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How To Run A 5K Without Training

Procrastination is part of human nature, and being a runner does not exempt you from that fact. Raise your hand if you’ve ever done this: You registered for a 5k a few months ago. You told yourself you’d start running tomorrow. But it’s never actually tomorrow, and now it’s a few months later. You even forgot about the 5k until the reminder email showed up earlier this morning. Your 5k is this coming Saturday! You haven’t done the training. What should you do?

That’s exactly what we’ll cover in this article—how to run a 5k if you signed up for a race but didn’t train (or didn’t train enough). You can still run the 5k, but you’ll want to keep your expectations in check because you didn’t prepare as much as you should have.

Examine Your General Fitness and Plan Accordingly

It’s a couple of weeks – or perhaps even a couple of days – out from your race. You haven’t trained as much as you should have. Although it’s easy to think about all the shouldas and couldas, you need to be honest with yourself.

To avoid an injury, you need to take an unbiased look at your general fitness and plan accordingly for how you’re going to handle the 5k.

If You Work Out Often and You’re In Good Shape

Ok, so you love to work out and hit the gym often (maybe just not as much as the road for runs). You should still be good to run most of the race. You’ll want to make sure that you don’t take off too fast. Be smart about your pacing.

You should have a plan for how you intend to handle fatigue. Plan walking times if you need them so that they aren’t haphazard. Maybe you’ll stop and walk a minute every time there is a water stop.

You’ll likely want to make your time goal realistic. If you’ve been working out, you probably have an idea of what your average mile time is without too much training. Aim for keeping that pace, as it’s likely what is comfortable for you.

While you might end up finishing the race with no problems, you should expect to feel sore after the race. Your body hasn’t been used to running, so you’re definitely going to feel that.

To prevent soreness, warm up and stretch before the race. Afterward, take the time for a good cool-down. You should also make sure to foam roll after the race.

If You Are in Decent Shape But Exercise Sporadically

If you don’t exercise regularly, but you are still in decent shape, you should be good to run the 5k without training or with little training. However, you’ll likely be better off if you decide to use the run/walk method.

This means walking a designated amount of time and running a designated amount of time. The Galloway method is the most popular run/walk method. Try figuring out what amount of time to spend walking/running for this method.

Galloway uses something called the magic mile. Even if you only have a couple of days before your 5k, you can figure this out. Warm-up with a slow one-mile run, do a few acceleration-gliders, and then push yourself as hard as possible for one mile.

Once you figure out that mile time, add 33 seconds to get your 5k pace. Or, you can use his magic mile calculator. This will let you know how long you need to run/walk for a particular pace.

For example, let’s say that your magic mile is around 12 minutes. You can either run 60 seconds and then walk 30 seconds and keep up this rhythm for the entire race. Or you can make the numbers even: run 30 seconds, walk 30 seconds.

By using a run/walk method, you’ll help yourself avoid tiring out at the end of the race. Run/walk makes your walking more intentional. It’s better to start this early in the race because you’ll be fatigued if you try to run the entire race.

If you use the run/walk method and you’re feeling good, wait until the end of the race to start running when you know that you can finish. You might want to wait until the last 0.1 mile, because you should definitely be able to run that.

If You Almost Never Exercise

When you haven’t been exercising, or it’s rare when you do, you might want to consider sitting the race out. If you try to run, you might injure yourself, and you’ll definitely be sore and overdo it.

But if you decide to participate, you should walk the entire race. If you haven’t been running or working out, but do walk longer distances occasionally, you should be fine to walk 3.1 miles.

However, if you decide to run, you should get medical clearance to be on the safe side.

Do’s and Don’t’s 

Now that you’ve figured out what category best describes you in terms of running the race, here are some do’s and don’t’s you’ll want to follow.

Don’t Try to Train With Less Than a Week to Go

You might be tempted to cram in as much training as you can if you only have a week to go. Don’t do it! It won’t have an impact on the race, and it will increase the likelihood of an injury. You’re better off going for a couple walks at a brisk pace.

Don’t Compare Yourself to Runners Who Did Train for the Race

There are going to be a variety of runners at the race. Some of them have prepared more than you, so don’t judge yourself by them. Because they prepared their bodies for the race, they are going to feel and do better. That’s okay. It will be you next time!

Don’t Be Unrealistic About Your Finish Time and Pace

You might have high hopes for a finish time, but don’t make them unrealistic. It’s important that you’re honest with yourself about what kind of finish time and pace you can really expect. Then you won’t be as disappointed when you cross the finish line.

It’s okay to admit that on another day at another race with the right amount of training, you could run faster. Make sure that you aren’t setting that as the bar for this race that you haven’t really trained for.

Do Wear Appropriate Shoes and Clothing for the Race

If you decide that you’re going to run or walk the race, be prepared ahead of time. Know what you’re going to wear on race day, especially for your shoes. Poor footwear might slow you down more than a lack of training.

However, this is not the time to buy a completely new pair of shoes and break them in for a race. You need a couple of weeks to ease into a pair of new shoes. If you don’t have that time, go with what you’ve been using.

Do Stay Hydrated Before and After the Race

Hydration is incredibly important for a runner. But it’s especially important for a race that you haven’t trained for as much as you should have. Not drinking enough water or sports drink can impact your performance a lot.

Make sure to take the hydration that is offered to you during the race. Typically, 5ks have water stops every mile. That’s three opportunities to take a quick sip of water that will keep your body topped up with fluids. And make sure that you’re hydrating the week prior to the race. This can have a big impact on your time.

Do Fuel Before the Race

Make sure that you’re eating enough food before your race. You should be opting for cleaner foods instead of junk foods, especially the morning of the race. A banana with some peanut and a cup of oatmeal should give you the fuel that you need.

Eating healthy the week before will help you get good stuff in your system before the race, and may have an impact on how you feel on race day.

Do Plan Your Recovery

Since you haven’t been training, you’re going to be sore and tired a few days after your race. You likely won’t feel like going out and partying with your friends immediately afterward.

Give yourself plenty of time to rest and recuperate over the next couple days. Don’t rush to get back to training, because you could give yourself an injury. If you decide you want to run another 5k, that’s great! This time, commit yourself to doing the training. 5ks are more fun when you are ready for them.

You don’t want to find yourself in the position again of facing the week before a 5k, and you haven’t trained like you should. Figure out what you can do differently next time (accountability, a training plan, more time, etc.) and do that.

Concluding Thoughts

While you might feel a little sheepish about not spending enough time training for your 5k, it’s okay. Just make the most of what you can right now, and use it as a teachable moment for the future. How can you handle things differently for your next race?

If you do decide to run the race, be sure to take it easy. Remember that it doesn’t matter how fast you go, as long as you cross the finish line!

Rachel Basinger
The Wired Runner