What a PR or Personal Record Means

Marathon runners ready, preparing smart watches at starting line on urban street
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Once you've run your first road race and gotten your finishing time, you have a PR, or a "personal record." It refers to your best time in a race of a specific distance. So, if you run a 5K race in 28:45, that's your PR for the 5K distance. If you run faster than 28:45 in a subsequent 5K race, then you have a new PR for that distance.

You'll have PRs for each different race distance you run, from 1-milers to marathons. Some runners will even keep track of indoor track vs. outdoor track PRs, as well as PRs for specific road races (since some race courses are more challenging than others). You may also hear some runners call their best race times "PBs" or "personal bests."

Why Try for a Personal Record?

Whatever term they use, runners love to talk about their PRs, because having a goal helps them stay inspired to keep training and racing. As with any sport or activity, there are many reasons to run, and competing against others might not be one of them for you. Even so, competing against yourself can be a great motivator.

No matter what your running goals are (heart health, weight loss, or stress relief, to name a few), staying static probably won't help you achieve them. In order to keep getting benefits, you need to keep challenging yourself.

Setting a PR Goal

The trick is to strive for that challenge, but still remain realistic. Beating your 5K time by a few seconds is a good start. Those seconds add up. To get more specific, you can check your average time on a particular distance. Look at it over time and see how you've improved, then look to maintain or grow that margin. Picture a bar graph marching steadily upward.

Another option: Find out how people your age typically place for the distance you're running (here's info on 5K races). If you're new to running, your pace might be way off from this. But that's okay. Set interim goals and you will get there.

How to Track Your PRs

It's fun to keep track of your PRs in your training log, so you can refer back to them and record a new one when you achieve it. You can do this with pen and paper, online, or on your running watch. Garmin Connect, for example, will automatically store your PR in several standard distances (5K, half-marathon, etc.) and also in the farthest distance you've run. Or you can manually store your record.

How to Run a Personal Record

After you've run a few races, you may find that it becomes more difficult to run a PR. So you'll need to take your training to the next level. If you've been following a training schedule for new runners, you can now step up to one that's more aggressive. (Be sure you meet the training base level before you start the training.)

Adding different challenges to your running routine is important. If you haven't incorporated speed work into your training yet, start there. Follow these rules for speed training and then choose a speed workout to do at least once a week. And get more tips for how to run faster. If you're trying to PR in the marathon, try these tips for running a faster marathon.

Another way to shave seconds or maybe even minutes off your race times is to practice smart racing strategies. For example, study the course carefully (practice on it, if you're local) so you'll be both physically and mentally prepared, say for hills or tight corners.

Pick the Right Race

Choosing the right race can be a big factor in achieving a new PR. Many runners like to seek out fast courses for different distances. Some marathons, for instance, are known for being flat and fast. You're most likely not going to run your best time on a hilly course.

Runners also try to plan races during ideal racing conditions, which would be dry and cool weather. Running a race in the middle of summer is most likely not going to get you a PR. If you're hoping to PR in a specific race, do some research and find out what the typical weather is before you commit to it.

You'll also want to pick a race that works for your schedule and preferences. If you have more time to train in the summer and you prefer training in the heat, then you may want to choose a fall race as your goal race.

In your quest to reach new PRs, just make sure that you don't go race crazy and start racing every weekend, or skipping regular rest days. Too much racing may lead to slower race times, overuse injuries, or burnout.

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