You may hear the term “PR” (personal record) quite often in the running world. Setting a PR in running is a goal many people have, as we love to push ourselves and see how fast we can run a specific distance. In this post, I share 17 factors that play a significant role in training for and running a PR. In fact, these are all things I did this year to set two marathon PRs and a half marathon PR.
PR in Running – Frequently Asked Questions:
Do runners say PB or PR?
Both! Essentially, PB and PR mean the same thing. PB stands for personal best and PR means personal record. When a runner shares their PB or PR for a certain distance, it’s the fastest time they’ve run that distance in a race. Runners may say PB or PR depending on their region and where they live.
What does PR mean to a runner?
If you run a race, you have a PR. Your PR is your finishing time in a race for a particular distance. Let’s say you run a 10K in 1 hour 5 minutes – that would be your PR for the 10K distance.
How do I get a PR in running?
Setting a PR is a culmination of your training and how you execute your race day plan. Essentially, it boils down to your training, mentality, fueling, recovery, health, and race execution.
Below I share 17 factors that play a significant role in training for and running a PR of any distance.
How to Set a PR in Running:
1. Train based on your current fitness
We all have running goals for ourselves. However, your training should be written at the fitness level you currently have.
For instance, let’s say someone wants to qualify for the Boston Marathon and they must run a sub 3:30 marathon (7:59 min/mile pace). However, their current fitness shows that a more appropriate goal marathon pace is around 8:45 min/mile. An effective and safe training plan for them is one that will focus on the 8:45 pace, not a 7:59 pace.
If a runner is training at a level that is too challenging, they are putting a significant amount of stress on the body, which can lead to injury, overtraining, and burnout.
To find your current fitness, you could either run a time trial or use a finishing time you ran during a recent race.
2. Stay consistent
Consistency is key in many areas of life, running included. If your goal is to become a stronger runner or set a PR, you must stay consistent with your training. This means, you’re lacing up and getting out the door multiple times a week. Even after you complete a training cycle and run a race, you’ll want to continue with maintenance running after some recovery time.
Consistency in between training cycles plays a huge role in the trajectory of your running and how you can progress over time.
3. Run most of your miles at an easy effort
At least 80% of your mileage should be at an easy effort. Try to think of running easy as an effort, not a pace. Pace will change day to day based on the weather, your mentality, fueling, hydration, stress, and your route. When you’re running at an easy effort, make sure it’s comfortable enough for you to hold a conversation or sing a song and the perceived effort is no higher than a 3 on a scale of 1-10.
Some benefits of easy effort running include:
- Building aerobic endurance
- Improving mitochondrial density
- Becoming a more efficient runner
- Improving capillary density
- Increasing mileage safely
- Decreasing the risk for injury
Don’t be afraid to slow down! I always tell my athletes: If you want your pace to be flexible one way, like getting faster, it has to be flexible the other way, like slowing down.
Related: Rate of Perceived Effort Free Guide
4. Address any injuries or health concerns
If you’ve been experiencing any niggles or had an injury in the past, stay consistent with injury rehab exercises a doctor or physical therapist gave you. Additionally, take few minutes to focus on glute activation and dynamic stretches before a run to help warmup your muscles and prep your body for running.
On a similar note, address any health concerns you may have. For instance, getting blood work done before starting a training block can confirm that you are healthy and ready to go.
5. Train for the course
It’s important to read through the race website and get details about the course.
For example, if a description of the race says it includes “rolling hills”, then you’ll want to train on hills. If your race is a trail run, train on the trails!
Additionally, take note of what time the race starts. For instance, the Boston Marathon and New York City Marathon both have late morning starts. At least one long run during your training should be a “simulation run”. A simulation run is when you start your long run at the exact time of your race day start and practice your fueling leading up to the start time as well.
6. Include cutback weeks
Cutback weeks, also known as “down weeks” or “recovery weeks”, are essential during training. Cutback weeks significantly reduce the risk of injury, overtraining, and burnout. After 3-4 weeks of building, a runner should reduce their training volume with a cutback week, which will allow their body to absorb the work from the previous building block and rebuild itself for the next.
The main focus during a cutback week is rest and recovery. During this time, try to sleep in or get to bed earlier. If you miss a run or cut one short, that’s fine. Keep in mind, our training is only as good as our recovery!
7. Fuel before, during, and after runs
Nailing down your fueling pre, during, and post run will have a positive impact on your training, how you feel while running, and jumpstarting your recovery. Ask yourself questions like:
- Am I eating before every run? After every run?
- Do I scale up carbs the night before a long run?
- Do I carry fuel and fluids with me on long runs?
- Is my carb intake consistent during long runs?
- Do I increase my carbs when I run higher mileage?
- Do I eat when I feel hungry?
If you’re not sure what to take for fuel during long runs, Gu Energy Gels and Clif Shot Energy Gels are some products to experiment with. Try them on a run and see how you like them and if they sit well in your stomach.
8. Run progression runs
A progression run is when you start out slower and gradually speed up. Ideally, this is how you execute your race! Progression runs teach you to stay conservative early on, settle into goal pace, and then push hard at the end.
You may hear the term “negative split” in the running community. Running a negative split race means the second half was faster than the first half. If you negative split your race, then you executed a progression run.
9. Strengthen your mentality
There will come a point during the race when your legs begin to hurt and it’s possible a mile might be more mentally challenging for some reason. In these moments, what are you saying to yourself? Are you practicing positive self talk? Are you thinking about your “why”? Are you reciting mantras?
There could be thousands of spectators along the course, but we are our biggest cheerleaders. What you think and say to yourself during a race is correlated to your performance.
10. Strength train
Next, strength training is crucial for runners wanting to improve. Some benefits of consistent strength training include improving your running economy, decreasing the risk for injury, and building power to run faster. Even a couple strength training sessions per week can be effective and have a positive impact on your training.
11. Incorporate race-specific speed work
If your training includes speed work, which not all training does, make sure the work you’re doing is geared towards your goal.
For instance, if your goal is to set a marathon PR, you probably won’t find yourself running 200m repeats every week like you might if you were training for a 5k PR. Instead, you’re likely running a lot of tempo and threshold miles, in addition to practicing your race pace.
12. Practice your race pace
Practicing race pace during training teaches your body how to find your goal pace and what the effort feels like. Ideally, you run a bunch of miles at goal pace during training so on race day, you naturally and easily settle into it without constantly checking your watch to make sure you’re on the right track.
13. Participate in a race during training
Now, this isn’t an essential part of training, but it never hurts to practice your race day routine. Participating in a race during training gives you an opportunity to:
- Feel and manage the pre-race jitters
- Practice your fueling the night before, morning of, and during the race
- Travel to a race and allot enough time to get situated the at the start
- Execute your race day plan
14. Visualize yourself running strong
In the months and weeks leading up to your race, visualize yourself crushing your run. For example, imagine yourself executing your race plan to a T. It’s possible you see yourself waving to spectators. Maybe you’re smiling for the photographers and giving them a thumbs up. How do you envision yourself approaching the finish line? I hope you have a big smile on your face!
15. Enjoy the process
For most of us, running is a hobby and something we choose to do in our spare time for enjoyment and movement. Therefore, it’s important to have fun! 99% of our running is training runs, so fall in love with easy effort miles, be okay with running in the rain, and find joy in the process, not the end result.
If you are not enjoying your running, then it’s time to take a step back and reevaluate your training.
16. Prioritize effort over pace
Because you’ve practiced your goal race pace during training, you know what the effort feels like. However, race day can throw us curveballs, like warmer temperatures. If you find yourself at the start line on a particularly warm day, keep running off effort in the forefront of your mind, not pace.
This means you might adjust your pacing plan slightly and slow down. That’s ok! Doing this ensures you give an appropriate effort for the distance and are also mindful to not over stress your body too early.
Related: Rate of Perceived Effort Free Guide
17. Adjust to factors you cannot control
As you know, there are many factors a runner can control throughout their training and on race morning. However, we cannot control everything, such as:
- Course congestion
- Freak accidents (like stepping in a pothole and rolling an ankle)
The best thing you can do with uncontrollable factors is adjust and yield to them. For instance, the first mile or two might be very crowded if you’re running a large race. Sit back and stay patient until the crowds thin out, then start attacking your pacing plan. What you don’t want to do is weave in and out of the crowds, as that can use a lot of energy very early in the race.
Eager to PR in Running?
Do you want to PR in running? If so, which distance do you want to set a PR in?
Is there anything from the list above that you already do well? Is there an area you can improve in?