...and not as a race.
Yes, it can be done--you can race, and use the race as a training tool instead of a smack-down (this is especially effective if you feel you are completely unprepared for some added mileage). This was my method for the Queens Half last week, and I'll tell you how I did it.
1. Decide what the race means to you.
I decided this half definitely was NOT going to be a competitive run for me. I knew that because it was going to be so hot (and I literally melt faster than the Wicked Witch of the West in the heat) that I would not clear my usual half-marathon time. I knew it would take all of my will power just to resist quitting. When I saw this suspicious little pond around mile 10, I was ready to call it a day and jump in the grey-colored water. That's how hot it was.
2. OWN that decision, and you will come out feeling more self-confident.
I didn't feel bad running slower than usual due to my smart decision-making skills. Rather, at the end of the day, I felt pretty accomplished considering I ran three miles to the train stop an hour before the race when it was cooler. In total, I did 16.1 miles that day.
3. Plan the rest of your week's miles accordingly.
This was obviously my "long run" of the week. If I was doing a 5k, I would have made that race my "tempo run" for the week. For a 10k, I would have tried some sort of fartlek routine--keep pace with a faster runner, slow down, repeat, etc. You can adjust your training needs to any weekly race in your hood with some flexibility.
4. Don't let the race itself psych you out.
Weekly races are a great way to keep you and your training on your toes, but it can be easy to get caught up in the moment. Don't self-destruct your training plan by going too fast too soon, and, consequently, don't get yourself down if you are being passed. Remember that the race is a training tool, and the only one you need to worry about is you.
5. Turn "Race" into "Route".
Wow. Look at this gorgeous, traffic-free route they marked out for me today. That was nice of them. Ahh, no need to worry about tuckering out early--someone was kind enough to put out fuel stations for every mile I'm running! I love lime Gatorade. Look--that guy has the same shirt on as me. And so does that guy! This person in front of me has a nice pace I can match for a few miles. How motivating.
You get the idea. Inner dialogue is extremely helpful in boosting your self-confidence. Remember to use it for good and not evil.
I finished the Queens Half without a personal record, but every race after this one is going to be extremely easy. That is enough to get me psyched for my 16-20 mile training run on Sunday, and for the Bronx Half in a few weeks. The Queens Half also gave me an excuse to live off of pretzels for the next week. :)