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How to race when you’re under-trained

Not ready on race day? Follow these tips to make the most of it

Every year, thousands of runners at road races across Canada, the U.S. and beyond opt not to show up on race day because they’re undertrained. It’s easy to sign up for a race months in advance, brimming with confidence, only to have life commitments or other issues derail your training. If you find yourself in this predicament, don’t throw in the towel just yet. You can still get to the finish line (and not forfeit that pricey registration fee) with just a few tweaks to your race day strategy.

Start line of a race

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Calm down

The reason many runners get a DNS (did not start) next to their name is because they realized they weren’t ready, panicked and let their fear get the better of them. If they do get to the start line, they spend too much energy worrying about what might happen and by the middle of the race, they’re toast. Do your best to stay relaxed so you can save your energy for the racecourse.

Avoid last-minute training

Often, when a runner realizes they’ve under-trained for a race, they try to stick in a last-minute long run or big workout in the days leading up to the race to give them a boost of confidence or try to sneak in some last-minute fitness. The problem is, any fitness you gain during that workout won’t have any impact on your race and even if that final big long run makes you feel more capable going into it, you won’t have enough time to recover from that effort before you toe the start line. It may sound counter-intuitive, but even if you’re not fully prepared, you should still taper properly before you race.


Take care of yourself

This means eat well and get lots of sleep. At this point, the best thing you can do to help yourself on race day is to show up feeling well-rested and ready to go. An extra few hours of sleep in the week before the race will go a lot further than an extra run or workout.

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Adjust your mindset

OK, so this race likely won’t end with a new PB, but that’s not a reason to forfeit. Instead, adjust your goal for where your fitness level is at, and go out there and see what you can do. You can also simply treat the race like a long tempo or a training run or, if you’d really rather remove all the pressure, offer to run with a slower friend to encourage them as they go for their own personal best. However you decide to go about it, now is the time to check your ego at the door and just enjoy the race for what it is.