How to Set a PR at Your Next Race

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Want to set a personal record (PR) at your next 5k, 10k, half marathon, or marathon? This podcast will tell you how to shave minutes off your time.

Running a PR can even be more satisfying than winning an age group award because most of us run to compete against ourselves. We know that we’ll never be Olympic athletes or even win a marathon. Yet we know that somewhere deep down inside of us resides the best we are capable of.

Click here to reserve a room with Drury Hotels, the official hotel sponsor of the MTA podcast. Save $10 on your room and get 2 free months of membership to Marathon Training Academy. Check out our video below.

Are You Ready to PR?

Setting a PR will require a goal, focus, and mental, physical, and psychological commitment. If you’re a beginning runner then this is not the time to set ambitious time goals for yourself. Your goal should be to establish a solid running base and simply finish the race.

After you finish a few races you’ll start thinking about how to get faster. If your last marathon was 2 years ago and you haven’t been running regularly since that time, it wouldn’t be advisable to train for a PR. You have to push the “reset” button if you’ve taken some time off.

Realistic Time Goals

You don’t want to be overly ambitious and set yourself up for failure when setting your time goal. On the other hand make sure that the goal is challenging. Let’s say that your last marathon was run in 5:08. An underwhelming PR goal would be to finish in 5:07. Here are some generally accepted time increments that can be shaved off a previous race for the average runner.

  • 5k -try to shave off 2 ½ minutes
  • 10k -try to shave off 5 minutes
  • Half marathon -try to shave 10 minutes
  • Marathon -go for 15 minutes

The Three Phase Plan to Setting a PR

Be prepared to implement a 3 phase plan that will take approximately 4 months.

Endurance Phase -builds your running distance doing easy miles. This phase should never be ignored or you risk setting yourself up for injury. You will be doing long slow runs to enable you to “go the distance.” Pace should be conversational (you can carry on a conversation) and run on a flat surface. This phase will include the long run, midweek run, recovery run, cross training, and rest days.

Strength Phase -transitions from endurance to focusing on building strength. Strength running includes working on hills and doing tempo runs to strengthen your legs and cardiovascular system. It will require you to stay focused and stay at an even effort.

When doing hill training look for the right hill (approximately 100-200 meters long and not too steep). Warm up for 1 mile and then run up and down the hill several times. On hills it is important to shorten your stride, lean into the hill slightly, and try to maintain an even pace. Run “through” the hill by maintaining your pace as the hill evens out (instead of slowing down).

Tempo runs should be done on a flat surface and run at a pace that is just below the point where you’re uncomfortable (comfortably hard, MHR 85%). Warm up for 1-2 miles before hitting your pace and then cool down with a 1 mile jog.

Speed Phase -integrates the endurance and strength preparation. Best done on a 400 meter track or treadmill. This is what will help you focus on race pace and enable you to run faster. You’ll also need a sports watch to monitor your lap times and lots of concentration. Start each speed session with a 1-2 mile warm-up at an easy pace. Keep your pace steady through each repeat and follow your session with a 1 mile cool down.

Additional Resources

The Yasso 800s -for estimating your finishing times.

Smart Coach -for simple training plans the target your desired time. *Note they require you to set up an account to access this tool.

Drury Hotels, official hotel sponsor of the MTA Podcast. -A great place for runners to stay. Here is a quick video by Trevor about Drury.

Thanks for reading this post.

Leave a comment below.

Tell me about your PR goals.

3 Responses to How to Set a PR at Your Next Race

  1. Trevor August 15, 2011 at 10:06 pm #

    Who is that good looking guy in the video?

    I don’t have a PR goal because I’m running my first marathon this year. But, I hope to cross the finish line as close to the 4 hour mark as possible.

    • Angie August 26, 2011 at 10:55 am #

      You are a handsome guy! :-) It’s exciting to see the great progress you’re making in your marathon training. I’m so proud of you and can’t wait until you experience your first marathon.

  2. Trevor C September 2, 2011 at 11:52 am #

    4hrs is a pretty aggressive time and would be a great achievement for a first try, good luck.

    While training for my next 1/2 I started back at 5km to try to PR it. When the 1/2 is over it will be time to try to PR my 10km.

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