Tips for running a relay with little (to no) training

Disclaimer note. I am NOT a doctor, Physical Therapist, Coach, trainer, or anything else that makes me an expert. I am a just runner with 46 half marathons under my belt, and many more races, with a few of those halfs being ones I had little training. My tips are just that, tips that have worked for me and others, and if you read them, they make sense. However, I give these tips without knowing your body and/or medical history. Please take what works for you and ignore the rest.

So what do you do when life happens? You signed up for a relay (or any race) and you found time slipping by. Maybe you started off great with your training, but something happened; an injury, too many late nights out, potty training, or <insert your craziness here>. Your miles slowly fell off, your pace became slower when you did run, and you became the ultimate procrastinator on running. You kept telling yourself you would get that long run in this weekend, and then your friends invited you out dancing. Your weekend long run went from a short run to maybe no run as you hit the snooze alarm one too many times. Now it is the week of the race, and you can’t put it off anymore. It now is waaay to late to start training me.

Should you run it? Of course you should/will. Why? Because you are stubborn, your friends are counting on you, you paid good money, or<insert your craziness here> ! Or, if you are like me, you just can’t pass up a race where almost everyone you know will be there. So now you are faced with a dilemma. How to finish a race in which you have practically avoided all the training. Relays are demanding events that take a lot out of a runner. It is an event of endurance and discipline. However it’s possible to finish a relay, at least I saw two runners do it in the Hood to Coast Movie documentary, so there must be a way right?

Well my readers there is and I am here to give you some tips that hopefully may help you ‘Finish’ that event. You may not ‘Own it’ but hopefully you will finish without cramps, injury, crying* and be somewhat functional afterwards. (* I can’t promise the no crying part)

Week of Race –

  1. Hydration – I cannot stress this enough. Water, or an electrolyte (Nuun, Gatorade, Ucann) 24-48 hours before the race. “Clear urine” or as minimal yellow color as possible is a go indication of hydration. (Still yellow? Drink more.) The thing is though, sweat and hydration is specific to a person, so I can’t tell you how much to drink to hydrate without overhydrating. Why is it important to hydrate? Dehydration reduces your body’s ability to transfer heat, causes more stress on the heart, and thus your body’s ability to meet aerobic demands. Here is a link to an article on importance of balance when athletes are hydrating.
  2. Eating – In addition to drinking water, you must put healthy food and electrolytes BACK into your body. Week of the race eat some healthy fats and complex carbohydrates (potatoes, small amounts of pasta, protein shakes) . Why? Carbohydrates store in your muscles and liver. When you run an endurance event, your muscles burn your stored fuels and the liver provides glucose into your bloodstream providing fuel for muscles and your brain.
  3. Sleep – sleep well the week of the event. Sleep gives better mental power and energy day of race. The night before we know is lost- but trying to rest of the week of will help tremendously. A link to a fun article on the quality of sleep the night before the race.

During the Event –

  1. Start slow – I cannot stress enough how important it is to start slow. Let the others take off, start at a slow pace and slowly increase to a comfortable pace that is not exerting yourself. You should be able to run at a pace you could hold a conversation with someone. Slow and steady finishes the race. (remember you always feel great to start out, we are looking at the end game).
  2. Stay Slow – Did I mention slow and steady finishes the race? You can also pick up the pace as you are coming in, but keep your pace easy at leats until the third leg. No ‘break neck’ speeds that push your body. Overexertion increases the chance for dehydration and cramps due to lack of fluids AND lack of training.
  3. Slow down
    1. Do you feel a cramp spasm coming on? Walk. In fact, I encourage walk/run (mentioned in another comment later) to help keep your body in better working order. Feel a cramp coming on or feel a quick muscle spasm? Start walking, and when you think it has passed, start again at a slower pace. Change your gait if possible to allow for different muscle usage.
    2. Slow down or walk the hills (chances are you will not be much faster running the hills anyways if you haven’t trained them- walking helps rest and work different muscles).
  4. Forget Competition – Focus on yourself and forget the people who are passing you by (aka making you road kil). If you had wanted to really be competitive, you would have made the time to train (better). Sounds harsh, but it is reality. If you let them get the better of you, you will run faster than you should, and be worse for it. Unless the competition is in your head with yourself to keep going, Let it go.
  5. Run/Walk – Allow yourself some walk breaks. Your body is not used to running, so throwing in some walk breaks allows for some alternate muscle use and makes it look like you are doing Jeff Galloway method (and is a planned thing and not about ‘giving up’). Although not everyone respects walking during a run/race/relay, the run/walk method has become more accepted in the past few years.
  6. Hydration – continue to drink water throughout the race. You can come to a race hydrated and then get dehydrated do to heat and exertion. Again, I don’t know your weight, nor sweat ratio, but on average it is recommended to drink about 16oz before your leg and 24oz right after the leg. So you have constant water intake without overdoing it (flushing out your electrolytes) or need to relieve self during leg.
  7. Recovery – seriously, no joke, the 15-30 min after each leg can make or break people. If you can only do one- do the food.
    1. Food – you must take in food right away. A Kind Bar, dried cherries or cherry juice, coconut water, bananas, recovery shake, chocolate milk. Whatever works for you, but replace your glycogen stores as possible to minimize the muscle and lactic acid issues. I am not a scientist- I don’t know what it does, but post run food makes me recover and run sooner, as well as reduce pain and aches. With more legs coming, you need energy and food ASAP on a relay.
    2. Use a roller (Stretch preferred with The Stick, Tiger’s Tail, or something similar). No stick? Use your hands. Hit the trigger points and move the lactic acid in your muscles. Plus it keeps your muscles moving while sitting in the van. With the drive to the next leg- do you really have anything better to do? 😛
    3. Icing. There are some great icing kits. Great way to reduce swelling and cool you down. I found 24 packs on Amazon for about $25
  8. Movement and stretching – I know it’s difficult on a relay, but try not to ‘sit’ if your van is stopped. Walking keeps the lactic acid moving and prevents some muscle aches. Stretching allows tired and sore legs stay warmed up.


Finally, mental fortitude and a positive attitude will win the day! That’s right, in the end, it is mostly a mental game that will make or break you. Go with a ‘Just Finish’ mentality, enjoy yourself and have fun, and please stay away from those mental fears. Those negative mental fears that cripple people and will be a race/pace killer. I read a quote that said “Believe you will finish or believe you won’t- either way you will be correct.” Or for my geek friends; When Luke Skywalker said “I can’t believe it” and Yoda said “That is why you will fail”. Attitude is everything. If you believe you can make it you will. The rest of the tips are there to make it a little easier and less painful. Good luck!