Updated: Jul 1, 2019
Let me start with a disclaimer: I am not a run coach. CLEARLY. And running a race - especially a long-ish one - with no training is probably not the best idea.
But sometimes it happens.
It happens for a variety of reasons. Maybe you were injured. Maybe you got a late spot in a race that had been full. Maybe you just plain forgot to train, or were too busy (or lazy!). Whatever the case may be, you find yourself staring race day in the face, feeling wholly unprepared and unsure what to do. Do you scratch? Run anyway? What’s the best move?
Obviously if we’re talking marathon or half-marathon distance, you could really get hurt if you run with zero training, but let’s say we’re talking about a more manageable distance. This is the situation I found myself in this past weekend.
I’ve spent the past year being pregnant or in postpartum recovery-land, so I haven’t done much running.
That’s right. In a YEAR.
This past weekend was the annual PRIDE RUN 5-miler put on by the New York Roadrunners in Central Park. George & I have run it almost every year we’ve been together, and it is a BLAST. It is truly one of the most fun races of the year, with nearly 10,000 participants, many of whom dress up BIG TIME. There’s rainbow flags, tutus, and glitter galore, and the energy in the air is simply electric.
I signed us up for the race shortly after I delivered Asher a few months ago, thinking I’d have time to train. But, given that I’ve been recovering from my c-section, not to mention my chronic knee pain has flared up every time I tried to run even a mile or two, I found myself the night before the race preparing my outfit & gear and wondering: WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING, AND WILL I ACTUALLY BE ABLE TO CROSS THE FINISH LINE?
Here’s the thing - it’s really frustrating to have your mind want to do something and your body not be able to keep up. But it’s reality. And when you’re not trained at all, five miles feels super far, no matter who you are.
I decided to run the race, and I’m SO HAPPY I did. Here are a few tips that got me through, even when I was on the struggle bus:
Hydration & Nutrition
I’ve long credited my 2016 NYC marathon success with my fastidious attention to my hydration & nutrition regimen, which I tailored to meet my running needs.
Even though five miles is usually not a long distance for me, when you’re not at all trained, five miles should be treated like a marathon with regards to planning your body’s fuel.
I have loved the concept of chia seeds for runners ever since I read “Born to Run.” The book tells the story of the Tarahumara Indians who - geographically isolated by Mexico's deadly Copper Canyons - have honed the ability to run hundreds of miles without rest or injury. A HUGE part of their story is consuming chia seeds…. So Health Warrior Chia bars are my go-to snack. They’re small and fit in my running belt (or fanny pack in this case) and I can take little nibbles throughout the morning to “stay afloat.”
George and I also hydrate like it’s our JOB, chugging bottles of water starting the night before. The chia seeds retain water, helping you stay hydrated longer, which is a bonus!
The only part that’s not a bonus? Having to use the port-o-potties at the race.
The Power of Stretching & Foam Rolling
Three days before the race, I started foam rolling. That might not seem like a big deal, but it’s actually a VERY big deal. Let me put this in caps so you hear me yelling:
FOAM ROLLING CHANGED MY LIFE.
I had gotten to a point where my knee was pretty much destroyed from running, and every time I ran a race I’d be hobbling for days. Foam rolling changed all of that. I was going to get injections, or even surgery. Turns out I had runners knee and just needed to loosen things up in there through rolling to improve my condition.
Thus, foam rolling for a even just a few days was a MUST, and it made a total difference.
Onsite at the race:
I was a stretchin’ fool! And it DEFINITELY helped…
By the time I finished the race, I was experiencing muscle cramps (like stiffness bordering on spasms) in my calves, hammies, & quads. We literally crossed the finish line and kept walking, straight to our gym and its stretch & foam rolling section.
“Preparation” when you can’t prep
Since my knee was hurting so much, I couldn’t run prior to the race, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t log the miles on my legs.
I’d take Asher (my 12-week old) out in his stroller for an hour walk through Central Park several times leading up to the race, making sure to take the hilly route for a little extra umph!
Walking for an hour put me at about 3 miles, so at least I had started warming up my legs to the idea that they’d be covering that kind of ground.
When I’m running - especially when it’s starting to seem really hard - I pick a mantra that I can repeat over and over in my head until it becomes rhythmic, like a moving meditation. Sometimes it’s “Slow & Steady,” others its “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”
In this race, we tackle what’s called “the Harlem Hills,” a particularly hilly part of Central Park that is widely regarded by runners as dread-worthy. I actually love it, because it’s a beautiful & peaceful part of the park with lots of trees & beautiful scenery… so when the inclines started getting particularly tough, I’d remind myself that I love it - ya know, in case I started to forget. (*wink*)
“I LOVE THE HARLEM HILLS,” I began chanting - sometimes even out loud - to myself, over and over, as I climbed the elevation.
“I LOVE THE HARLEM HILLS!”
You can say, sing, or chant pretty much anything when you’re racing, because all the other racers have headphones in and can’t hear you anyway... and chances are, those who hear who will "get it" anyway and simply let you live your best life without looking at you like a total weirdo.
This one’s easy….
High-fiving volunteers is an enthusiasm boomerang. Spread your joy and it will come back to you!
Stopping at every water station - having some sips and checking in with your body. At the mile 3 and 4 water stations, I took time for a little stretch, since I could feel my body needed it. And on that note...
Don’t try to PR - just don’t! If you haven’t trained, you have to allow yourself to just HAVE FUN! Yes, under normal circumstances, I can run a 7 or 8 minute mile. In a half-marathon or marathon, I run a 9 or 9:30 min mile. In this race, I ran an 11 minute mile… and WHO CARES?? I was having so much fun, and that’s all that matters.
Tracking, Counting, & Segmenting
I love using tracking tech (gear + apps) to help log my runs, and I find when I’m having to mentally push through, it can be especially helpful.
I synced up my Amazfit BIP watch (George uses the Amazfit Verge) with the app and used it to track my run. I broke the race up into segments in my head, so I knew which was the first third, the middle, and the last. This helped me compartmentalize it in my mind and not feel so overwhelmed.
One more lil run hack for the mind: I count backwards from 60, over and over, throughout the last mile until I reach the finish line. It’s just something I do to take my mind off the pain, and it really works!
Marathon legend Fred Lebow said “Running feels good when you’re doing it and great when you’re done.”
Nothing could be truer…. By the time I finished the race, I had a smile from ear to ear. A runner’s high is a real thing, and it feels awesome. I’m so glad I pushed through… the things that push us past our comfort zone reap the best rewards.