Test competitions as preparation for a major goal

10. January 2018

You regularly run a 10-km city run once a year? Then have fun! Enjoy the special atmosphere and the many spectators. However, you don’t need any targeted preparation or meticulous planning for this.

You are planning your first marathon next summer? Then this is a completely different situation, because you are purposefully preparing for a major goal, are full of intentions, and have a training plan to ensure you are physically ready when it counts.

While some things can only be partially practiced in training, a test competition, if skilfully planned, is a perfect opportunity to test and experience them.

Out of your training

Test competitions are ideal for finding out what your current fitness level is like and what realistic time you can hope to achieve at the main target competition. However, they are also great for testing your shoes and nutrition, experiencing the warming up and starting procedure, noticing what impact hundreds of like-minded souls can have on your perception, and finding out which clothing is useful when. In short: a test competition brings a wealth of experience and knowledge, which can only be partially simulated if there is no racing atmosphere. 

Test competitions come out of your training, which raises the question; when is the appropriate moment? Out of your training means that your training is only slightly reduced during the last one or two days before the competition, but there is no full recovery phase (tapering) beforehand as is the case for a major goal. You need to interpret the time at a test competition accordingly: fully recovered, you would have run somewhat faster.  

Test everything

What does a test competition lend itself to? For extensively testing running shoes, running socks, clothing, and accessories such as drink belts, etc. under time pressure. Food and drink is also extremely important: find out which diet suits you the best and also test whether you can tolerate the products offered by the organiser. On the day before the test run, you should also ideally eat what you plan to eat before your main competition.


If possible, select a test run that takes place on similar ground to the target competition. And if a mountain run is your goal, it makes sense to select a test competition on hilly ground.

And what routes make sense? Marathon runners should ideally complete a test half-marathon. In turn, it’s best if half-marathon runners run10-km to 10-mile distances. Regular short-distance runners (below 10 km) can also choose their favourite racing distance as a test competition. And occasional runners, who, as mentioned at the beginning, only want to do a short run for the experience, do not have to specifically prepare for it. 

Mental variety

When it comes to tactics, the following applies to a test competition: run at a regular tempo or preferably run the second half a little bit faster than the first. A test competition brings new motivation and the opportunity to fully step on the accelerator pedal once without any training guidelines. This adds variety and gives you both physical and mental strength. 

Regarding dates, test competitions should not be undertaken less than two weeks (three weeks is better for half marathons) before the main competition. Of course, you can also complete several shorter-distance test competitions in the run up to a marathon during the long preparation period.

A certain time lag before the main competition is needed to fully recover and build up your body again. Your performance level also plays a role here: if you are well trained, your body can recover from a race faster and you can shorten the time lag to the main competition. The less trained you are, the greater the time lag to the target competition.

Planned competition: Test run / Test run time

Marathon: Half marathon (or 10-km run) / 3 to 6 weeks beforehand
Half marathon: 10-km run (or 5-km run) / 3 to 4 weeks beforehand
10-km run: 5-km run (or 3-km run) / 2 to 4 weeks beforehand

New reference values

When you complete a test competition, you can analyse your current fitness level quite well. For example, if you complete a 10-km test run 3 weeks before your half marathon, you can use a runtime computer (e.g. running.COACH or Marathon Rechner) to calculate and predict the time for your target competition. You will thus have readjusted values for your tempo and a roughly realistic kilometre time for your competition. 

Foto: ZVG