Working Towards a Personal Best With Your Running

Working towards a personal best with your running

There are few experiences more satisfying than crossing a finishing line and realising you’ve achieved your fastest-ever time. Experienced runners know that to improve a personal best run time is not just about luck. Achieving faster race times, be they in marathons, 10Ks, 5Ks or any other kind of competition, takes planning and effort.

Read our guide to help you achieve and then improve your personal best run.

7 top personal best running tips

There are many specific activities and strategies you can take to improve your personal best run in races. Try implementing these personal best running tips in preparation for your next race in order to shave a few seconds – or even minutes – off your personal record.

1. Set a realistic goal

Say you’re trying to beat your marathon personal best of 04:07 – which is already a respectable time. It might be tempting to set a much higher target – say 03:30. While it’s great to be ambitious, when it comes to training for a marathon personal best, this might not actually be the best approach.

The reason? The best way to improve marathon times is to run consistently at a given pace each mile of the marathon. If you’re trying to run significantly faster than you’ve ever run before, it’s going to be very hard to build up to that pace in just a few weeks (although certainly not impossible). Instead, aim for a more achievable goal.

2. Establish your current baseline speed

If you’ve already run multiple marathons, 10Ks or other races, studying your run times can be really helpful. Divide your final time by the number of miles or kilometres you ran to figure out your average speed per mile/km. This will tell you what your baseline speed is, and give you something to specifically aim to beat.

If you don’t have access to this information, you can still estimate your baseline by simply timing yourself on a short run, say, a 5K, at what feels like your normal pace (this is obviously a crude approach, but it does serve the purpose). On completion, work out your average speed per kilometre and you’ll be able to use that as your baseline.

3. Include speed training into your programme

The only way to get faster in races is to run faster in training. Speed-training exercises condition your body to have a higher VO2 max, build your fast-twitch muscle fibres and improve your overall running efficiency. By including at least two speed-training days into your weekly routine, you’ll be able to improve your personal best running times. Speed training exercises include:

  • Hill sprints
  • Mile repeats
  • Tempo training
  • Interval training
  • Fartlek training

4. Add strength training to your workouts as well

If you’ve reached a plateau in your running, strength training helps you push on to the next level. By focusing on increasing strength in your leg, core and even your arm muscles, you become more resistant to injury and build muscle, allowing you to draw on more power. That increases your endurance, and means you’ll be able to push that much harder on the final sprint.

Strength training workouts to improve your personal best run include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Weighted squats
  • Weighted lunges
  • Plyometric box jumps
  • Planks
  • Press-ups
  • Leg presses

5. Recovery and rest

If you’re pushing your body to go faster and further in training, it’s going to need time to repair and rebuild small muscle tears and grow. You therefore need to give yourself time to rest and recover properly during the weeks and months of race training. At a minimum, you need two days of rest and recovery per week, if not more.

Some marathon training programmes, for instance, recommend having at least one or two drop-off weeks over the course of your training, to help your body adjust. It’s also valuable to tape your training schedule in the final two to three weeks before long runs in particular – that leaves your body feeling rested and ready to take on the race.

6. Think about your gear

Choosing lightweight running trainerst and athletic sports clothing can also help improve your running times, allowing you to move more freely and focus all your energy on the race, and not on uncomfortable gear.

7. Choose the right race

Last, but not least, choosing the right race can play a big part in helping you achieve a personal best running time. For instance, the ASICS Greater Manchester Marathon is regarded as one of the fastest marathons in the UK, thanks to the relatively flat and straightforward course, which lets participants focus on their times and not on topography.

Aiming to improve on past performance is a big motivation for every runner – but it’s not something that will just happen on its own. To really improve marathon running times and achieve your next, new PB, try following these strategic tips and see the difference they make to your record.