Three ingredients for a personal best

In lieu of a proper race report for Sunday’s Vienna City Half-Marathon (I’m still waiting for some pictures), I present you these tips for getting a Personal Best (or PR) in your next race.

I finished the fourth half-marathon of my more recent running career and got another personal best, making it four in a row (well, three, because the first ought to be a PR no matter how fast you are). Still, I’ve yet to run a half-marathon race slower than any before, which makes me think I have that “PR thing” figured out by now1.

1) Train with the goal in mind

This is probably the most serious of tips I have in this regard. When I prepared for my first half-marathon last year, I didn’t know what I was up to nor did I know the course. Which left me wondering/imagining/daydreaming about the things to come, just to find out that running the actual race was completely different from what I had thought.

This year, when I started training in November 2013, I knew I was going to run Vienna again. I knew what the course and the crowd would be like and I knew exactly what a half-marathon feels like. I don’t think there was a single training session (out of 87 runs since November) where I didn’t at least for a few seconds thought about the upcoming race and how it would feel like. Or how it might turn out, what conditions I might face and so on2. This helps tremendously in keeping the overall motivation high.

2) Always be smiling, even when it hurts

Or should I rather phrase that “especially when it hurts”? As I noted in my Baltimore Half-Marathon report, smiling is a good way to engage with the spectators, usually resulting in extra cheers. At the same time, it will relax your body and send positive vibes to your mind, which helps when you are physically and/or mentally struggling.

Even better: Blow kisses to the crowd. Well, in that particular case the crowd included my kids and I was really happy to have spotted them. Made me smile for at least the next mile, giving me an extra boost at roughly the halfway-point of the race.

3) Get injured before the race

Well, scratch that3. I tried this for last year’s (hamstring) and this year’s spring half-marathon and I can not recommend this. Even if I got a PR again in Vienna, it left me thinking “what if I had been able to prepare properly” for quite a while during the race, which is a very distracting thought. Also, I’m pretty sure that my breathing got heavier than it should have been at the end of the race and I blame my injury for that.

So, by all means, stay healthy! Don’t do anything stupid, even more so in the last two or three weeks approaching your race!

4) Have a Game Plan

This is pretty obvious, but for completeness sake: You have to have a game plan. Know exactly what you’re up to, if possible recon the course prior to the race or at least try to memorize the hills/important turns/key sections from the pre-race information provided.

This also includes your pace during the race: Know how fast to start, when to increase the pace and when to go all out. Just going by feel will almost always make you go out too fast. This might be ok for a 5km race, but certainly isn’t for a half-marathon or a marathon.

For the half-marathon, I’ve found that 5/5/5 works well for me (even if I haven’t executed it very well in this race). For the first five miles run in a high-ish Z2 effort. Then, for miles 6 to 10, increase effort (and hopefully pace) to Z3. For the last 5km, go all out. Thanks to Mike Ricci of
D3 Multisport for telling me this HM strategy.

If you follow steps 1), 2) and 4) and leave off 3) I’m sure you can get a personal best in your next race!

  1. Just in case: this article has more tongue in cheek than it might sound like.
  2. Thinking about a race usually makes my heart-rate jump up by at least 10bpm. I then need to consciously think about something else to get it down again.
  3. Thus making the list indeed three items long.