How to Finish a Race You Haven’t Trained For


Grete Waitz is a legend and I always think of her when I hear people complain that they are running a race but they didn’t train well. (Often it is me LOL)

She had never run farther than 12 miles before her first marathon in New York in 1978. Not only did she finish the race, but she won it – and set a course record. At age 25.

Most unprepared runners aren’t so lucky.

So if you are signed up to run a big race and have not adequately trained for it, here are some things you can do:

  • Consider your alternatives.

Some races allow runners to switch from a marathon to a half-marathon, a half to a 5K, or to enter a relay with friends rather than completing the entire distance alone. You can also try contacting the race director to see if you can transfer your bib to next year’s race. Volunteering to give out water or simply cheering are also good ways to be part of the race without risking injury.

my friend Tina downgraded to the 5k in Montreal from the Half.

But if you’re committed to running the entire race.  All hope is not lost. You just have to approach the race with the strategy and mindset of a champion – even if your training was anything but.

  • Prepare Your Body 

Sometimes life or your body gets in the way of your training.

So two weeks prior to the race, do not do anything crazy. The last thing you want to do in the final two weeks is squeeze in those long runs because you think that you will be better prepared for the race.

The best thing you can do is just get a few short runs in to keep your legs fresh.

Calf injury curtailed my Half training – had to cut back rather than doing my long double digit runs.

In other words, don’t cram in those miles.

  • Prepare Your Mind

It’s even more important to manage your expectations when entering a race with little training.

It is very unlikely that if you didn’t train for the race that you will achieve a PR or BQ.

thrilled with finishing the NYC Half Marathon

Remember to celebrate FINISH LINES not FINISH TIMES.

  • Race Strategically

substitute RACE for RUN

Once the gun goes off, hold yourself back. Pace yourself, take walk breaks and even take time periodically to stop, stretch and massage any muscles that are getting tense.

You can also play mind games with yourself. Think about the race as smaller segments – a half marathon could be broken into about four 5Ks races, for example.

Another hint is to “Run the mile you’re in” rather than thinking about all the miles you have YET to run and how hard it will be to finish the race distance.

with no double digits runs done for this half…my legs were indeed weary at this 15k point!!

Try to maintain positivity, not panic. This is the real trick to finishing a race when you’re under-trained.

I’m certainly not an expert but something special happens on race day. You have support, you have crowds, you have water stops, and more.

You will be mentally fired up in a way that you cannot be for any training run – that’s why we do races. You have to have faith in race day magic.

Believe me, it will happen.

This was my slowest half marathon (in 2011). I walked half of it due to recovering from an Achilles injury but I had the BEST time!!

  • Have fun!

If you are under-trained for race, the race will most likely feel tough but it can still be enjoyable.

Often, the greatest joy comes from the toughest challenges.

As they say: “Pain is temporary. Pride lasts forever”

I say “GO FOR IT!”

so glad I did!

** None of the above applies to racing with a serious injury or against Doctor’s orders!!!


There is now a link-up organized by Zenaida and Kim (Kooky Runner).

Since today is Tuesday, I’m  linking up with these ladies.


I’m linking also up with Coaches Corner–DebbieSusieLora, and Rachel!

and Wild Workout Wednesday with NicoleAnnmarieJen, and Michelle.

Happy Running! Have you run races under-trained? If so, how did the race turn out?  Any other advice to add? Please share.

38 thoughts on “How to Finish a Race You Haven’t Trained For

  1. I had never heard that story about Grete Waitz before, how cool that she was able to win! I really like the tip about breaking up the race into smaller distances to help mentally. I do this all the time and it really does make it seem better.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m that runner who pushes herself to finish even when unprepared. Until now! I always relied on experience to get me across the finish line. Downgrading to the 5k at my last race was probably the smartest thing I’ve done in my running life.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I was always a big fan of Grete’s. I think the age 25 may have something to do with her ability to be undertrained for a race and still do extremely well; of course, she was amazingly talented too.

    I am often undertrained for my races. Thanks for the great tips. I love “run the mile you’re in”!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. That “Don’t Be Upset” meme is totally what I’m working on now. I think finishing a race you haven’t trained for requires running it like you haven’t trained for it, and you covered that with the advice to hold back–especially for a longer race.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This has definitely happened to me a few times. Once I dropped down in distance (from half marathon to 10K). For other races where that wasn’t an option, I did run/walk intervals. I also think that being realistic about what you can do is also super important.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This is really great advice. I love the quote on not being upset about missing goals that you didn’t do the work to achieve. So true! I think managing expectations is so important when you’re undertrained. There is race magic, but it only goes so far!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Absolutely on not cramming. I can’t remember the exact quote since I can’t find the post at the moment, but course strategy for Lebow said essentially: better to be ten miles undertrained than one mile over.
    Grete’s story is amazing

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m looking at your racing calendar and it’s packed! I only run a handful of races each year and that ensures that I’m fully prepared for each one. Everyone has a strategy and a game plan; it looks like yours works for you!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’ve totally run undertrained and it’s been fine. I think I have enough fitness to get through most distances (at least up through a half marathon, although I could probably lay out a slow marathon if I had to). I don’t think it’s the best idea for everyone, but if you are fit enough and have a good attitude and are willing to get out there and have fun, it’s fine.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. These are all great tips! I have definitely done some races not fully trained. I always lower my expectations and keep my pace nice & slow, where my only goal is to finish!!

    Liked by 1 person

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