Training for a Race with Limited Time

training for a race with limited time

When life gets busy and hectic, race day can easily sneak up on you and take you by surprise. One day you’re signing up for a 5K with plenty of time to prepare, and before you know it, you suddenly realize you only have a month left to train. Whether you put your training on hold to take care of important family matters, wait for an injury to heal, or you fell victim to plain old procrastination, don’t panic! According to numerous expert coaches and dedicated runners, it is possible to make significant progress in your performance in a limited amount of time. 

Don’t “Cram” Your Training 

“Running a race is not like writing an exam,” says professional runner and coach, Malindi Elmore. “It needs to be a mindset of working with your body and maximizing advantages.” Trying to go from not exercising at all to working out for an hour everyday will do nothing but make you feel exhausted, worn out, and less motivated to achieve your goal. Christine Luff, a personal trainer and fitness nutrition specialist, says that starting any type of 5K training program is recommended for those who have been active in the past month. Real beginners should build up their endurance slowly, with a program such as 4 Weeks to 1 Mile

Key Things to Focus On

Although it can be tempting to want to run everyday, Luff suggests running every other day with rest days, strength training, or cross-training workouts between each running day. Doing other activities, like swimming, cycling, or yoga, can help you build endurance and strength while allowing your muscles to recover after the previous day’s run. 

In addition to mixing up your workout routine, former Olympic runner Julie Isphording emphasizes the importance of nutrition in any type of training regimen. “You are working out more, so you'll need to consume more calories to repair muscle and build strength,” Isphording says. She recommends eating a variety of foods while focusing heavily on fruits, vegetables, complex carbs and protein to fuel and nourish your body.

4-Week Training Program

If you consider yourself to be a beginner runner and want to improve your performance before an upcoming 5K, there are a number of programs you can check out, depending on how much time you have. For those who have a mere 4 weeks to prepare (there's still 9 weeks until Big Dam Run, but just in case you don't get started right away!) here is one sample workout plan recommended by a Road Runners Club of America Certified Coach: 

Week 1:

  • Day 1: Run 10 minutes, walk 1 minute. Repeat twice.
  • Day 2: Rest or cross-train.
  • Day 3: Run 12 minutes, walk 1 minute. Repeat twice.
  • Day 4: Rest.
  • Day 5: Run 13 minutes, walk 1 minute. Repeat twice.
  • Day 6: Rest or cross-train.
  • Day 7: Rest.

Week 2:

  • Day 1: Run 15 minutes, walk 1 minute. Repeat twice.
  • Day 2: Rest or cross-train.
  • Day 3: Run 17 minutes, walk 1 minute, run 7 minutes.
  • Day 4: Rest.
  • Day 5: Run 19 minutes, walk 1 minute, run 7 minutes.
  • Day 6: Rest or cross-train.
  • Day 7: Rest.

Week 3:

  • Day 1: Run 20 minutes, walk 1 minute, run 6 minutes.
  • Day 2: Rest or cross-train.
  • Day 3: Run 24 minutes.
  • Day 4: Rest.
  • Day 5: Run 26 minutes.
  • Day 6: Rest or cross-train.
  • Day 7: Rest.

Week 4:

  • Day 1: Run 28 minutes.
  • Day 2: Rest or cross-train.
  • Day 3: Run 30 minutes.
  • Day 4: Rest.
  • Day 5: Run 20 minutes.
  • Day 6: Rest.
  • Day 7: Race day! 3.1K.

If you’re a more advanced runner, you can check out an intermediate or advanced regimen instead. Or, if you’re really short on time, give this 2-week program a try!

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