5 tips to run a parkrun personal best

Parkrun isn’t a race, but the timed nature of the events means it is inevitable that runners may find themselves trying to beat their previous times and set a new personal best. Sometimes, the faster runs come easy and you look forward to seeing a shiny new PB in the results. And then there are the disappointing Saturday mornings where no matter how hard you push yourself, you don’t quite manage to run as fast as you’d hoped.

Alternative advice for running a fast 5K

With a bit of Googling you can find all manner of 5K training plans that may help you set a new best time by overhauling your running schedule and giving you new sessions to try. By all means, give these a go, as it can be gratifyingly satisfying to complete a training plan and feel the extra fitness in your legs. But that’s not what this article is about. We’re not going to share details on how to maximise your mileage, fine tune your fartleks, or intensify your intervals.

Instead, here are Lonely Goat Running Club’s five alternative tips to help you run a parkrun PB – with the fitness you’ve already got – by making easily achievable adjustments to optimise your performance on a Saturday morning.

1. Choose your course

Possibly the easiest way to run faster over 5K is to find a 5K route that is easier to run on. If your regular parkrun is hilly or muddy, then seek out one that is flat and has firm terrain and it will make your running feel a lot easier.

This tip comes with a big caveat though: the flattest course might not be the easiest event to run quickly in. For example, if the course is renowned as flat, and attracts hundreds of runners, it will be a lot harder to find your way through the crowd and set a quick time. Instead, have a look at your local parkruns and find those that are flat-ish, but not too busy. It’s a compromise, but could make all the difference between an uninterrupted run or constant traffic dodging.

2. Eat

If you skimp on your pre-parkrun breakfast, you may wish to reconsider your approach. To run fast, you’ve got to have glycogen in your muscles. You may do OK, even if you’ve had no breakfast, if you ate well on the Friday, but you could be limiting your potential. Eating something on the Saturday morning will ensure your glycogen stores are adequately topped up.

It might mean waking up a bit earlier to allow enough time for the food to settle in your gut and be digested (eating two to four hours beforehand tends to work well for many runners), but you can always get back in bed after eating! Keep the food simple and familiar to avoid stomach discomfort, with simple sugars and carbs for energy availability: some toast, a bowl of porridge, or rice-pudding, with jam, for example.

3. Warm up

Spending a bit of time on a decent warm up can prime your body for the faster running to come. If 5K is already at the upper limit of your distance range, extra running before the parkrun might seem intimidating, but it doesn’t need to be, as a warm up is not supposed to be difficult. The idea of a warm up is to get blood flowing into your muscles and gently open up your joints. It shouldn’t leave you feeling tired.

Everyone’s body is different, and you may develop your own routine in time, but a good starting point is up to ten minutes of very easy jogging (barely more than a walk) to ease your muscles awake. Then, pop in a couple of short faster surges. Don’t strain to run as fast as you can, but ease up to something close to your top speed for a few seconds and then back down again. The idea of the surges is to prime the nervous system for the harder effort that is to come. It should open up your joints and dynamically stretch your legs and body, leaving you with a feeling of ‘pop’ in your legs. Aim to finish the warm up around ten minutes before the parkrun begins, so you have time to listen to the briefings, and let your heart rate settle a bit before the start.

4. Stay cool

Our bodies spend a lot of energy on regulating our internal temperature, to avoid us getting too cold or too hot. When we run, we generate heat. This is natural and usually OK, but if you get too hot, you’ll run slower. This is massively over-simplifying the science, but essentially our bodies will try to stop us doing anything that risks us harming ourselves. If our brain senses that the heat is rising too much, it will shut down our limbs so we can’t run.

Obviously, the weather conditions would have to be very hot for a complete heat-related collapse at a parkrun, but even a moderate heat increase can negatively affect our running speed. It’s why running on the first few hot days of the year (before we’ve gotten used to the summer) is so difficult. With this in mind, running a parkrun in too many layers could be slowing you down. If you can tolerate being a bit chilly for the first couple of miles, wearing a vest and shorts, rather than a jacket and leggings, could help you unlock a new PB.

5. Perfect your pacing

Experience and science suggests the fastest way to run a 5K is to run at an even effort from start to finish. This can be easier said than done as it can be hard to judge how that feels (especially on a course with hills). Check out the pace graphs from your GPS watch (or manual splits if you keep it old-school) from your recent parkruns, have a look at what happens to the pace line on the graph, and try to reverse the curve on your next parkrun. This means: if you usually start fast and slow down, try to take it easy at the start before pushing harder at the finish. Or, if you start slow and speed up at the finish, consider pushing harder from start and see how long you can hold on to the faster pace.

Another option is to identify someone who regularly finishes a few places ahead of you, and try to hang on to them as they ‘tow’ you to a fast time. The more you experiment with pace, the more you’ll understand about how hard you can push. Eventually you’ll find  you are able to knock out a consistent effort from start to finish and run faster times.

Not just for parkruns

The advice in this article is not limited to people trying to set a parkrun personal best. The principles hold true for all running events, or can be adapted to fit: choose an event that suits your goals; get your fuelling right; prepare your body before you get to the start line; dress appropriately; and stick to a pacing strategy that gives you the best chance of success.

Let us know how you get on

We always enjoy seeing your results and achievements, so please share your successes with us in the Facebook Chat Group, on Instagram, and Strava.

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