Your Ultimate Guide to Running a Personal Best

Your Ultimate Guide to Running a Personal Best
Photo: Twenty20

You got a taste of competition after crossing your first finish line. Now you have an insatiable appetite for growing your collection of race bibs and medals. And with that: the itch to shave seconds off your finish time.

Whether it’s your second or fifth 5K, 10K or half-marathon, the key to crushing your next race is a mix of speed work, cross-training (hello, weight room!) and proper rest and recovery. Needless to say, it’s helpful to have a solid training plan in place, and to do your homework on the course.

Elizabeth Corkum, a senior run coach at Mile High Run Club studio in New York City, says, “Study the elevation, turns and hydration stations.” Getting a feel for the course — including the demands of the terrain and mileage — will help you put more structure around your training, Corkum says.

Corkum, who also goes by “Coach Corky,” knows a thing or two about breaking personal records. She boasts a personal best of an 18:41 5K, a 38:32 10K and a 1:21:13 half-marathon. Besides putting in the work (and trust us, Corky works), being smart on race day is key.

“Hold back and keep the paces honest at the beginning of the race. Many runners will blow through the first three to seven miles of a marathon or half way too fast, and then bonk later down the road,” Corkum says. It’s tempting to let the momentum of runners around you take over and abandon your own pace, but we know all too well that it only leads to burn-out. Here are a few more of Corkum’s winning tips to PR your next race.

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5 Training Tips for Running Your Personal Best

1. Limit yourself to two intense runs a week.

If this isn’t your first time running the same race, it’s not necessary to kill yourself over an intense training schedule. Corkum suggests limiting high-intensity runs to two per week, and these runs should include intervals. “The intervals could be something like two minutes of hard running (think back to your 5K pace) and two minutes of recovery jogs (super easy). And repeat those intervals eight times,” Corkum says.

As your training continues, you can adjust those intervals in a variety of ways. Run for five minutes at an intense race pace, followed by two minutes of recovery. Go hard for four minutes with a one-minute recovery, and so on. These are all examples of fartlek runs. “Fartlek means ‘speed play’ in Swedish, and that’s what this is — a speed run with no rules!” It’s up to you to decide how far you’ll run, at what pace and how long you recover.

2. Work out with heavy weights.

As popular as light weights and high reps are right now (we see you, barre), putting a heavier demand on your body ultimately allows you to move better and run faster. “I’m a big fan of runners using heavy free weights and doing squats, lunges and single-leg deadlifts,” Corkum says. Bodyweight moves like planks, bear crawls, V-ups and mountain climbers are also great for building core strength. “We run head to toe, so it’s important to stay strong and well-rounded as much as possible,” Corkum explains. Most running injuries stem from a weak core, hips and glutes. Not sure where to start? Follow these beginner tips for picking weights.

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3. Run for the hills.

Hills are speed work in disguise, Corkum says. You’ll naturally go slower, but you’ll improve your cardio and running economy more than if you were just running on flat terrain. “Pick an easy pace and after a five to 10-minute warm-up on the treadmill, vary the terrain every quarter mile, allowing the hills to work as the challenge,” Corkum suggests. In terms of improving your VO2 max, she recommends cross-training workouts, like yoga, cycling and swimming, in addition to plyometrics and HIIT.

4. Make dynamic warm-ups a must.

We can’t stress the importance of your pre- and post-workout routine enough. Pre-run, incorporate mobility basics like squats, lateral lunges, butt kicks and high knees into your dynamic warm-up, Corkum suggests. Also, feel free to break out the foam rolling to address any areas of tension, and get your muscles prepped to move. Once you’re laced up to run: “Always give yourself at least five to 10 minutes at an easy warm-up pace. The same is true with a cool down,” Corkum says.

When it comes to post-workout recovery, stretching and foam rolling will help ease soreness and fatigue. But Corkum also stresses the importance of incorporating easy runs into your training schedule, so you don’t overexert yourself and risk injury. “On days when you should be running at an easy or conversational pace, it needs to be easy enough where your body associates the activity as recovery, and not actual work,” Corkum explains.

RELATED: 5 Stretches You Should Never Skip Post-HIIT

5. Rest and recover.

When your training schedule says to take a rest day, you should do exactly that. “Rest and recovery is when we actual grow, improve and adapt. So if you’re a runner who has a hard time taking rest days, remember the process,” Corkum says. Training smart doesn’t necessarily mean doing more, and there’s a purpose to every workout and rest day, no matter how intense it is or not. As race day approaches, “I’d recommend pausing any and all strength training or other physical activities for two to four days leading up to the race. And mileage should be carefully thought out and planned,” Corkum says. “Many runners benefit from a two- or three-mile easy shake-out run the day before the race.”

Of course, these pro tips only scratch the surface. Making sure you’re well-hydrated and properly fueled all play into your own race day strategy. Figuring out your formula for success won’t come easy. But it will be worth it when you earn that hard-fought personal best. Check out these 50 running resources to continue honing your craft.

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