7 Secrets to a Surprise PR

Surprise! A new half marathon PR: 1:23:45. Previous best: 1:23:51.

Whew. That was a close one. We were all pretty excited.

Des Moines Half-192

Des Moines Half-9

This race, although a stepping stone to my ‘A’ race of the year, a marathon Dec. 7, has been a target in my sights for six months. Along the way I’ve had great support. Most people are quite encouraging and some have tried to help me stay realistic with my goals. I appreciate both camps. To be perfectly honest, the biggest naysayer in this past weekend’s half marathon was myself. I wanted to believe that I could beat my best but, really, deep down I very much thought that realistically I might barely get into the 1:25:0 range. According to my most recent race, a 10k, I should likely have only be able to run a 1:28:0, or maybe just under that. I’m not really sure how my time happened to be almost 5 minutes faster than the logical prediction, since I didn’t feel 100% prepared for it; nor do I know how I ran more than double the distance of my most recent race at the same pace: 6:23/mile, but it happened. Either way, I’ll recap some key players into how the race went down. Maybe it will give you an idea of how to surprise yourself with a fast time at your next race.

7. Rest. Sleep well and extra, if possible, two nights before the race. This I’ve tried to maintain standard protocol since high school cross country and track. The night before the race is not as important; it’s good to get some rest, but you’re more likely to be tossing and turning a bit the night before, and that’s fine. The tossing and turning means you’re fairly rested, and you’ll be ready to be up early and get going. The sleep you need is in the 48 hours before the race. My race was Sunday morning. The Friday night before, I was in bed at a decent time and my wonderful husband kept our baby occupied and entertained for an extra hour Saturday morning. I slept in until 8:15. Yes, I had almost 10 hours of sleep. Agreed. He’s a really good Daddy and husband. Whatever your situation, try to get lots of rest two nights before your race.

6. Don’t eat anything out of the ordinary. It’s possible you don’t actually need to eat anything at all because really our bodies have enough blood glucose for a 1:30:0 +/- race. Fluids yes, but food, maybe not. I have learned that I don’t do well at all with much of anything at all in my stomach for a race shorter than a marathon. For this race I consumed approximately 3 tablespoons of coconut milk along with a good deal of water about three hours before race time, but no food. Even those three tablespoons I was a little afraid would cause some GI distress. Turns out I was fine. My stomach felt good. Except for when I gagged on a sip of water that had gone down the wrong pipe at mile 11. Almost hurled but pulled through and pressed on.

5. Run with a friendly stranger. It’s not a race unless you’re running with other people. Obviously. But truly some of my favorite race memories are the short “conversations” I’ve had with strangers. These chats usually start with something like, “Good job.” It’s a nice ice breaker. It’s how I began running with this guy from mile 4 – 10.Des Moines Half-139

This was mile 9. I don’t think we were stride for stride for each of those six miles, but we were close and we chatted a bit. At mile 10, I lost him, but he finished not far behind me. After the finish, I congratulated him and thanked him for his encouragement in a “You’re doing great.” at mile 5 and a “Surge?” question at mile 7. He had helped me a lot, but then he said he’d not have run so fast if it weren’t for me. I had no idea! So cool how symbiotic running can be.

4. Break the race down and have a plan. The night before the race, I was needing some motivation. I stumbled upon an old Running Times article by Greg McMillan talking about how to use four zones to break down you race. I decided to sum up my zones simply with one key word that I would allow to ring in my head during the miles of that part of the race: Miles 1-4: “Quick.” Miles 5-7: “Smooth.” Miles 8-10: “Pass.” Miles 11-13: “Push.” Each word had more meaning behind it than I have enough space on which to elaborate right now, but you get the gist. I think that my one word chants helped. They turned a longer race into almost something like four little miniature races. It gave me something to focus upon and not just think about pace or how far left to run. It can work for any distance of race, too.

3. Recruit family and friends for support.Des Moines Half-2Starting and finishing a race with an entourage of family and friends always makes a race more fun.  I think they just put me more at ease. Or something…Des Moines Half-14

I also ran with this sweet mama-teammate, mother of a 4 month old!, (in green socks below) for the first five miles. Nice to have that camaraderie, to get out quick with her, and to swap stories about how we’re pretty sure our organs are not quite back in the right place post-baby.Des Moines Half-60

2. Race in a place you love. I may be a farm girl, but I love our capital city. The Des Moines Marathon and Half Marathon are wonderful courses through beautiful neighborhoods, parks, and our pretty hip downtown. Having the familiarity of home makes the course go a little faster. Too, I think, running in a location you love and appreciate is the closest you can get to a home court advantage in a foot race.

1. Be willing to risk. “You must be willing to straddle the fine line between going too fast and going perfectly fast. Even “failure” will help you better understand where that line is.” I found this quote in the same McMillan article mentioned above. It fit my situation perfectly. I knew that I was throwing all caution into the wind with a plan to push my pace quite a bit faster than my “prescribed” pace. The risk I ran was really small. Worst case scenario, my “failure” would be that I’d die around mile 10. The race would have then just been a nice hard tempo run. My risk turned into a jackpot because at mile 10, yes, I felt really bad, but I knew I could maintain for the next 3.1 miles. This gamble was also hard to commit to, but I know it was the right strategy for this race.

Now the bar is raised. Everything just got a little harder. This is a good thing.

Here are my training paces at right and, although a simple estimation, at left are predicted race times for various distances.

vdot pacesCheck out Runbayou.com to calculate your own training paces. It’s fun.

Good luck with your next race. May it be a fast one!

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10 thoughts on “7 Secrets to a Surprise PR

  1. how can one person inspire and demotivate at the same time. keep up the great work! Hope to see yall before kids are grown.

    • Thanks! And I’m a tiny bit jealous you’re doing CIM. I needed a race within driving distance this time around but would have loved to make it out to California. I hope the next couple months are great for you and you, too, stay nice and healthy. Run fast!

  2. Pingback: 3 simple life lessons learned as the coach of 5 5th-grade girls |

  3. Pingback: Half marathon PR | Flexitarian Filly

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