Split test sessions before a competition are essential! Whether it is a 10km, a half or a marathon, it is in our best interest to spend it. It allows you to be reassured about your shape as well as to know where you're going in terms of pace. Because the last thing you want on the day of an objective competition is to have to adjust your pace along the way! So today, I will explain in detail why split test sessions are important. I will give you the key sessions I use for the 10km, half and marathon. But above all, I will tell you when to do them and how to do them well to put all the chances on your side! And you have the choice of format. The video below, or the text that follows right after!
Split test sessions to be in control on your 10km, half or marathon!
I said it and I repeat it, the last thing we want on the day of the competition is to have to adjust our pace because we didn't validate it in training. If you can think of a certain time in 10k, half or marathon, you have to make sure that you can keep up the pace until the end. This is where the split test sessions come in. We are not going to do the distance of our entire race but we will do this session at the end of the preparation cycle. This session will therefore be performed with a relatively high level of fatigue. In fact, we will simulate our race with these shorter distances because on D-day, we will no longer be tired, we will be at 100% of our means, and that changes everything!
The 3 sessions of split test to validate his running pace
The test session is the last big session before gradually slowing down until the competition to erase the fatigue.
Split test session for the 10km
To validate your pace in the 10km, you will have your test session between 7 and 10 days before the race. The session I propose is a 3000-2000-1000m with 1'30 jogging recovery between each fraction. Each fraction is run at a target speed of 10km. The goal is to manage the 3,000 m exactly as if it were the start of your 10km. You have to do your best to start right away in the right rhythm, not too fast or too slow. Because leaving too fast, you pay cash per 10km. And if you start too slowly, the delay is often very difficult to catch up. Holding 3,000 m should seem difficult but without being a huge effort if your pace is right.
The rest of the session is done with a short recovery and must confirm that the 3,000 m at this rate did not burn you. You will of course finish the tired session, it is a very big session to do with fatigue, even more if you do it alone! You will surely have the impression that you will not be able to keep up with this pace... But once again, with a good recovery until D-Day and the race conditions that boost... it will do it! In any case, this split session shows that you have it in your legs!
Split test session for the half marathon
The split test half-marathon session is to be carried out 10 days before the race. It consists of 3 x 3,000 m running at the half-marathon speed target with 1'30 recovery between fractions. This session must be even more of a train ride than the previous one. The first 3,000 m is used to set the pace, it gradually raises the cardio, but if you are in good shape, it shouldn't be particularly difficult. On the 2nd 3,000 m, you have to think about being as relaxed as possible, running efficiently, like in the middle of your half-marathon.
Finally, the 3rd 3,000 m will probably sting with the fatigue accumulated during previous training sessions but can you tell yourself that this is where it works? It won't be easy at the end of the race, you have to be prepared for it! Remember not to get tense and stay in shape. And you should eventually be able to finish without having to force a lot, by staying on the train. We want to finish this split test session by feeling that with rest and a big race day mental, we could continue to run without too much trouble.
Split test session for the marathon
Finally, the split test marathon session is a little different from the others. We want to work on our marathon pace, but we also and above all want to test our ability to keep up the distance. It is a very tiring session, so it is usually done 3 weeks before the target marathon.
Option 1: In training: This session takes the form of a long outing, the longest in your preparation: I recommend 2h30. For 1 hour and 15 minutes, we're just going to jog. Not too slowly, trying to stay at 75% FCM to pre-fatigue the body. Then, we will attack 2 x 30′ at marathon speed with 2' between the blocks. Check your pace regularly and try to run in the most relaxed, economical way possible. Also check that your cardio remains in the nails (if you have a cardio watch), especially on the 2nd 30'. This session is very tiring but also very revealing of your form. And it is perfect to test your marathon refueling in "almost" real condition.
Option 2: In competition: Another way to test your fitness and do it in a more fun way is to participate in a half-marathon. Plan to run it entirely at marathon speed by doing everything as on marathon day. The total of this outing must be 2h30 so depending on the estimated time of your half, add jogging before the race (example: you plan a marathon in 4h, run this half-marathon in 2h and do 30′ jogging before the race)
What to do when the rhythm of the test session is not maintained?
Complex but very important question. If you are not able to keep up the pace during your test session... there is a big risk that you will not be able to keep up in competition! Be careful not to fall into pessimism. Did you feel very tired before starting this session?
If so, you may have pushed the machine to the maximum and your body simply needs the recovery phase that arrives to fall into peak form (see here for more information). Or maybe you just aimed too high and the test session just showed it? In any case, I strongly advise you to revise your running speed downwards. It's the best strategy. Because blowing up in the middle of your race won't do you any good!
On the contrary, if the form is finally there on D-Day, you can gradually accelerate from mid-race (or the 30th km for the marathon!). It's much more pleasant to relaunch by saying that you're stronger than you thought than the other way around! Maybe you'll lose a little bit of your optimal time? Again, it's always better than exploding in flight, in my opinion. It will only boost you for your next competition!
Don't skip the split test sessions!
Doing split test sessions obviously does not guarantee the result... so much can happen on the day. The result of a competition is always complex to predict! Sometimes we find the test session difficult and we outperform at the competition (Semi of New York 2016 where I really forced to hold 3'40/km at my test session and I achieved an average of 3'39/km on the day of the race!)
And sometimes it's the other way around, you can easily validate your test session and it's a disaster on the day of the competition (Semi of New-Orleans 2018, easy to test on 3'38/km and in loss on D-day at 3'52/km in the end). But when you do everything in training to get to the top on D-Day... you have nothing to blame yourself for when you run into a day without... It's my philosophy, I hope you share it! ????