Fitness / Outdoor Running

How to Finish a Race When You Just Didn’t Train

Sometimes life gets in the way of race training. Here's how to deal.

The only thing worse than hearing your alarm go off at 5:30 A.M. on race day is hearing your alarm go off on race day when you know you’re not prepared. Hey, it happens. As much as you’d love to devote your days to training, fueling, and sleeping to nail that PR, there’s often a little thing called life that gets in the way.

We won’t lie to you. Showing up to a race that you’re not fully prepared for is both physically and mentally taxing. But, with a few strategies in mind, you can still make race day an enjoyable one.

Change Your Mentality

Showing up to the starting line is half the battle, as cheesy as it sounds. “I say 80 percent, if not more, of an event is mental,” says Aaptiv trainer and multi-sport athlete Benjamin Green. “If I go into an event with a negative or unpleasant attitude, then it’s going to show.” Staying focused and positive can make a race that you’re not feeling too good about much better. Imagine yourself at the finish and visualize how proud you’ll feel crossing the line, regardless of time.

Set Two Goals

A helpful trick for coping with less-than-ideal training conditions is to set two goals. Green says he always sets two goals for himself during a race: an aggressive pace and a realistic pace. Your aggressive pace is what you hope to achieve should training go smoothly. Your realistic pace, well, it’s just that. It’s the pace you can reach knowing the amount of training time you actually put in. Green says the trick here is to ensure that your realistic goal is actually realistic—and that you’re content with achieving that!

Bring Your Group

It’s true what they say: There’s strength in numbers. Transitioning your race into an opportunity to run with friends instead of a chance to PR can be just as rewarding. “Not every race is about trying to hit a PR or going as fast as I can,” explains Green. “Sometimes I will go with my friends or other groups to go have fun and support each other. Yes, I am being timed, but if I can bring a group of individuals to help finish their 1st mile walk, 5K, 10K, bike ride, century ride, then I am beyond happy,” he says.

Not running with anyone? Recruit some friends to post up at key miles that you know are rough for you. Seeing a familiar face and hearing a few cheers might just be the oomph you need to get you through a mental or physical block. Plus, who can say no to a post-race brunch?

Listen to Your Body

If you’re not totally trained, your body is going to feel it. But don’t let the pain stop you. Take every measure to minimize the hurt. Wear comfortable clothes and shoes, make sure you’re properly fueled, and take water or goo if that’s what you’ve trained for.

If you feel winded or sore, know that it’s perfectly OK to walk for a bit. There is zero shame in walking for a minute or so each mile. In fact, the run-walk-method is a favorite training plan of many long-distance runners who want to conserve energy during a long run. The key to making this work while you’re racing is to run at a somewhat conservative pace and then walk briskly so your heart rate doesn’t drop too low. You’ll be giving your body the break it needs but still getting a great workout and race experience.

Plan Better Next Time

Like we said before, not every race has to be a knockout. Acknowledging that you didn’t get the proper training you had wanted to achieve your aggressive pace is the first step to doing better during the next race.

Assess what derailed your plan in the first place and if it was a factor you can control next time. Did you choose a training plan that was too demanding? It might be time to revisit your goals. Opt for a plan that’s better suited to your calendar and skills. (Aaptiv has several race training plans to help you accomplish your next goal!) On the other hand, realize that things like work, travel, and illness can’t always be changed. Don’t beat yourself up over it!

Learning to adapt and choosing Aaptiv classes that you can squeeze in here and there can make all the difference with your race day experience. At the end of the day, a race is supposed to be an opportunity to celebrate your healthy body and enjoy the sport you love.

Fitness Outdoor Running


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