So you’re looking to run a PB?
Whether you’re a regular runner, a novice, or just looking to get back on the running track, setting a new personal best time can be very motivating.
Adelaide’s Jess Stenson knows this well.
One of Australia’s top marathon runners, the Olympian and Commonwealth Games medallist says taking part in your weekly parkrun can provide the perfect opportunity to improve your health and fitness.
Parkrun is a weekly, Saturday morning, five-kilometre event for runners held in parks and reserves around Australia and the world.
While Stenson (nee Trengove) generally runs further, she is a big ambassador of the shorter, relaxed event.
“It’s a fun social run that I did when I was in my early stages of pregnancy, and I’ve also used it to get a really good hitout before races,” she says.
“And I’ve used it to try and run five-kilometre PB’s before.
“I love that you come out and there’s pets involved, people with prams, its just a real feel-good event that brings together people from all parts of the community.”
So, if you’re looking to shave some seconds off your time, here are some of Stenson’s top tips to get a PB.
Make sure you turn up!
First up, Stenson’s top tip is consistency, and not just on race day.
If you want to see improved results, a consistent training regime is vital.
“When we talk about training, there’s the cardiovascular component, which ultimately if you can run, that’s great, but you can also train that through cycling and other sports,” she says.
“Then we also have that strength component.
“To be able to run and improve your running you need to strengthen your lower limb muscles and your stabilising muscles of your pelvis and spine.”
But what about those who don’t have time to train?
Stenson knows this well, learning to balance being a young mother and a professional runner.
“If you’re busy and don’t have many opportunities to train, hopefully you can sneak one or two runs during the week,” she says.
“I’d recommend making one your longer, slower cardio run and another where you’re getting a bit of race pace in there.
“Short repetitions and intervals to train your body to run at 5km race pace.”
Set yourself a realistic goal
Elite runners use goal-setting every day.
Reaching a certain time, eating the right food after races, or simply making sure they get eight hours of sleep a night to aid recovery.
“Goals can really help with motivation, so you know specifically what you’re trying to achieve,” Stenson says.
Wearing the right footwear is also important.
“If you have the opportunity to have some heavier training shoes but then some lighter race shoes, that can provide a great advantage as well,” she says.
“When you pull on your lighter race shoes you feel faster and ready to go so it’s important to do one session a week in those shoes so your feet become used to them.”
The training process
Stenson says runners should break up their training to focus on distance and speed when working towards a PB.
“For aerobic fitness you’re running at a slower pace than your 5km race pace,” she says.
“You can stretch that out beyond 5km, if you’re comfortable to run up to 10km that’s great … to really build your endurance you can make that quite a long run.”
But shorter distances are also important to increase speed and technique.
“You might look at three kilometres broken up into 500-metre, 400m or 800m repetitions with a recovery,” she says.
“This is so you’re getting a feel for a pace that’s as fast, or faster than your ideal race pace.”
Lean on friends and family
Stenson says loved ones can be really good motivators to keep you accountable during training.
This can help keep a consistent training regime.
“If you can find a training buddy to link up with during the week for training runs, that’s really helpful, or if you’d like to have some guidance from a coach,” she says.
“That could be an in-person coach, in a squad, or it might be an online coach.
“I think too just letting your loved ones know what you want to achieve so that they can push you and support you in reaching your goals.”
What should race day look like?
Race day is all about nutrition and being prepared.
“Nutrition is a big one, I think in your training you should practice your race day nutrition,” she says.
“I like to have a high carb but low fibre snack; I find the lower fibre snacks sit well and are easily digested.
“So, for me it might be a bit of white sour dough with some honey or almond butter.”
You should also give your body time to fire up before the run.
Parkrun generally begins at 8:00am, so waking up with ample time beforehand can help.
“You need to wake your system up a bit, whether you have a little bit of coffee when you first wake up and then go out for a little jog.
“Do a few little drills and some run-throughs, just to make sure that you’re warmed up and ready to go when the gun fires.”
Run to your strengths
Different runners have different techniques.
Some rely on keeping a consistent pace throughout the whole distance, while others rely on speed.
“For me, I’m more of a runner who runs to that red line for the entire length of the run because I’m an endurance-based runner,” she says.
“If you’re someone who comes from a more speed-based background that might be your strategy to keep a bit in reserve and use it up in the final 500 metres.
“But if you’re someone who doesn’t have a really big change of pace you’re probably better to try and run consistently in the first and second half of the race.”
What about those people who are struggling to see improvement?
Stenson says it’s probably training that you tweak.
“I’d recommend doing just a 3km jog and doing some 100m strides after that jog during the week,” she says.
“Do four to five 100m strides and really think about your technique, running tall, driving through your arms.
“I think that little bit of aerobic work filled up with some speed and technique work will help to get that edge.”
Make sure you pick the right course
Some parkrun courses are more challenging than others and if you’re trying to run a PB you should pick a course that suits your ability.
Stay away from unforgiving terrain and try to find your own space in the crowd.
“Some of the faster courses that I’ve run are flatter courses without many undulations,” Stenson says.
“It can be quite crowded, but if you’re out to really run a PB, just find your own space, maybe find someone who you think might be similar pace to you.
“And when it gets tough remember to smile and that can be really powerful when you’re hurting, and you don’t want to be there.
“If you just smile and give someone a nod it can break that negative thought pattern.”
ABC Sport is partnering with parkrun to promote the benefits of physical activity and community participation.