Last Best

Personal Records (PR) or Personal Bests (PB) are the best you have ever run at a particular distance, race, or course. Here’s your question:

When did you realize that you would never run faster than your PR?

Logic, physiology and statistics all clearly indicate that humans cannot continue to improve indefinitely. Somewhere along the way we stop improving. Many age group runners when faced with this prospect move to new distances and for awhile may set some PRs in the new distances. Data and common belief suggests that  most runners will not continue to improve after about 7 years of dedicated training. [My perspective is to only start counting those years during college age.] Take some years off and maybe you skew the time frame. The basic question remains.

Of course we can set age group PRs. But, if you think about it, you’re never the same age as you once were so every single day and every single run could be a PR. Good for motivation perhaps but it avoids the core question.

When did you realize you were never going to run faster?

Whenever we run a PR it is faster than we have ever gone before. Most runners will tell you in the wake of these performances that they think they can run faster yet. Even runners who set world records (their own PR of course) commonly state that they can go faster. And so the cycle is set. Higher goals. Better training. Improved consistency. Optimal cross-training. We just know we can go faster.

And then it happens. Somewhere along the way we look back and realize, that was it. That was the day we ran our fastest. We are never going to run faster.

As I look back at my PRs I never thought those would be it. I have all my races and running logs (57134 miles now documented since high school.) I always thought I could go faster. I see workouts and patterns that indicate I could’ve run faster yet; but never did. Throughout my 30s I believed I could run faster than in college. Even at 40 years old I was pursuing PRs. In my early 40s I was not pursuing age group wins but outright victories. (I have just a little bit of a competitive streak.) I clung to the belief that I could do it. I could still set records. It is only in retrospect that I can see and know what I do now.

For me, the essence of life is in the pursuit of something (AKA the journey). I love great outcomes (PRs) but the excitement, self limit testing, and thrill of competition were the payoff. PRs are a bonus.

Bonus Questions

Had you known at the time that you would never run that fast again – how would you react? What would you do next? Would you change anything?

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About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - trailrunningclub.com. I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for Running-Advice.com. I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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3 Responses to Last Best

  1. I ran my first marathon at age 50. Age group win 02:59:19.
    I ran my next one at age 65. Obviously I was not going to run as quickly even if I thought I could.
    I will run my last competitive marathon 24th Jan 2016 age 70 Khon Kaen International Marathon. If I do a 03:20:00 I could possibly win my age group ( 4th this year). If I do I will consider it better than my sub 3 at age 50. To me even though slower than I ran at age 50 it will be a personal best.
    Only you know what you have done to get what you get, so you know when you run a personal best.

  2. Elizabeth C. says:

    I’m 37 and I believe that I can still PR in all distances. But, having spent quite a bit of time with older runners, I know the day will come when I simply cannot get any faster. I don’t think about that day often, but when I do, I think I will try to compare myself to my “recent” past, have a second running career and maybe even a third. 🙂

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