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When I first started running, I was extremely stubborn and naive. Stretching was pointless, ice baths were a waste of time, and the thought of wearing a water belt reminded me of my mom running around Disney World while waving a magic wand. Come race day, I had one pace: full throttle, which usually resulted in burnout and disappointment when I measured my race performance against my disorganized goals. After I moved to California, built my base, and began to prioritize races, something clicked: races didn’t need to be high pressure experiences where success or failure was measured by a stopwatch. I took a more relaxed approach, and reveled in the opportunity to race in picturesque locations like Big Sur, Napa, and Marin; races became the new long run.

Giant Race 2013.  Look mom - no water belt!

Giant Race 2013. Look mom – no water belt!

Toward the end of a training cycle, the long days are vital for aerobic fitness and race preparation.  They provide an opportunity to test out new gear, practice pacing, and build confidence.  Unfortunately, they can also present challenges that aren’t encountered on race day.  Water may not be readily available, carrying nutrition could lead to wearing the dreaded “mom at Disney World” race belt, and you’re not out there alongside your 20,000 closest friends.  Instead of slogging through a long workout solo, why not find a race that coincides with your training plan?  Leave the water belt at home, put the headphones away, and enjoy the comfort of knowing that you’re on a supported course.  If nothing else, think of it as paying race registration for an all you can eat, all you can drink electrolyte buffet.  You may even find a new trail or eight.

I’ve used races in place of long runs over the past two years, most recently at the Giant Race in early August.  Although the race was a 10K and shorter than my upcoming races, it provided me with a chance to push hard over a short distance without tacking on days of recovery that I’d need after a long race.  I also try to set small goals for training races, such as pushing for 10 miles of a marathon, or running hard on the declines.  In two weeks, Taylor and I will be putting this strategy to the test, celebrating my birthday and “racing” the Mount Diablo Marathon as a long workout ahead of North Face Endurance Challenge 50K.  When was the last time thousands of people came to your birthday party?