Pushing the PR

Several of my running buddies have worked toward personal records (PRs) in races over the last few weeks. These are friends I run with each week, so I have seen them flying around the track and gutting out tough tempo runs, striving for a new PR at their next race. It’s been inspiring to see them working so hard to achieve their goals.

There’s nothing like a time goal to bring focus to your training. But, it can be disappointing to work so hard and fall short (sometimes just short) on race day. As one friend noted with refreshing frankness, “I either need to get over this time goal I have or find a way to push through the discomfort to get there. It is 100% mental.”

Although I’ve worked hard to improve my speed over the past year, it wasn’t a primary focus for me this spring. As I shaved minutes off my half marathon PR last fall, I could see where I was headed—the margins were getting smaller and smaller. Now a PR in the half rests on a minute or less. That amounts to a walk versus run through an aid station, an untied shoelace, a high-five from a kid along the race course. In short, a ridiculous expectation for the casual runner. Right?

Oh, but it is addictive. I knew I could achieve my first goal—break my 1:51 PR—but as soon as I did that, I needed to see if I could clear 1:45. And I think I can do it (12 seconds, precioussss!), but I needed to set it aside for a while. I could not do race after race, each focused on relentless pursuit of seconds off my half marathon time. I’d like to claim that this is due to my healthy, holistic perspective on running. Instead, I’ll blame my short attention span.

I think there’s still room for me to break 1:45. But at some point I won’t be able to pull down my time, no matter my training or mental focus. To achieve these smaller margins, everything must be 100% on race day. It’s thrilling when you can pull it off. But I don’t want to hang my definition of “success” for every race on a time goal that, at the end of the day, is arbitrary.

After two half marathons this fall, I walked away from the distance, happy with what I had achieved and still intrigued by the idea that I can return to this goal. I turned my focus to trails and longer distances, mostly without a time expectation. Doing races with friends, hitting the trails, relay or adventure races, trying a new race, encouraging friends in pursuit of their individual goals—these are the things that keep me running.

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