Personal Best. Those magic words. Most of us love our PBs. Rightly so, we train hard for them.
So what if you want your PB to be a bit faster? You’re sure you tried as hard as you could in your last race. Or did you?
We all know the feeling of someone passing us in a race, or seeing runners impossibly far ahead on the course. Could it be they’re onto something we could use to make us faster too?
Of course, being pushy isn’t something we like to be called. But looking at it differently, the ability to push yourself in a race is actually a skill. Yes, some people are naturally better at it than others, but we can all learn to improve it. The more you race, the more experience and practice you’ll have at pushing yourself.
You’ve probably already experienced that as you get further into a race, the effort to maintain your goal race pace gets harder and harder. Everyone feels this, so how do some press through it better than others?
Professor Tim Noakes, the famous running scientist, came up with the “Central Governor” theory. This basically says that your brain preemptively slows you down for what it sees as self-preservation. When it realises you will in fact survive, like when you see the finish line, it stops sending these signals. This is why you can normally do a faster finish, even when you’ve been feeling exhausted.
Professor Noakes thinks you can outsmart the Central Governor by pushing yourself on when it tries to slow you down, as you can usually give more without damaging yourself. Just think about the end of the race. You usually recover quite quickly, showing that you’ve got more reserves.
So how do you know how hard you can push? You can practice pressing on through discomfort in training and in races. This prepares your body and your mind, so you know you can continue even though it feels hard. When I’m finding training hard, I try and imagine that if I push on and keep my pace, I’ll get my PB. Then when I’m running in an event, I remember I’ve run through this discomfort before in training, so I know I can do it again.
I love this quote below (and you can spot me putting it into action!)
If we’re trying hard, most of us will get it wrong at some point. I’ve lost count of the number of races where I went out at a hard pace, but wasn’t able to maintain it and dragged myself at a much slower pace to the finish. I like to describe it as ‘good hard’ where you’re pushing yourself to your full ability, and get a PB. Then there’s ‘bad hard’ where you push too much and struggle to finish. My ‘bad hard’ times are slower than my PBs, but felt even harder.
Although the ‘bad hard’ races are very painful, they do teach you how far you can push, as well as how fit you are. Plus they give you some good battle stories to entertain your running friends!
My best races have been ‘good hard’. I’ve trained myself to go out fast from the gun, otherwise I naturally get into a pace that’s too slow. It often feels like I can’t sustain the pace, but I hang on, knowing I’ve survived before when it felt unsustainable, and that’s where the PBs come.
It I also rely on a good dose of what I call ‘race day magic’. That is, it’s easier to run a pace if you’re rested, well-fueled, competing on adrenaline (which hits us all, even if we don’t feel competitive) and being cheered on by supporters.
Best of luck, go get those PBs!
The day after I wrote this, I went on to run my fastest ever training times! Let me know in the comments if it works for you too.