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Training in the real world: when you’re undertrained

Training in the real world: Undertrained. What to do if you're not prepared for a race. Nowadays, races – especially large, popular ones – sell out months in advance. When you signed up to run a November marathon back in January, you likely had the best of intentions to train hard and do well in the race.

But a lot of things can happen in the months between registration and race day. Illness, injury, a move, a new job, a new child, and many more life happenings can unexpectedly thwart your training plans. And before you know it, it’s October – a couple weeks before your marathon – and you’re severely undertrained.

So, what do you do?

  1. Relax. Being undertrained is not the end of the world. In fact, thanks to the way race registrations work these days, a lot of other runners will be in your shoes, too. Even if this is a “once in a lifetime” event – like the Boston Marathon – try not to be too hard on yourself for getting in this predicament. We all like to believe we’d do well in big races. But the truth is, even if you’re training went perfectly, the race could still go awry. At least this way, you don’t have any false expectations.
  2. Consider sitting the race out. If you cannot remember the last time that you ran double digit miles, running a marathon probably isn’t a wise move. Not only would it be incredibly painful, but you also have a good chance of getting hurt, and no race is worth that risk. Many races allow for deferrals and legal bib transfers if you do it before a deadline.  Skipping the race is probably your best bet if you’ve never completed the distance before. Marathons are challenging enough even when you have proper training under your belt. You want to be adequately trained for your first marathon, or else the experience will be miserable. Also, keep in mind that there really is no such thing as a “once in a lifetime” race (unless you’re trying competing in the Olympics). You could always try to qualify for Boston again or run with a charity group next time.
  3. Aim to finish, no matter how long it takes. If you’re a marathon veteran, it may be OK to give the race a shot even if you’re undertrained, as long as you have realistic expectations. How many times have you said that your only goal for a race is just “to finish”? Yeah, we have, too. But most of the time we always have a time goal, even if I never admit it to anyone else. When you’re undertrained, you cannot have any time goals. You have to be prepared to see much slower paces and a much slower time on the clock. Try not to get discouraged – remember that completing a race, no matter how long it takes, is a huge accomplishment. Listen to your body, and take walk breaks and stretching breaks as needed.
  4. Be prepared to DNF. No runner wants to add a DNF (Did Not Finish) to their running résumé. DNFs sting at the time, but in the long run they’re not so bad. Trying to complete a distance that you’re not trained for could lead to injury and a lot of anguish. Consider it a learning experience and vow to train better next time – or only sign up for small, local races that don’t require registering so far in advance.

Written by Jen Matz.

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