Two PRs In One Week: Race Recaps And Strategies For Placing At A 5k

Aside from placing in a race, getting a PR is the ideal scenario for any runner who has a competitive bone in them. I managed to do both: place in a race for the first time ever, and set my new personal record. Then just a few days later I set yet another PR.

As runners, we put our all into the sport. Even it is means just doing it for fun like I do. I am no professional or elite runner. I am not the fastest or have crossed the finish line in the top three spots. But I do love to compete against myself, push my body and mind to the limit and see where that limit is, and progress and get better at doing what I love.

Why Strive For The PR

It is such a feeling of accomplishment when we shock ourselves each time we set a new personal best. A PR or personal record—or also called a PB personal best—is the running term used when the athlete finishes a specific distance in the fastest time they ever completed it in.

As everyday runners, we should still strive to get that PR because we should always aim to be better, stronger, fitter and faster versions of ourselves. We are capable of so much, often of more than we think we can. Set a goal, crush it and then crush the next one.

For me, this happened in the span of a week.

Becoming And Age Group Winner

I am straight up lying if I said placing in a race hasn’t always been a goal. But it’s a goal that was shelved in the back of my brain, my mind focusing on performing the best I could be at each given race. Honestly, I just thought it wouldn’t be a realistic possibility in the past because of my average pace during a 5k. But—specifically over the past year—I have been working really hard and becoming a better and more efficient runner.

Under the guidance of my coach Jen, she has me running tempo runs to help me stay on track to beat my last half marathon PR. But there are other ways to get faster as a runner in general, including running hills to strengthen the legs and build endurance, and doing long runs.

And since I am in the midst of half training, those long runs and speed work during my shorter ones seem to be paying off nicely.

At the Labor Day Eatontown 5k here in New Jersey, I set the goal to finally officially running a sub 30 5k. Running with a friend who is a rockstar runner when it comes to her time (even if she says she still doesn’t love to run) pushed me to finish a weekday run around 28 minutes and some seconds. At a race, my best time this year has been 30:02—just three seconds away from one of my major goals.

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So last Monday I was determined finally crossed this goal off my list. It was hot and humid. I looked at my Garmin and saw my pace was in the 8’s. But where I would normally feel nervous that I came out too strong and would burn out, I felt strong. I told myself to push it, take it a mile at a time. By a mile and a half, I was thirsty. I needed water bad. But I zipped past the aid station because I didn’t want to stop. I could not be slowed down.

I looped back, this time opting for a sip of water, splashing the rest over my head. I immediately felt my body cool. I knew there was only a bit more to go. This time I wanted to slow down. I did. I allowed myself to shuffle and catch my breath. In. Out. In. Out. “Okay, now pick up the pace,” I told myself.

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I looked at my watch to see I was less than a mile away. It was the home stretch, time to give it all the gas I had left. Full steam ahead—without feeling burnt out—I crossed the finish line at 28:39. That gave me a 9:14 average pace. I had never been so proud to see this pace.

But my victory got so much better because I soon learned I placed 2nd for my age group. For the first time ever I would finally be awarded for my hard work. What once felt like a far-reaching goal was now in my hands. I accepted my trophy beaming with pride.

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Crushing Goals

Now that I had a taste of victory, I was hungry for more. But I just didn’t think I would get an encore so soon. On Saturday, I ran at a local 5k that was just a town away from where I live. I had no intentions of setting a major goal but just wanted to run my best. If I could do a repeat time from Monday I would be happy.

The morning was grey and dreary. There was a light rainfall that felt good. It felt like fall. This is my ideal running weather, so I was ready to run. It was the Spotswood 5k, a local race held at the high school with all its proceeds going back to the Spotswood High School athletic programs.

A humble just over 100 participants joined in, which included the cross country track team. So for the jump, I had no plans on out running these kids. (But awards were given to them separately from the non-high schoolers to even the playing field.)

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Photo: Paul Wasserman

Compared to Monday’s race, I felt stronger and faster. I looked at my watch less and just enjoyed the run. It’s at times like these I perform better without even knowing it. I do work well under pressure, but sometimes no stress is the way to be.

So here I was finding myself at target pace, seeing lots of 8’s when I did peek down on my watch. I wasn’t struggling at any point and didn’t want to slow down. It wasn’t until the finish line was in sight and I saw 27 minutes on the clock that I realized I just PR’ed. I finished in 27:37.4, a whole minute faster than just five days before.

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Flying to the finish with both feet off the ground! Photo: Paul Wasserman

I was even more delighted to learn that I placed third for my age group, so I was two for two this week.

Strategies To A 5k PR And Placing

I do admit that both of these races were on the smaller scale, meaning a larger shot at actually placing depending on how many other female runners were in my age group. Of course, I use these smaller 5ks as age placing goals. It did take me this long of running 5ks (I’ve done A LOT this year) to reach this goal. I still had to put in the hard work. It wasn’t given to me, and just because it is a small race doesn’t guarantee anything. I’ve walked away from many small scale races where I ran my heart out and fell short and empty-handed. I read a quote on a blog that was along the lines that its these bad runs that make the good ones even better. This is so true.

Another good strategy is to get that PR is to try to start towards the front of the pack at the starting line, but not all the way in front. This way the entire race you are chasing the fastest runners like I was with the cross country kids. Even though I never even saw them on the course since they were so fast, I knew they were just around the next bend. And don’t get discouraged when others pass you. I always tell myself that there are runners who will pass me. Sometimes even with a stroller, which happened on Saturday. But sometimes I will pass others. And even with a stroller, which I have done at other 5ks before. Don’t let this knock you off your game. Stay focused.

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I firmly believe the best way to reach a 5k PR is to train for a 5k. Often we don’t because we are seasoned runners and know that 3.1 is nothing. Been there done that. But getting a PR means getting faster. The only way to do that is my proper training. This consists of at least one fartlek run per week, which consists of speed sessions throughout the run followed by recovery. Sprint to that stop sign. Then cut the pace back to the next block. Then sprint to that mailbox and recovery. Do this the entirety of the run. Also, run hills. Hills suck but learn to embrace the suck. They will make you stronger and faster.

And finally, just believe in yourself. I set that PR goal on Monday’s race day. The night before I envisioned myself crossing that line. I put it out there in the universe and with determination, I reached my goal. Reach for the stars, runners.

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