We bet you can picture the last race that you ran a personal best. Maybe you are visualising the moment you saw the big, red numbers as you crossed the finish, which indicated that you could have, just maybe, ran your best. Then, there were the anxious moments waiting for the official results where you verified the time and could confirm that yes, indeed, a PB was attained. It is a triumphant moment—one that stays with you forever.
That incredible feeling is easy to want to chase. But what happens when months or years have gone by and despite your best efforts, a PB evades you? We know how demotivating a string of races without desired results can be.
Many runners face the dreaded PB rut and fail miserably in their attempts to get out of it. They overtrain (and get injured) or race every weekend (and probably also get injured) or continue training in exactly the same way they always have before and expect different results. So what can be done? How do you break out of a stretch of disappointing races?
Don’t worry! It is possible with patience, dedication, and a lot of self-reflection. Here are a few tips.
1. Commit to Your New PB
Andrew Moran, D.P.T., running coach and physical therapist at Odom Health and Wellness, encourages runners to reach their PB goals through whole-body and mind training
“It is really cool when an athlete has that fire,” he tells Runner’s World. “They’re willing to put themselves on the line and be honest about challenging themselves. But they also must be honest with themselves about the practicality of running a PB. I get them to reflect right off the bat, and I ask them, ‘Is this a good year to run a PB?’”
Moran also asks his athletes to assess what their personal and professional life will allow in terms of training. Basically, will you have enough time to put in the work to race the way you want to race? If you can carve out 10 or more hours per week to hone your running, then you can make this a PB year.
2. Reflect on Your Old PB
Moran will also ask an athlete to tell him all about that wonderful PB race. It is, of course, nice to draw on that success, but his curiosity lies more in what made it possible for that record time to happen in the first place.
“If someone has a years-old PB and says the race was net downhill, the weather was perfect, and they felt like a million bucks, then that’s great,” he says. “You have to acknowledge that in order to get a new PB, we have to look really specifically at your preferences and strengths and choose a racecourse and time of year to target. That is very low-hanging fruit to pick.”
3. Analyze Your Recent Training
Moran says that when you are able to pinpoint the problems on your own and discover new things about yourself and your running, the solutions will click more than if you merely follow the advice of a coach, book, or article.
“I want my athletes to look at the pillars of training and find the pieces of the program that maybe haven’t been addressed before,” says Moran. “I ask them what they think their weaknesses might be. It starts with being introspective and reflecting on your training history.”
To analyse what is working and what is not working, jot down the answers to a few questions:
- What was your last training cycle like?
- What went well?
- What did not go well?
- Did you give yourself enough time to train (including a base training period)?
- Was your training consistent?
- What pace are you supposed to run your low-intensity miles? Are you hitting this pace or going too fast or too slow?
- Do you incorporate speed work into training?
- Do you have a strength training routine that supports your mileage?
- How is your nutrition? Hydration?
- Do you recover from hard effort runs?
- Have you recovered from your last race?
- Do you feel there are mental blocks keeping you from your goal?
If you realise that perhaps your training was too fast on easy run days, skipped a lot of runs, or that fuel took the form of pumpkin pie and Cheetos, it might be tempting to overhaul your entire running life. But start with one small change. Focus on consistency first, for example. Once you are marking off training runs on your calendar with ease, choose another area to improve. By taking things step-by-step, you will be more likely to make the changes habit.
4. Get Stronger in the Gym
If you are in a PB rut and you aren’t hitting the gym, this could be an easy fix: Start strength training.
“I’m very biased, but after an athlete completes a dual strength training and running program, I’ll see, in a marathoner for example, three- or even five-minute time improvements,” he says. “Strength is essential for running economy and injury prevention. With simple, running-specific moves, you actually improve your running form and prevent any training breaks that might be caused by injury. Moves that work the calf muscle complex, quadriceps, and glute medius are essential.”
Moran says If you are new to lifting, start with a hinge, squat, carry, and a calf raise. Incorporate the strength program while you are in a maintenance or base training phase. This will allow you to lift heavier and build muscle without sacrificing the quality of high-intensity workouts in the actual training cycle.
5. Be Realistic
We all get older and most of us get slower. It’s just what happens. So if you are nearing 40 and trying to beat the 5K PB you set as a senior in high school, it might be time to readjust your goals.
“That’s when I get people excited about distance running,” Moran says. “Physiologically, we rely more on the slow twitch muscle fibres as we age. But the cool thing is, you don’t see a huge drop off in distance performance until 50 or 60.”
If a half or marathon PB is your desire, but you’ve taken time off, understand that a successful training cycle might be a year or two. Alternately, if you haven’t taken any time off running for a decade, a brief recovery period could bring new life to your legs. Be patient and open to change.
It’s important too to identify your “why.” What does it mean to you to break that time? How will it add value to your life as a runner? If you can answer that question easily, then identify what is holding you back and crush your goals.