FFF: Racing without Training

As Fall seems to be the time for Big races (especially this year), this topic seems appropriate.

Grete Waitz is a legend and I always think of her when I hear people lament 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:

1.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 from the Half. (in Montreal)

two of friends (left & right) decided to spectate rather than run.

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.

2.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.

3.Prepare Your Mind

It’s even more important to manage your expectations when entering a race with little or no 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

my friend Deb walked the half because she hadn’t trained

Remember to celebrate FINISH LINES not FINISH TIMES.

4.Race Strategically

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 not 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.

my friend Heidi lost some precious weeks early in her training but she adapted and ran a great race

5.Have fun!

If you are not 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!”

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!!

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

Happy Running! Have you ever run a race without training? How did it turn out? If so, any other tips to add? Please share.







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14 thoughts on “FFF: Racing without Training

  1. “Once the gun goes off, hold yourself back. Pace yourself”. Sorry, I did have to laugh at that — because you know that’s do as you say, not as you do.

    As you know I’m not a huge fan of running races untrained. Elites tend to be outliers, so not really a great example. If we always ran like elites, most of the time it wouldn’t end well.

    I think it depends on the distance and how undertrained you are. Because I have seen far too many runners encouraged to run longer races with little training, and that can be a disaster. Walking is a different story, but even that, when you get to longer distances, should have some training — walking and running uses our muscles in different ways.

    I once walked a half with an injured friend. We did not walk fast. It only aggravated her injury and I was sore, too, although not injured.

    So my answer is it just really depends. Why is the runner undertrained? What’s the longest distance they managed? What’s the distance of the race? Is there something going on with their body but they don’t want to admit it? Will they actually be able to keep themselves from racing? What do they have coming up? Is it a goal race?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha ha. I knew you’d disagree.

      I have heard more positive stories from doing the race than not. I have been part of them.

      Not saying that it’s always ends well. But I didn’t want to be a Debbie Downer.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I ran Grandma’s Marathon (2015) with a very compromised training cycle. Spring (at that time) had always been crazy with Prom duties, dance recital, tennis…and that year we also had our son’s HS graduation and the unexpected passing of my MIL. And then a surprise bday party for the SIL a week later. My long runs were pathetic (the longest was 15, I think), but I at least had a good endurance base. It’s tricky running a race under-trained, but it (usually) is a lesser evil than being over-trained. Adjusting one’s race day goals is key, and making the best of the situation will help get you to the finish line. Of course, there’s no shame in downgrading to a shorter distance, either.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Coming back from an. injury, I have done a half without being properly trained. My plan was to do long walk intervals. This really helped my endurance and prevented my injury from returning. I also think in most cases it is better to be a little undertrained than overtrained.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I didn’t know that about Grete Waitz! Crazy that she won a marathon after capping out at 12 miles on her long run. Those sure were different days- they were still trying to figure out what the best marathon training was.
    Yes, I say go for it! Barring serious injury, of course. Racing is supposed to be fun- if you think it will be fun, even if you’re undertrained, then why not? It will still be a cool experience.


  5. I’ve done a couple of halfs that I was definitely undertrained for thanks to an injury and I agree that you certainly have to be strategic about getting through it – it’s all about celebrating the finish line and letting go of what your watch says. Nowadays, I’m much more likely to try to downgrade to a shorter distance – it all depends on my reasons for being undertrained.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great tips and I love how you gave examples of your races and your friends’ races, and how you all made necessary adjustments based on your training. How cool that Grete Waitz won the NYC Marathon without running farther than 12 miles in her training. Wow, just wow!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. It’s all about having fun! I think once you reach a certain point of fitness, you can pretty much hop into most races, so long as your expectations are reasonable. It may not be pretty, but it’s doable.

    Some people are just incredible in their ability to push beyond the training! I love that for Waltz!

    Liked by 1 person

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