Nine Ways to a PR By Bruce Wilk, PT

Fri, 24 May 2013 - 10:02 p.m. MT
Credit: ARA Staff - American Running Association

Many runners strive to run faster, be more efficient, and improve endurance. We all want to run at our very best and achieve the goals we’ve set for ourselves. But making these goals a reality and accomplishing personal records isn’t easy. There are no tricks, and there are no quick fixes. Improving our running performance takes time. We must properly train and do the work. Below, I describe and outline nine principles to help guide runners through performance training.

PRs are supposed to be difficult to attain, and well earned. Achieving a personal record means that we performed our absolute best during a race and finished faster than we ever had before. The road to completing a new PR is not easy. It takes time and work to become a better runner, and a successful PR should feel like a well deserved reward.

It is not your shoe selection that causes PRs, but it may contribute injury. There is no miracle shoe that’s suddenly going to make us better, faster, or more efficient runners. But there are shoes that can negatively impact our running. Poorly fitted, unprotective, defective, and worn out shoes can play a major role in developing a running injury.

It is not where your foot lands that improves your running; what does matter is where you push off. Medical professionals, coaches, and running enthusiasts all argue about what part of our foot should make initial contact with the ground when we run, and initial strike zones vary amongst even the most elite runners. So we have no true consensus about which part of the foot should land first. However, we all do agree that our power in running comes from the push off, and final push off should come through the 1st ray.

You find your forward lean dynamically. How much should we lean forward when we run? It depends on our speed and what we’re trying to accomplish. Our lean changes when we run with different intentions and paces. We don’t simply find our lean by stepping forward and seeing where our body falls. Individually, we must find the most efficient lean for our current pace while we are running. 

Rhythm and form for racing is trained, and it is best done in careful small progressions. You can’t make big changes all at once. Becoming a better runner is a process, and we must progress gradually. Trying to change multiple aspects of running all at once is a recipe for failure and potential injury. It’s best to focus on one or two facets of running, master those concepts, and then progress onto another component.

Race techniques are best performed during races, but need to be learned and practiced in training. We don’t train the way we race, and we can’t practice race efforts in training because it is too hard on our bodies. What we do is practice race specific training to simulate pieces of a race. Then, we put all the pieces together with 100% effort on race day.

Practicing the same thing over again rarely causes improvement. If we keep practicing the same exercises, drills, and running schedule, then our running will stay the same. There will be no change, no growth, and no measurable progress. In order to become a stronger, faster, more efficient runner, we must challenge ourselves and appropriately change and progress our routine.

Recognize that training to failure works; if failure is the goal. Although we must challenge ourselves to improve performance, it is possible to overtrain. Too much, too fast, too soon can impair performance and will eventually lead to injury. We must find balance within our training. Becoming a better runner is a continuous process and must include gradual progressions with properly scheduled rest days. 

Respect the value of a proper warm-up before a hard work out, and proper recovery afterwards. Warming up is one of the most important things any athlete can do to help prevent injuries and perform at their very best. How long and what actually constitutes a warm up is relative to each individual. Its simple, warming up means go easy before you go hard.

A purposeful, thoughtful cool down is equally important. As we run harder more vasodilation occurs in the legs. After running, fluid pooling to the lower legs is a serious concern. We’ve all seen or heard stories of elite runners finishing marathons and then collapsing. That doesn’t happen because the runner is too fatigued. It happens because the runner suddenly stopped running without cool down, and all the blood pooled away from the heart to the lower legs. In order to promote proper cool down, finish line shoots are now longer at organized races.

Accomplishing goals and successful PRs are quite rewarding for the well-trained runner. But running at your best doesn’t happen naturally--you have to work at it!


Overcoming Prerace Jitters

It happens to the best of us. You’ve trained diligently, used visualization techniques, gotten enough sleep, and paid attention to diet—you’re ready to race. Still, pre-competitive anxiety can crop up. Sometimes it’s the day of the event, other times the night before. Particularly at longer distances, we are vulnerable. So many weeks have gone into making sure the one event goes as planned, that we can easily psyche ourselves out of a good performance.

Performance anxiety can be crippling. If you find yourself becoming nervous and doubting your ability, here are some steps you can take to talk yourself down. 

  1. Think of the races when you felt ready and raced well. Choose your four best and memorize them in an acronym that will allow you to remember them instantly and call up all the attendant good feelings you had.
  2. Focus on things within your control. Put thoughts about other competitors and of the race outcome out of your mind. Focus instead on your race plan.
  3. Get your mind off the race when you are feeling overwhelmed the night before. Go to a movie. Too much sitting around can lead to nervous energy and fretting.
  4. A pre-event massage can help you relax, just don’t go for deep-tissue massage the night before a race.
  5. In the hours leading up to the event, imagine yourself as a thermometer or volume control, where 100% is maximum stress and zero is no stress at all. Take slow, deep breaths and emphasize the exhale. Feel the stress level diminish with each exhale…100, 90, 80, 70, etc.
  6. Repeat to yourself a confident statement such as: “I run efficiently,” “I have trained well,” “I am ready to do my best.”
  7. Boost your confidence by reading over your training log the night before the race. This will remind you of all the hard work you’ve put in—you’re prepared.
  8. Remind yourself that you are setting out to compete at your best, for you. This is not about the other competitors.
  9. Once you’ve achieved a relaxed state, go over your race plan in detail.
  10. Finish off with recalling the top four races, and repeat the process all over again until the race start. 

Always remember that if you’ve done the work, you are ready. Mental techniques to overcome jitters are effective, but nothing can substitute for experience, combined with hard, consistent training over a long period to give you a sense of confidence and reduce stress.


The Complete Guide to Running: How to be a Champion from 9 to 90 by Earl Fee, 2005, Meyer & Meyer Sports, UK, pp.56-60


(RUNNING & FITNEWS® September / October 2011 • Volume 29, Number 5)

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