I thought this was a topic worth opening up for discussion. I think experienced runners know this, but even still can find themselves discouraged if their PBs are results that seem unattainable ever again.
Like weight loss, someone who has a lot to lose is going to see major improvements quicker than someone who is close to their ideal weight. As this one moves closer to his or her ideal weight, the ease to lose the weight will become increasingly harder. Running is no different. As a new runner, you will likely experience major increases with speed, especially if you go from a casual runner to a runner with a focused training plan. Once you reach your potential, these PBs will be harder to come by. However, that does not mean you will never see them again!
The greatest factors in how a race will go, in my opinion, are training, health, weather, and race profile. Let’s look at each one individually:
1.Training. Do you have a focused training plan designed around your goal race? Are you taking your rest or active recovery days and making your training days count when they need to? Are you going out there day in and day out determined to crush it, regardless if that is what you should be doing? Are you cross training? Are you listening to your body over and above a training plan when you feel nagging pain that could turn into a full-blown injury? These are all very important questions you need to ask yourself. If you are only performing high intensity days, you will be doing yourself a disservice, as you will not have the energy to hit your max potential. Further, you will be exposing yourself to the injury gods. On the other side of that, you need to become “comfortable with being uncomfortable” (as recently told to me by elite runner Megan MacDonald) or “find the pleasure in the pain” (as told to me by elite ultrarunner, Dave Proctor). It is a very important aspect to improving. All high performing athletes recognize this and have their own motto for getting through it!
2. Health. Be honest with yourself. Are you getting enough sleep? Are you eating enough? Without rest, to recover and repair your muscles, the quality of your workouts will diminish. If you are not eating enough you are trying to move a car forward without any fuel. It is as simple as that. Our bodies require proper rest and proper fuel. You do not need a “runner’s body” to be a runner. In fact, trying to obtain a certain look while training at a high intensity can have a detrimental effect (blog on this to follow in the upcoming weeks). Further, we put ourselves at risk for bugs that are flying around because our immune systems are often weakened by training. We are constantly stressing our body and the energy it takes to repair itself can leave us not as strong to fight off a flu. Sleep is key!
3. Weather. Yes, it’s the one thing runner’s fear the most – what the weather is going to do on race day. Unfortunately, Mother Nature does not care how many times we refresh our weather app. This is the one thing out of our very control. Every runner has a story of racing against torpedo winds, in extreme heat, or a snowstorm. The only thing you can do in this case is try your best and accept the fact that a PB is likely not in the cards. Once you can accept that, you can still enjoy the race.
4. Race Profile. Did you check the course profile before signing up? Are you targeting a new PB without realizing the course you have chosen is at high elevation and/or has a net ascent? This is probably the single most influential factor on obtaining a PB or not. Even if you stay healthy, get your training in smartly, and have a perfect day at 10 degrees Celsius and no wind, the course profile can make or break your target pace on race day.
There is no shame in a race well run without a PB. For a personal best to happen, everything needs to come together on race day, and, unfortunately, some of those things just are not in our control. Nevertheless, we can do our best by training smart and not getting discouraged to get back out there. And when you do achieve a new personal best, celebrate it! It's a good feeling when everything comes together!