The strategies you can follow to ensure you are setting a PR at your next race
I know that every time I lace up for a race, I have a specific goal in mind. It might be to set a personal record, run a certain time. It might be to place in my age group or at the front of the race. Or it might be to compete well and dust off some rust. Any way I slice it, my goals are clear and measurable. This way, I know if I’ve done what I set out to do.
Below, I’m going to outline 15 actionable steps you can follow to help you set a PR [personal record] at your next race. Besides following these tips, you’ll also need to do everything else to help you reach your best:
- Eating well
- Getting lots of sleep
- Adding strength training
- Doing core and yoga
- Recovering from hard sessions
- Doing striders
- Improving running form
Find a training plan that works for your current needs.
Your plan might be static (doesn’t change based on improved fitness) that you find online or a customized plan from an online or in-person coach. However you get your hands on a plan, it’s important that you find something that addresses your needs.
Add Strength Training
Being a strong runner will keep you healthy when you ramp up your training. Not only does strength work improve running form, your running economy, and your overall ability to run faster. Being a strong runner will keep you healthy when you ramp up your training.
Here are my resources for strength training that you can do anywhere:
Emphasize the Long Run
I take my long runs very serious. I treat them like mini-races. I wear the gear that makes me feel good and I go in with a plan that I’d like to execute: run hills hard, negative split, run 60 minutes, run 90 minutes, after 10 miles run 3 at tempo pace, etc.
When I go in with a plan, I’m practicing what I’d like to happen on race day. I’m giving myself the opportunity to set and reach attainable goals and this boosts my confidence.
Get Lots of Sleep
If you’re wondering why you’re not fully recovering from workouts or a race, it’s probably because you’re not sleeping enough. A solid 8+ hours is crucial to optimal performance – no matter what you are training for. When we sleep, our body recovers and regenerates, leaving us stronger and fitter than before. If you’re cutting your sleep short, you aren’t fully benefiting from the health benefits from a full night of sleep.
Being consistent is the key to being a good distance runner and setting a PR. Whether it’s 3, 4, or 5 days a week, it’s a good idea to keep it consistent. What you don’t want is to go all in for a few weeks only to not sustain that amount of work. As Des Linden once said, her training log resembled “Swiss cheese” because of all the gaps and holes in training. Whatever you think you can sustain over 3-4 months is what you should do from the get-go.
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Track Your Training
Keeping a training log is the road map to where your training has taken you. Without knowing where you’ve come from it’s hard to see where you need to go. A training log helps you makes sense of the plateaus, valleys, and the peaks of your running. You’ll be able to see trends in your running to confirm your fitness or show why you’re not exactly where you want to be.
Practice Various Race Day Scenarios
If you really want a PR, you’ll want a Plan A, a Plan B, and a Plan C. These contingencies should have various goals and strategies to achieve those goals. For example, when I was competing at Villanova, I would have these “nightmares” that I would fall during a race. In my dream, I would fall and get back up; this would help assure me that even if I did fall during a race, I’d be okay because I had a plan.
Target 1-3 Races
If you want to set a PR, you’ll ideally want to focus your running efforts on 1 to 3 major races. Preparing mentally and physically for a peak race takes a tremendous amount of energy, so focusing on a select few will allow you to fully prepare to perform at your best. When you are racing every single weekend, you’re not allowing yourself to put in the training necessary to perform at your best.
Build a Good Base
Research suggests that the bigger your running base is, the more speed work you can do. That means, if you can safely log higher and higher weeks before adding speed work, you’ll have a larger and longer peak. To do this, set aside 4+ weeks of consistent mileage where you are setting routines to keep in your running arsenal [strides, strength, foam rolling, massaging, etc].
Instead of doing the same workout week in and week out, periodizing suggests that before you start training for a new race, you begin with some down time or time off. From there, start with a good base of easy miles (see above) and then incorporate workouts and strength training (see below). From there, you’ll build your mileage to its peak, add in your toughest workouts that will prepare you for your peak race and end with peaking or tapering 7 to 10 days prior to your peak race.
Add Running Workouts
Workouts, including tempo runs, threshold repeats, and intervals are an important ingredient to reaching your personal best. You’ll want to do your best to periodize your training and peak for your race, so the type of workout you do and when you do it depend on where you are in your training plan.
Get Good Running Shoes
The feeling of new running shoes is worth every single penny of their price tag. Good running shoes – shoes that fits YOU and your running gait- are the most important piece of equipment that you need. I think every single runner should be visiting their local running store and getting personally fit for shoes. It truly makes a difference in your running.
Improve Running Form
Good running form is a big component to setting a PR. With good form, you’ll be less likely to have running injuries. You’ll be efficient and have more energy for a kick at the end of your race. And you’ll look good for all those race photos you want to buy.
The secret to fueling appropriately is there really is no secret. If you eat well and limit your processed foods, you’ll have clean energy to directly impact your running. It’s not easy – trust me – but the best thing to do is start small and make manageable changes so you’re not overwhelmed and likely to fall back to your old habits.
Accept Cross Training
There’s no real substitute for running, so the primary focus of your plan should be running. That being said, cross training is very important to the longevity of your running. Mix in cross training to extend your recovery days or to assist in building up your base.
The 15 tips above certainly are not going to guarantee that you’ll set a personal best, but I assure you, if you AREN’T attempting to work on these tips, there is NO WAY you’ll be setting a PR.
Need a running coach for your next race?
A coach will create the training plan so you can focus on your running goals!
Marc is a USATF Track and Field & Dr. Jack Daniels VDOT O2 certified running coach. I have more than 19 years of experience running and more than 10 years of experience coaching runners. Click for more information!
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