Whether you were battling an early season injury or simply slacked on your training, you now find yourself one month away from a race you signed up for a while ago. The problem is that you are nowhere near race-shape. Can you make it to the starting line and walk away with a respectable showing?
The short answer is yes, and even though you may be in for a ruder awaking than some of your cross-training counterparts, there is still an available means to perform your best and achieve what is realistically possible on the day. Regardless of your circumstances for falling behind on training, you can still salvage a good race by making the best use of your workouts over an abbreviated period.
Being honest with yourself is the key to setting obtainable race goals, proper workout paces and ensuring that you increase training volume smartly to avoid getting hurt before race day. “My advice with only four weeks to go is to not over-commit on the training. I know it is tempting for people to ‘cram’ but running a race is not like writing an exam,” explains professional runner and coach, Malindi Elmore. “It needs to be a mind-set of working with your body and maximizing advantages.”
A runner who was injured but diligent in their cross-training has a far different prospectus than the runner struck with slacker-syndrome. For the former, the outlook can be rather bright. “After working hard in the gym cross-training, this athlete could expect to really run well and get close to top form,” says coach Alicia Shay. “It might not be a PR [but] there is a potential that they could take a swing at their best time if they transition well from cross-training to running workouts.”
A runner going from little training to guns blazing shouldn’t expect a personal best but, “They could expect to gain a decent amount of fitness before race day,” explains Shay. Perhaps you’ve consistently been running but haven’t done structured workouts or aren’t quite race-day sharp. “It would be difficult to run a PR off only four weeks of working out but this runner could build fitness quickly and expect to run a solid race.”
Keep the momentum going and a personal best might be in sight with only a few more weeks of focused workouts.
Key Workouts and Training Volume
- Threshold Workouts: “Basically, threshold workouts will get you more bang for your buck in terms of fitness without beating up the body muscularly and systemically,” says Shay. Aim for 2-3 of these workouts in the early weeks to build your base.
- Race Paced Workouts: “Integrate 3-4 race-pace specific workouts with plenty of rest so that your body can adjust to the running goal race-pace,” explains Shay.
- Below Race-Pace: True speed sessions are incredibly taxing, and with only four weeks until race day it’s safer to do sets of strides. “3 sets of strides per week of 6-8 x 20-30 seconds,” suggests Shay. You don’t want them all-out, but rather getting a faster turnover while staying controlled.
- Volume: Building mileage isn’t as important as focusing on quality workouts with only four weeks to go until your race. “I recommend increasing volume week 1, no more than 5 to 10 percent of previous mileage or minutes cross-training, holding steady week 2, decreasing 5 to 10 percent week 3 and then decreasing 20 to 30 percent week 4 leading into the race,” says Shay. If you haven’t been doing many miles prior, stick with a number that you’ve safely handled in the past and ‘spend’ your miles on the quality runs rather than easy ones.
You’ve put in the work, race day is nearing, and you’d like a gauge on what to expect time-wise. “A good prediction of what your goal race-pace should be is the pace that you can maintain for a set of [four to six] 1,000 or 1,200 meters repeats with 2-3 minutes recovery. For a 5K, race pace will probably be slightly faster and for a 10K it will be slightly slower,” explains Shay. The time to do this would be your last quality session in week 3.
Then, use your last quality session in week 4 to prime you for the race. “The key is to get to know the pace — not to get a hard workout in…most people start their races too fast and positive split and the last workout is meant to teach the body the appropriate pace for an even-paced race at goal time,” says Elmore.
If you’re tight on training time, having a solid race and potentially even a great race, is well within your reach.