing, race strategy and even your confidence.

How to set a realistic goal?

There are two effective ways to accurately predict a realistic time goal and both require putting in a big and import effort a few weeks in advance of your goal race.

The first option is to run a tune-up race three-to-six weeks prior to your goal race. This race should be shorter than your goal race distance (or possibly the same distance in the case of a 5K or 10K). If your goal race is a half marathon, consider running a 10K, 15K or 10 miler. If you’re training for a marathon, a half marathon is probably the best option as a tune-up. Aim to run the race at a full and honest effort (i.e. all-out). Doing so will provide valuable information about your current fitness and by using a simple online calculator, you can use the result to predict your goal race time.

Another option is to do a long run (or race) at goal race pace, aiming to cover up to 75% of the goal race distance at goal race pace. This means running up to 16K at goal half marathon pace or up to 32K at goal marathon pace. If your goal is a 5K or 10K, run the full distance 5-15 seconds/K slower than goal pace. In all cases, this is a very challenging workout and should only be done once or twice in training.

Approach both these options as you would your goal race by practicing the same pre-race routines that work for you. Practice a mini-taper by reducing your training load the days and week leading up to the tune-up or race pace run. Get up at the same time, eat and drink the same foods, wear the same clothes and shoes and even warm up in the same way you would on race day. Practice good (consistent) pacing and in-race fueling and hydration as well. Be sure to be well rested before making such an effort and also give yourself plenty of time to rest and recover following the bout. Most importantly, take confidence from this effort and use it to inspire your final bit of training before race day.

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