PRs Don’t Just Happen . . .


. . . or do they?

Google “how to get a running PR (personal record)” and you’ll find lots of advice:

  • Run more miles
  • Do speedwork
  • Do running workouts specific to your race distance

Fairytales and Fitness

All this advice is true, and yet if only it were that simple. If you don’t care about PRs, and I know there are many runners that don’t, this may not be the blog post for you. If you want a roadmap to PR, this also won’t be the blog post for you.

If you enjoy racing against yourself and trying to improve, I’ll share the real secret to PRs.

Yes, you’ll have to want it & work for it
It goes without saying. The truth is that PRs don’t just happen. They take work. A lot of work. Sometimes years of work. PRs can be small, too, sometimes even just a few seconds, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not an accomplishment.

It wasn’t easy, but it sort of was

Sometimes a PR will feel really hard . . .
. . . and sometimes they will feel easy. More often they will feel hard. Which is why you’ve really got to want it.

Let me tell you a little story about my biggest PR. It came at a time in my life when I was again spending a lot of time helping out my parents and had little time for myself. I ran a lot less miles than I normally do preparing for a half. It was a blogger meetup and just meant to be a fun weekend and I had no expectations for the actual race.

We were graced with really great weather. Several PRs were placed, some weren’t. I started running and realized I was running faster than normal, and it felt great. As the miles ticked by, for the most part, it still felt “easy”.

I broke through the rut that was my half marathon time with a big PR. I definitely wasn’t trying to run faster, I just let it flow and listened to my body (you can read about the race here).

This one I had to dig deep & fight hard for

That was my gateway to a lot of half PRs, in fact. Now let me tell you about the half PR I ran about a year before the FL race. The conditions were not good: cold, cloudy, so insanely windy I almost lost my hat and got pushed into Lake Champlain (you can read about it here). Oh, and did I mention the hills?

That race in VT was also a PR at the time, by 3 minutes. I was very happy with it, too, it was a challenging race under challenging conditions and I fought hard through every mile.

Here’s the real secret to PRs
The real secret to PRs is that they come from doing the work, mile after mile,  year after year. Never throwing in the towel, even after a disappointing race — or even a string of disappointing races.

The cold, hard truth is you can have a perfect training cycle, hit all your paces on all your training runs, actually do all your training run, have perfect conditions for your race . . . and not achieve your goals.

PRs do not (necessarily) come from one training cycle. They come from the work you do, consistently — sometimes for many years, and never giving up on yourself.

Release the pressure valve, too
I have had my Instant Pot for a couple of years now, and I love it just as much — maybe even more than when I got it. Sometimes achieving PRs takes releasing your pressure valve — some of my most surprising PRs I have worked really hard for, but when it came time to race, I had no expectations.

No expectations doesn’t necessarily = PRs. On the other hand, sometimes putting that pressure on yourself can actually sabotage your race.

Morale of the story: workout consistently, work hard, release the pressure and let go of your expectations. It’s okay to have big goals, the hurt and unhappiness comes from when you cling to hard to them.

Do you care about PRs at all?

What was your most surprising PR?

What do you think is the real secret to a PR?

27 thoughts on “PRs Don’t Just Happen . . .

  1. You make a lot of great points here, but the key is really–how long have you been running? As a runner for 30 years, I can honestly say that all my PRs are behind me. I’m not going to get faster than I was in my 30s. I’m ok with that, tho!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. OTOH, most say that after 10 years of running, you’re going to slow down. But not everyone does. Or that slowing down as you age is inevitable — which I do believe — but some slow down way more than others.

      Are my PRs behind me? Maybe, maybe not. But yes, wear and tear on the body from a lifetime of running comes into play, too.


  2. Honestly, I haven’t cared about PRs for about 2-3 years, lol. When I first started running I was all about the PRs and thought I could PR every race – I was so naive, lol. Now I am totally happy just getting through a training cycle healthy, injury-free and happy 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think you are exactly right, Judy. Even though I am past the age when I can think about PRs, all of mine came not just from one training cycle for a particular race, but after years of training. It was cumulative. I had one marathon that sounded a lot like your half PR. My mom had just passed away and my training was uneven, but I had years of good training behind me. Mile after mile, I just felt great. I surprised myself because I usually fade at the end of a marathon, but not this time. I also thing reading “Chi Running” and adopting some of their suggestions had a big impact on my race times.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree with Wendy. The longer you run, the less likely you are to get a PR.

    I really don’t care about PRs and I don’t train for them. I don’t even know if it’s a PR until after I’m done.

    I want to race a long time and if I train hard for races and try to PR, I think it will shorten my running longevity.

    I would rather enjoy the experience, run with friends (even if they are slower) and just have fun.

    As Kim said, when I started running, I was more about the PR too.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Good thoughts here! PR’s don’t just happen and sometimes they happen when you don’t expect it. I had my PR’s within the first 5 years of running. I don’t think I can ever achieve those paces again but that’s ok-for now 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Never say never Deborah! It’s definitely easier to PR when you start out, and actually the time difference between my first and second halfs was like 15 minutes — but that was mainly because I was undertrained for that first half — a GPS watch made a big difference to me!


  6. I agree, consistency and hard work are key. At 51, it’s hard to beat my previous PRs, but I do care about where I place in my age group. Right now I am coming back from injury, so it will take some time until I can really compete again. Thanks for your PR story, great when it comes as easy as that!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Of course doing the work will move you toward a PR. I think the bigger challenge is finding the ideal mix of workouts that’s right for the individual, whether it’s high mileage, low mileage or something else. Social media makes this tough as we’ve got all kinds of people putting out all kinds of info. One size does not fit all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I absolutely agree — I’ve talked to some of my runner friends who’ve tried to follow a group training plan without modifying it to their own needs — it rarely works well for them. But it’s also hard to find the right mix & I know not everyone has the $$ for a coach, even though I highly recommend it!


  8. Lots of great insight with this post! I have had a lot of PR’s this year, but not any of them came from concerted efforts of stalking my pace or focusing on chasing them. They happened after a LONG plateau (of several years). And, I believe they happened because I shifted my goal(s) to enjoying the experience & simply running by feel. Throwing out expectations has been so liberating 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Running by feel can really backfire on me — I can think I’m running fast when I’m actually running really slow!

      Sunday should be interesting. It’s our first really cold snap. If I have my watch under my jacket to gather HR data I may not be able to know my pace — I definitely don’t look at it all the time but there have been times I’ve slowed down when I know I didn’t have to.


  9. My PRs have all come from taking the pressure off. And one I didn’t get from that, too! My half PR came in a race that was half-way into training for my first marathon, so I had already run 14 and 15 miles and treated it as a training run. I could have PR’d at the Liverpool RnR marathon but I knew I couldn’t push it because that one was a training run for my ultra!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I may be in the minority here to say that I have not been chasing PR’s, but had a set time I wanted to beat in each distance 5k less than 30 min. 10K less than an hour. Half marathon less than 2:30, Full Marathon less than 5 hours. I beat all those time ( except my marathon time and part of me still has the desire to fight for that one). I have brought my half marathon time down quite significantly so part of me wants to try to PR in that distance sometime.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, the good thing about starting out really slow is you mostly have nowhere to go but up. 🙂 I lowered my half time by about 50 minutes from the first! And it took a lot of years to do that.

      I keep chasing that 5k PR, not sure that one is in my future but I keep trying.

      Maybe someday when life isn’t so stressful I’ll tackle a marathon. And maybe not. So hard to train for one with the NE weather — too hot in the summer, too cold/snowy in the winter! Obviously people do it, though.

      Right now I don’t want it badly enough to put in the training.


  11. Brooklyn Half was my most surprising PR. It was a PR by 6-7 minutes and the weather was AWFUL. I think I went quickly to get out of the rain. LOL.
    I really want a Half PR next year and think/hope I’ll get it as a result of this year’s training. FLL is the most promising since it moved sooner in the year and I have blown up in that both times due to the heat.
    I would like to break 30 in the 5K sometime, but I really don’t think it’s likely. 10K/Half better targets given how I tend to run.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not sure I’ll ever get to 31 (or even less than 31:30) in a 5k. My goals are reasonable (maybe). Not sure I have a faster half in me either. Maybe, maybe not.

      I continue to do well at 10ks & 15ks in general. 😊


      1. I don’t recommend the Bronx 10 because the course is just so boring save for the last tenth (facing Yankee Stadium). Cherry Blossom is the best ten that I’ve heard about. Can’t beat the scenery. I love the 15K here, but there’s only one since hot chcocolate was cancelled
        Same here re: 5K. I think 32 is still my PR. Didn’t do any PR chasing while marathon training for obvious reasons

        Liked by 1 person

  12. I agree, going into a race relaxed and without any expectations can sometimes take the stress off and set you up for a great race.

    At my age, I don’t expect to be setting any more PR’s. I did set a goal to go after a half PR at my 60th birthday beach weekend with my friends at the OBX Half. The only reason I even had a slight chance of setting a PR, though, was because I always ran halves as slower training runs for fulls back in my faster days. I didn’t set that PR because I had stomach issues during the race, something else that can rob you of a PR when everything else is going right.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aww. stomach issues are no fun. I’ve only had that one time, so far, knock on wood, but it is actually my half PR. Because it was a downhill race. 🙂

      I know stomach issues are more likely to pop up as we age, too.


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