One of my favorite things about running (which I’ve likely said before) is that you can achieve success even if you’re not medaling or winning races. As a runner success is measured in what we call the PR: the Personal Record.
It’s exactly what it sounds like, your individual record fast time. (Sometimes also called a personal best.)
Running is all about self improvement, pushing yourself to be better than you were the race before or, heck, even the run before. Work hard, challenge yourself, get faster. That’s the beauty of running. It’s that simple.
Well, on paper is that simple. In reality it can be much more difficult than it appears especially if you’ve been running for a while.
As a new runner the gains come quickly and relatively easily. You feel more fit within a few weeks, your race times naturally drop as a function of just running regularly. But after a few years of running three to five days a week almost year round a PR becomes much more elusive. You actually have to strategically work for it.
I recently ran the Detroit half marathon for the second time in two years. It was my fifth half marathon and it was not a PR. Far from it, this was my slowest half yet. It was even slower than the same race last year but this time I didn’t have the excuse of recent illness to blame. It’s tempting to write this race off and say that me & the PR just don’t meet in Detroit, maybe blame luck or circumstances. Excuses are always easy to find. But, really, I like this particular race. I enjoy the atmosphere, the course, and the city.
So what’s the problem here? Why haven’t I PRd in Detroit?
After contemplating the matter it occurred to me that the PR is like a monster: You have to feed it to keep it alive.
Both this fall and last, and really in general of late, I have not been feeding my PR monster.
How can I realistically expect to PR when I haven’t been eating well, sleeping enough, or following a real training plan? PRs thrive on hard work and at least adequate levels of self care. If you’re going to attempt to push your body to new limits you have to give it the resources and fuel to do so. This is something I try to tell my 18 year old all the time. “You’re not eating well and you’re not sleeping, of course you feel crappy!”
Around the tenth mile in Detroit, when I was still running but not very fast, I realized I might need to tell myself the very same thing sometimes.
Fall is a busier season in my always busy life. Not only am I coordinating and adjusting to my kids going back to school but I’ve also been coaching cross country the past two years. I thoroughly enjoy it but it’s demanding, requiring at least fifteen hours a week of my time and attention. All this does not leave time to properly train for a long distance race. Or sleep more than six hours a day (if that). Or plan and prepare good meals.
My point here is that I shouldn’t expect a PR if I didn’t prepare for one. Does this mean I shouldn’t do fall races? No, not necessarily. But I should be realistic with my expectations for the races I do. You really do get out what you put in.
So despite it not being a PR, I’m going to celebrate the success I did have with the Detroit half marathon this year. I ran some fast (for me) miles on the beginning. I learned some important things about my self. I ran most the race and didn’t die in the last three miles, not completely at least.
Maybe I’ll take on another half marathon in the spring and maybe then I’ll give my PR monster the time and attention it needs. Or maybe I’ll just keep chugging along for the fun of it and enjoy the scenery.