Hopeful Horizons' Race4Love is Saturday, Feb. 16 at Cat Island. Register today!
Last-minute fun run? You've got this.
No need to pass on that 5K run because you don't have a ton of training time. Whether it's a fundraising event for a cause you're passionate about or a Color Run with your friends, it's totally possible to participate on super-short notice (or, if the calendar date just snuck up on you—it happens).
A 5K event equals 3.1 miles, and depending on your current fitness level, there are plenty of ways to get you across that finish line, even without a ton of prep. First, it's always a good idea to check in with your doctor first. And if you do have the time to train do it, says Gary Berard, an NYC-based running coach and the founder of GB Running.
"Spending weeks preparing for a race helps build resistance to injury, strengthens the heart muscle (your cardiovascular system), and improves the delivery of blood to muscles used during running."
If you find yourself participating in a last-minute race, though, there are a few ways to work around this. "You'll want to ensure your pacing on race day is well within your ability," says Berard. In other words, take it easy and focusing on having fun with your friends instead of trying to push too hard (which increases your risk for injury). Here are six steps to race-day success if you haven't trained:
Before the race:
1. Don't cram in last-minute training.
It's best not to lace up your shoes for your first three-mile run if your race is just a few days away.
"Cramming in last-minute training will only negatively impact race performance," says Berard. "It creates residual fatigue."
And soreness will interfere with your ability to run on the day of your event. In the same way that marathon runners taper their training runs in the weeks leading up to their 26.2-mile run, this concept of scaling back applies to shorter runs, too. For example, if the 5K is on a Saturday or Sunday, try running for about 30 minutes the Monday beforehand, and maybe 20 minutes that Wednesday, Berard suggests. Once you're about three or four days out from the race, you're better off taking it easy.
2. Prepare your gear and everything else you need.
Use that extra time when you're not running to prepare everything you'll need for race day. Make sure your clothes fit well to avoid chafing, double check that you have running shoes that fit properly, charge any watches or devices you plan on using, and attach your race bib (your number) to your top, suggests Berard. Feeling prepared might help eliminate some pre-race nerves, he says.
"Manage the elements surrounding the race which are within your control."
3. Get a good night's sleep before the race, then fuel up with a balanced breakfast.
"Try to rest well in the days leading up to the race," suggests Berard. That way you'll feel rested and ready to go when you get to the starting line. Pre-race nutrition is also important. If you're a breakfast person, "take in some carbohydrates, which will help fuel your running." Go for complex carbs, like oatmeal, whole-grain toast, or fruit, because they take longer to digest so you'll stay powered up throughout your run. A little protein is also a good idea: Berard suggests an egg or a tablespoon or two of peanut butter. And don't forget to hydrate properly.
During the race:
4. Don't focus on your time.
If you haven't trained, it's best to set realistic expectations about your performance—meaning focus on having fun.
"Aim to complete the race, without placing an emphasis on time," says Berard.
5. Pace yourself by starting slower than you think you need to and try a run/walk approach.
To make sure you don't burn out too early, "focus on starting slower than you think you need," Berard says. That way you have enough energy in your tank to help you cross that finish line. "Using a watch could assist with the pacing." And don't be afraid to walk—many new runners plan on sticking to a set run-to-walk ratio. For example, run two to five minutes (depending on your running experience), then take a minute or two to walk it out, says Berard.
After the race:
6. Recover with carbs, protein, and more water.
Congrats, you did it! Celebrate by replenishing and refueling your body within 30 minutes of completing the race, says Berard.
First up: Drink lots of water to replace the fluids you lost during the run, and then reach for a snack with a combination of carbohydrates and protein—the carbohydrates will help replenish your glycogen stores, which provide your body with energy during a workout, and protein will help repair and build those muscles. Race4Love will have an amazing grits bar to refuel you, thanks to Southern Graces Catering.
And don't forget to relax after your race. You've earned it!
By Alexa Tucker