As a distance runner, I have learned time and time again that consistency is key. The best way to set yourself up for success during a half or full marathon is to follow a training plan and complete your long runs.
However, even though we all sign up for races with the best of intentions – we sometimes find race day approaching with little to no training completed.
For a 5k or 10k, sure, making it to the finish with little training might hurt a bit – but it’s certainly feasible. Even for a half marathon. But what about a full marathon?
Is it possible to run a marathon without training?
Many non runners and runners alike have found themselves in this situation at least once before. They eagerly sign up for a marathon with the best of intentions; they are committed, excited and motivated to start training.
But as marathon training begins, their training plan hangs untouched on the fridge. They complete little (if any) training or long runs – let alone cross training, strength training, speed workouts or recovery runs.
However, they’re still hoping to show up at the start and run the race. Is that even possible?
Sure. Running a marathon without training is definitely possible. Is it smart or safe, though? That’s a different story.
What happens if you run a marathon without training?
The secret to running a marathon is this: it’s all mental. While there is certainly a huge physical component to the training, the bulk of what is required to finish comes from your mental strength, not physical.
When you run a marathon without training, your body is not prepared for the physical challenge.
26.2 miles is a long way to go, even if you’ve spent months increasing your mileage and completing regular long runs. Those 26 miles are going to hurt.
If you show up to the start with little to no training, you’re probably aware that the marathon is going to hurt. And it’s going to hurt badly.
But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Admittedly, those who attempt to run a marathon without training might have a slight mental advantage over those who have trained for months leading up to race day. If you’re running a marathon without training, you are probably well aware that it will be tough.
Running a marathon without training will hurt.
With limited training, you expect race day to be painful, brutal and downright difficult.
Those runners who train for months leading up to the race are a bit more hopeful that things will go their way.
They hope that those double digit long runs, speed workouts and easy runs will set them up for a fun, carefree race day. While all runners know that a marathon will hurt at some point – it is the hope that completing the training will set them up for the most success possible.
So when things start to turn south on race day after months of training, it’s tempting to question your ability to finish.
Why does this hurt so badly if I rocked those 20 mile long runs during training?
Why do I want to walk at 10 miles if I was able to complete 18 miles two weeks ago?
On the other hand – without training, you are likely prepared for the pain and expect it to occur right from the get go.
How do you survive an undertrained marathon?
Running a marathon without training requires immense mental strength. Since physical strength is probably lacking due to limited training, we rely more on our minds to power through.
The best strategy for finishing a marathon without training is this: expect it to hurt, and come up with a strategy for what you will do when things get tough.
Don’t let your pride get in the way on race day. You are attempting to run a marathon without training. 26 miles.
Yes – it definitely can be done. If you mentally prepare and anticipate the race, you can certainly make it to the finish line. But don’t underestimate the extent of what you are attempting to undertake.
Fill your mind with strategies to help push through the wall and keep going when things are painful.
7 Strategies for Running a Marathon Without Training
Please note: This is certainly not the recommended method for running a marathon. However, if you ever find yourself or someone you know with limited training as race day approaches, here are a few strategies to make it to the finish as safely as possible.
Find a mantra.
Repeat this mantra when the going gets tough to help you stay strong and committed.
Create a fueling strategy.
The goal is to keep your body full of the fast-acting sugars it needs to run further than it ever has before.
Hydrate before, during and after the race to help minimize the damage to your muscles and maximize recovery.
Try to find a carb-packed meal for the night before the race, and continue carb loading with breakfast on race day (but don’t eat too close to the starting time).
Plan to take breaks.
Anticipate that you will need to stop and walk or break to stretch.
Listen to your body.
Be aware of how you are feeling as you run and if you feel isolated pain or pain that continue to get worse – stop. Do not let your ego get in the way, and humbly accept that there might come a point when finishing will do more harm than good.
Let go of any time goal you have for the race.
Without training, it’s safe to say that you have no idea what to expect on race day. Create a new goal of simply finishing the race – no matter what this might involve on race day. Take breaks when you need, alternate with walking, and anticipate a few bathroom emergencies.
Running a marathon without training is definitely not the best idea. However, if you are determined to get out there and check that goal off your bucket list – or maybe you are just addicted to endurance challenges – be sure to do so safely.
Remember that your number one priority is to end race day without injury or illness. You will undoubtedly feel sore and rundown, which is normal for any marathon finisher.
Expect the soreness to increase during the 48 hours following the race, and treat your body with the respect it deserves afterwards. Provide plenty of time to recover, rest and recuperate after finishing the marathon.
If life got busy, the unexpected occurred, or you are just finding yourself with limited training before your marathon, adjust your expectations, prepare your mental strategy, and do what you can to finish safely.