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The Globe and Mail

Gearing up for a marathon? Try a dress rehearsal

Runners wind through High Park during the Harry's Spring Run-Off To Fight Prostate Cancer on April 2, 2011.

JENNIFER ROBERTS/jennifer roberts The Globe and Mail

We don't get many opportunities to race while training for a marathon due to, well, all the training we're doing. To shake things up and give your race-day routine a dress rehearsal, you may want to consider a pre-marathon race. It'll give you a chance to test your wheels, your nerves and your ego before the big day. Besides these practicalities, races are also lots of fun. You can soak up the atmosphere and energy from your fellow running enthusiasts (not to mention nab a new T-shirt and kit bag).

If this "tester" race goes well, you'll get a confidence boost for the marathon. And if the race does not pan out, don't worry, this was just a trial run – you still have time to prepare for the ultimate challenge.

Look into events that take place about three weeks before the marathon. This will be a good way to kick off the taper phase of your training and allows sufficient time to recover for your "A" race.

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What distance should you do? You can take a few approaches, such as a marathon-paced half-marathon with a strong finish over the final five kilometres. If you need extra practice in starting out slowly (many of us need more practice at this!), then this plan will serve you well. Keep in mind it requires a lot of discipline to hold yourself back.

If you race a half marathon all-out, there's a chance it will impede your performance for the full 42.2 km. You've got to keep your eye on the big prize.

Another option is to try something shorter where you won't be tempted to max yourself out over a long distance. There are many 10-km events this time of year, which is long enough that you don't need heavy speed work and short enough to allow for recovery over the ensuing week. If you are a strength runner (someone who races well with minimum speed work), then the 10 km is the best choice for you.

Have fun and take advantage of the incredible fitness you've gained after weeks of hard training. The real test and reward are just round the corner.

Nicole Stevenson is a running coach and the ninth-fastest female marathon runner in Canadian history. She is a long-time competitor in the Canada Running Series .

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