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10 Running Tips to Fake Your Way Through a Race

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    Yes or No: Are You Injured?

    If yes, you may want to reconsider racing altogether. We know it's not what you want to hear, but it's true. "No finish line or race medal is worth it if you aren't healthy or injury-free," says Jess Underhill, running coach and founder of Race Pace Wellness. "There's no shame in canceling your race plans, and there's no bragging rights for social media if you finish a race while limping to the finish line (the glory shot of a strong finish, arms in the air is way cooler). There will be other races.

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    Give Up Your Time Goal

    Many runners dream of setting a new PR (personal record) when they sign up for a race. But if you're toeing that start line injury-free and undertrained, don't be afraid to ditch the time concept altogether. "The number one goal should always be to get to the start line healthy and the finish line happy," says Andrew Kastor, coaching director for ASICS LA Marathon and Mammoth Track Club. If you take a time goal off the table, you're more likely to focus on enjoying the entire experience of the race instead: thanking the race volunteers, high-fiving the crowd, and reading funny signs. You'll still cross the finish line and get that glorious medal around your neck—and likely have fun achieving it, too.

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    Start Slow

    If you managed to get your long runs in, but skipped those shorter midweek runs, you're likely able to at least get across that finish line (again, assuming you're not injured). All you need to do is treat it like another long run. "Your pace shouldn't be any faster than it was on your long runs," says John Henwood, Olympian runner and founder of TheRun treadmill-class studio in New York City. "If you try to go faster than that, you're going to balk half-way through." It may be best to wear a GPS running watch so you can keep tabs on your pace and not let the adrenaline get the best of you.

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    Reign In the Energy

    Speaking of adrenaline, remember, it's a powerful force. "It can trick you in the beginning and, because you're so hyped up on the crowd and energy of the race, make you think you can sustain a pace that your body isn't properly trained for," says Henwood. Before you know it, you're a mile into the race, you've gone out too fast, you're prone to fading fast. And there's nothing worse than getting to mile 8 or 9 of a half-marathon and feeling down for the count. To help avoid the temptation, Underhill suggests starting the race a few corrals back from your assigned one. "You'll be running with slower-paced runners, which will help prevent you from starting out too fast," she says. "For the first few miles, keep your effort level at a 4 out of 10, so you can easily carry on a conversation without your breathing becoming too labored."

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    Adjust Your Expectations

    Many runners go into a race with a perfect-world goal (A goal), a realistic goal (B goal), and the goal they'd settle for if all else fails (C goal), then adjust during the race depending on the circumstances. Don't do this if you're undertrained. "You can't go in with all three goals," says Henwood. "If you start the race with all three in mind, it's too much." Think about it: If you start racing at the pace needed to hit your A goal, but you're only trained for a C goal, then you're still going to be exhausted as you progress through the course. Realizing a few miles in that there's no way you'll hit your A goal is already too late—you've gone out too fast, and you'll burn all your energy before the end of the race. Instead, sit down the night before and evaluate honestly where you're at. Accept which goal is realistic (whether that's an A, B or C), then execute from the beginning to accomplish that specific goal.

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    Do Your Walking in the Beginning

    If you're not trained to run the whole race, you're going to need to walk a little. Do it right. "It's always best to start walk breaks early in the race before an athlete is 'forced' to do them," says Kastor. "Try walking through each of the aid stations, which usually occur every mile or two, for approximately one minute to recover. Then you can pick it up again." One thing you shouldn't do: Rev the pace to make up for the time you've lost due to walking, says Henwood. To avoid injury, you shouldn't go faster than the long-run pace you're already trained for, as pushing past that will not only make you even more tired (and miserable), it'll increase your risk of doing serious damage.

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    But Run If You Can

    While we're not against the run/walk method when it's needed, more experienced runners should stick to running (even at a slow pace): Running and walking call upon different muscles, so constantly switching back and forth causes the muscles you're no longer using as much to tighten up. This results in that dead-leg feeling runners often experience as soon as they finish a race, says Henwood. It can also make it that much more difficult to start up again because you're asking those muscles to warm up again. The simple way to avoid that: Just keep running.

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    Check In with Yourself

    If you're in the middle of the course and things start to feel really tough, take a moment to mentally check in with your body and evaluate how you're feeling. Are your shoulders up by your ears? Take a deep breath and relax them. Fingers clenched, or arms tight? Shake 'em out. It's easy to forget proper form when you're in the middle of the race, but not doing so only makes things harder for you (and you're already doing something tough!). "Don't be afraid to pump the brakes, slow down a bit, and relax," suggests Henwood. "When you readjust, your second wind is more likely to come around and propel you to the finish."

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    Distract Yourself

    Never underestimate the power of distraction. Instead of focusing on how hard the race feels or slowly ticking down the miles—which could very well drive you crazy—try to soak in your surroundings, high-five spectators, or look around at the neighborhoods you are running through, suggests Underhill. "Physically, it's not going to be easy, so it's important to remember you're not always going to be smiling ear to ear," she says. "Write a mantra on your hand with a sharpie when times gets tough (we like these). Or make it a moving meditation by counting your breath and repeating a mantra over and over again in your head."

    And of course, you can always pump up the jams, says Kastor. Fresh music can be re-energizing, and studies show it can help you stick to a pace if the BPMs match (apps like this do just that for you). Underhill even recommends saving the tunes so they're more of a treat. "It will give you a boost when you need it, rather than it just being a constant source of entertainment." Lastly, don't forget a friend! There's no better way to make mileage more bearable than if someone's doing it with you.

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    Give It a Good Kick

    As soon as you reach mile 9 or 10, evaluate how you're feeling. If you're just trying to hang on, then keep doing what you're doing—maintain that steady long run pace until you cross the glorious finish line. But if you sense a little extra juice in the tank, now's the time to tap into it. "The last three miles of the race is when you are free to kick up the pace," says Henwood. "In the beginning it should feel super easy, but at the end you can push it—you may even surprise yourself with what you're able to give."


Samantha Lefave

Samantha is a writer who is living, eating and sweating her way through NYC. You can find her running half-marathons like it's her job, Instagramming her favorite food and fitness finds or, let's be honest, eating peanut butter straight from the jar.

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