How To Handle Panic Training

Panic Training

So here’s the scenario: you signed up for a race months ago with every intention of training for it.

You were excited to train for it.

You had a great training plan, but then life got in the way, and … well… you are now only a few weeks away from race day.

The option of properly training is no longer an option.

‘Properly training’ for longer races involves building a solid base. Then running a few faster runs each week to build your aerobic capacity, and a few easier-paced runs to build your endurance.

For you, now only a few weeks from race day, that’s out of the question.

How To Handle Panic Training

What’s the old adage? The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today.

Well, the best time to start training for your half marathon was 4 months ago. The second best time is now.

Maybe you can’t properly train, but that doesn’t mean you have to (necessarily) sit the race out.

My Panic Training Caveats

Caveat #1

This is not recommended. Do not do this.

I cannot say this strongly enough!

Cramming for a race is an invitation to injury. But sometimes life happens and you need to make do.

But – I’ll say this again – do not do this!

Caveat #2

There is a limit to how far you can push this. If you have a reasonable running base, you can maybe toe the line of a marathon a month from now, or a half marathon in a few weeks.

If you are starting from zero? You’ll need longer than that, even in panic training mode.

Sure, after every major marathon, there are stories about how such-and-such runner won their age group ‘after not training at all’ for the race.

However, when you read into these articles, in nearly every case, the person was a long-time runner and had a strong running base. They may not have been technically ‘training for a marathon’ but they were not couch potatoes who simply showed up on race day.

Caveat #3

Do not even consider this if you are currently or chronically injured.

The reason marathon and half marathon training plans are 12, 16, or 18 weeks long is to allow your body and your muscles time to build and adapt to all the running you’ll be doing.

Doing too much too soon can be a recipe for injury, even for the healthiest runners.

If you are currently or chronically injured? Forget it.

Have I made sufficiently clear that this is a bad idea and is something you should never do?

How To Handle Panic Training

When properly training for an endurance event, the key workout is the long run. The long run builds the endurance you’ll need to keep running.

The bulk of (proper) training plans is then usually middle distance runs (which build your muscle memory of running at around race pace), with a little speed work or track workouts mixed in to build aerobic capacity.

If you are panic training, this same ratio of different kinds of run won’t work, but long runs are still key.

If you are panic training for a marathon, a long run of about 20 miles (or 4 hours, whichever comes first), should be the goal. For half marathons, the longest long run should be about 8 miles.

While panic training, forget trying to do true track or speed work. However, add some tempo runs, hills repeats, and fartlek runs into your otherwise medium paced runs.

These will add in some faster/harder runs into your training without the physical strain of straight up track work. Hitting the track can be too much for many runners (even under the best of training circumstances). Doing track runs when panic training is just asking for injury.

Hills are strength work in disguise, and fartlek runs (unstructured bursts of speed added randomly into your runs), add speed and variety.

Cross Train

Cross training is any activity, other than running, that you do to supplement your running. Popular options for runners include using the elliptical machine, biking, swimming, or pool running.

When you are in panic training mode, cross train liberally.

Cross training will give you the cardio and aerobic workout without as much stress on your running muscles.

Preparing For Race Day When Panic Training

Set Proper Race-Day Expectations

When you didn’t train properly, be realistic about what is likely to occur on race day.

If you are panic training, you’ll likely be able to finish, but you aren’t likely to set a PR.

You probably won’t feel amazing or fresh throughout the run. In fact, you may very well feel like crap for most of it.

Set your race day goals, and develop your race plan in alignment with your (admittedly less than stellar) training.


Walk breaks are your friend.

I believe in walk breaks for all runners (even when they are properly trained). Walking early and often will become even more important if you are going into race day undertrained.

Walk as often as you need to, for as long as you need to.

Downgrade Your Distance

The best option of all may be to know your limits, know when to cry uncle, and throw in the towel.

If you can, downgrade your race distance or defer your entry until next year, when you’ll have the time to properly train.

You can do a 5k without training, and you can be undertrained for a 10k and still (probably) be fine.

But getting marathon or half marathon ready in a month (or less) poses a real risk of doing serious damage to your body. There will always be another race, and sometimes, it’s just not worth it.

What about you? Have you ever have to panic train for an event?

Panic Training


Sara is a runner, running coach, writer, blogger, and a lover of all things written.

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