half marathon tune-up
photo: Stone Malick

Inside Lane: How Top Trials Contenders Train Through a Tune-Up Race

Six elite American runners share their training and strategy around a tune-up half marathon six weeks out from the marathon.

half marathon tune-up

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One of the best ways to prepare for a goal marathon is to test your fitness at a tune-up race. But how should you treat the tune-up? Should you do a full taper for your tune-up race? Dial back some of the mileage? Skip the workouts? Or, proceed as normal?

Many of the nation’s best distance runners used January’s Houston Half Marathon as a test effort ahead of the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials later this month in Atlanta. We checked in with some of them after Houston to see how they prepared that week, and to gauge their strategy and feelings about the upcoming Olympic Trials.

Sara Hall tune-up race
Sara Hall Houston Half Marathon 2020 / photo: Stone Malick

Sara Hall

AGE: 36

CITY: Flagstaff, Arizona; With a “couple of short stints” in Phoenix for sea level training

MARATHON PR: 2:22:16 (Berlin 2019)

HOUSTON RESULT: 68:58, 9th overall/1st American

TRAINING BEFORE TUNE-UP RACE: “I’m in the middle of marathon training and doing a lot of crazy hills to prepare for Atlanta. This [result] is encouraging me in the context of that. Everyone feels different in the middle of marathon training… it’s not something to read into a lot, necessarily.”

OUTLOOK FOR ATL: “My main goal is to stay healthy this year… Personally, I’m just focused on getting there [to Atlanta] in the best version of myself I can possibly be. Women’s marathoning in the U.S. is awesome right now. I’m doing everything I can to be in it. I had to communicate really well with Coach Ryan and my therapist John Wall. I had to minimize my aggressiveness, because I’m naturally very aggressive and I like to take a lot of risk. That pays off a lot, but a lot of times it ends up with injury, so we try to see where we can minimize risk. It’s tricky when you’re training for a hilly marathon because you’re slamming down hills all the time, so that adds another injury risk. I’ve only missed two days of training for a little niggle and I was able to cross-train.”

Molly Huddle tune-up half marathon
Molly Huddle Houston Half Marathon / photo: Stone Malick

Molly Huddle

AGE: 35

CITY: Providence, RI; Currently training in Flagstaff/Phoenix, Arizona

MARATHON PR: 2:26:33 (London 2019)

HOUSTON RESULT: 69:34, 12th overall/2nd American

TRAINING BEFORE TUNE-UP RACE: “I did a workout three days ago. Usually, I do a lighter workout coming in but we just did our regular workout. I think this will be a 105-mile week. My last three weeks have been between 110 to 115 so it’s a little lighter but we didn’t want to cut it too much because we don’t have a ton of time [before the Olympic Trials]. We’re trying to balance race effort and work… [Houston] was meant to be something I don’t have to take a lot of time off after for—don’t want to dig too deep in the hole…I definitely had to put the brakes on a few times and make sure I was within myself… ”

OUTLOOK FOR ATLANTA: “If I had to guess a time range, 2:23-type fitness or maybe faster [to make the Olympic team]. I don’t think you’ll have to run that on the day, but that’s just how good the women are. You have to be in that shape, that caliber of marathoner. It’s hard.

“[Emily Sisson and I] haven’t been working together that much the past month, just because we’ve been in different places and she’s doing a different time trial effort today. I’m hoping after today we’ll line up more in training. I think it’s our biggest advantage that we have each other, kind of like Shalane and Amy did in the last Trials. If we can use that, we’re gonna use that. We just have to get on the same page, fitness-wise.”

Molly Seidel Houston Half Marathon
Molly Seidel Houston Half Marathon / photo: Stone Malick

Molly Seidel

AGE: 25

CITY: Boston, MA; Currently training in Flagstaff/Phoenix, Arizona


HOUSTON RESULT: 69:35, 13th overall/3rd American

TRAINING BEFORE TUNE-UP RACE: “Training’s been good but not over-the-top great the past couple weeks in Flagstaff. I wanted to come in and hold my own and was pleasantly surprised. This was my second [half marathon]; I actually really like the distance. I’ve mostly done 5ks, 10ks, and I really like the training for longer distances. It keeps me healthier than training for shorter distances and I really like the feeling of hauling for a long period of time.

“I switched it up [recently] and moved to a new coach [Jon Green]. It’s been a bit more distance-based, not as high-intensity. High-intensity work tends to get me hurt really quickly. Right now, I’ve got five months of training. I had to miss 2018 from July to December; I got surgery on my hip and then all the little things popping up after that. Hoping to keep building and trying to be careful, but also get in enough volume that I’ll be ready for this race. [I’m usually running] 100 to 105 [miles per week], trying to get in solid long runs, one to two workouts. I see these women doing 20-mile workouts and I’m not doing that yet.”

OUTLOOK FOR ATLANTA: “It’s definitely going to be much more of a learning experience for me. Top 10 would be out of the park, super cool. Anywhere in that range would be my goal.”

Aliphine Tuliamuk Buffalo Park
Aliphine Tuliamuk training in Buffalo Park, Flagstaff / photo: NAZ Elite

Aliphine Tuliamuk

AGE: 30

CITY: Flagstaff, Arizona

MARATHON PR: 2:26:50 (Rotterdam 2019)

HOUSTON RESULT: 69:49, 19th overall/7th American

TRAINING BEFORE TUNE-UP RACE: “On Wednesday, I had 15 x Mile. Biggest workout so far. And I had a double that day, so I did 25 miles that day. I was not tapering for this; our coach [Ben Rosario] wanted us to come here with tired legs. The last couple days felt good, felt fresh, but I did have a chest condition… I wasn’t sure how I’d feel because I’ve been struggling to breathe. My legs did get a little tired [during the race], but now I feel good, I guess the marathon legs are helping me.

“Last week, I was like 120 [miles] and up until Wednesday I was [trending toward] 120 but then Thursday, I had 10, Friday 8, Saturday 6, last few days kind of tapering… It’s been a long time since I was able to run a 1:09, so I can’t complain, I feel very happy.”

OUTLOOK FOR ATLANTA: “We’ve done a lot of workouts already. I hope I still have another gear of fitness; the next three weeks will be solid weeks of marathon training with some good tempos and long runs. I have tried to play [the Olympic Trials] out in my mind and I don’t know what it will take [to make the team], but I think the winning time will be under 2:30. It’s a hard course but under 2:30 for sure.”

Jared Ward tune-up race for marathon
Jared Ward Houston Half Marathon / photo: Stone Malick

Jared Ward

AGE: 31

CITY: Provo, UT

MARATHON PR: 2:10:45 (New York 2019)

HOUSTON RESULT: 61:36, 11th overall/1st American

TRAINING BEFORE TUNE-UP RACE: “I’ve been running 100 to 110 miles per week… We worked out on Tuesday, probably 80 percent of the volume we would normally do on a Tuesday, but same intensity, and then Thursday’s workout was probably 50 percent of the volume, but the same intensity. My mileage this week is going to be about the same as it would be any other week. I normally don’t train Sundays, so I get an extra day on these Sunday race weeks to snag a little extra mileage. Keep tomorrow pretty light and work out again on Thursday.

“These last few weeks will be a solid 110 [miles per week]. I used to run more 120, but found I stay healthier if I’m more like 110, so that’s where we live now. Three or four days a week, I’ll double. I cross-train some doubles now instead of running them, and I train a six-day cycle, long run Saturday, off Sunday.”

OUTLOOK FOR ATLANTA: “It’s different than last time for sure [making the Olympic team as a relative underdog in 2016]. I was a bit of a longshot last time and fortunate to have a good race on the right day. For me, it almost takes some pressure off because I feel confident in my ability to perform.

“As I’ve had more good races back to back, and a good tune-up race today, it puts me in a position going into the Trials where I get to control my outcome, as opposed to 2016, I was out there to put together my best race and see where it put me at the finish line. I was more a function in 2016 of what everyone else was running around me. If I go out and run my race and run what I’m capable of, I can make the team. It comes with more spotlight, I guess, but not necessarily more pressure.”


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1:01:37 at @chevronhoustonmarathon Half this morning, good for second American and a big PB. Things are clicking at the right time, and I couldn’t be happier about it. I’ll be honest, it felt incredible to be back on the roads, throwing in surges and making it hurt in a way I haven’t been able to in a few months. ⁣ ⁣ Something felt special in the air this weekend—for me, and for a large contingent of American men, and that showed through in the depth of field. Fourteen of us under 1:02 on a day that marks a big turning point in our careers for most of us. Proud to share in it with all of you, and excited to see what we can do in Atlanta. It’s gonna be a dog fight.⁣ ⁣ @stonemalick bringing the 🔥

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Reed Fischer

AGE: 24

CITY: Boulder, CO


HOUSTON RESULT: 61:37, 12th overall/2nd American

TRAINING BEFORE TUNE-UP RACE: “The fitness is there, but obviously, everyone’s on tired marathon legs…This week [was] pretty chill, I think I’ll end up 85 to 90 miles. I did a quicker tune-up on Tuesday, some threshold work and then a hard, blow-out 800-meter rep, which is pretty standard for us. It felt good to run some fast stuff off the marathon legs. I’ve been keeping my mileage in the triple digits and doing a lot of strength-focused sessions to get sharp.

“It’s enough to give you a dose of freshness and feeling poppy, but it’s high enough that with the race-week boost, it really feels like a full week of marathon training.”

OUTLOOK FOR ATLANTA: “I think everybody’s got eyes on Jared… he’s insanely, insanely consistent. If Jared’s the benchmark, that’s a good indicator of where I’ll be for Atlanta… To be in the hunt with him for the top American spot is really encouraging for next month.”

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