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Steve Wagner , Published September 16 2012

Wagner: Difficult workouts key for race preparation

Bemidji, Minn.

Tuning up for a key race on your calendar doesn’t have to be a mystery.

Rather, it can be a lot of fun. You can take your fitness to a new level if you pick the right race or workout, then go out and execute.

Quite a few runners made the trek to the Dick Beardsley Half Marathon in Detroit Lakes, Minn., earlier this month. Quite a few will turn around and race marathons – like the Twin Cities Marathon – next month.

For inexperienced marathoners, a half-marathon represents a good challenge and the opportunity to experiment and nail down what they’ll do on marathon morning. Veteran runners can use a half-marathon as an extended speed workout and take the time to elevate their fitness level.

Personally, I like to run a half-marathon a month before a 26.2-mile event and race it as fast as I can. Running hard at faster-than-marathon pace makes the longer distance feel easier and dial in the “feel” of the appropriate effort.

But there’s also another workout that offers an exceptional tune-up for your key race: the simulation workout.

A few years ago, I read about the Hanson Brooks Project – a group of runners who live and train together – and their preparation for the Boston Marathon. As part of training, they ran their 16-mile runs at race effort on a course that simulated the Boston course.

This past weekend, I did a modified simulation workout by going out for a 19-mile run in my build up for this year’s Twin Cities Marathon, which challenges runners with two tough climbs in miles 21 and 22. Both hills can deflate chances of a personal record or kill one’s pace before a long march to the finish.

In my latest long run, I made sure to put two tough hills late in the workout. It wasn’t easy, and I’ll do a similar workout this coming weekend, but I want my training to prepare me for the task ahead. If my toughest runs come during training rather than the race, it gives me a mental lift by making the marathon feel easier.

Bemidji Pioneer Editor Steve Wagner writes a running blog, which can be found online at runningspud.areavoices.com. He can be reached via email at swagner@bemidjipioneer.com.