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IT'S A PR

A Lighthearted Look At Personal Records

Published June 9, 1997, in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

According to the Oxford Dictionary of Running, a PR (pronounced pee arr), or personal record, is a runner's best time at a given distance. My PR at 800 meters is 2:26.6. This is the fastest I have ever run 800 meters. The PR is a beginner's best friend and a veteran's fondest memory.

When you change from jogger into runner by entering your first 5K race, you also run your first PR. It is the fastest you have ever run a 5K race. Subsequent 5K races may result in more PRs, as you develop confidence and speed. However, this initial streak of PRs eventually comes to an end. Improvement comes at greater pain, and PRs come fewer and far in between.

All is not lost. A renowned PR expert advises runners to diversify. When you can no longer improve at 5K, consider running a 2-miler or a 10K. Races are held at every imaginable distance from 50-meter sprints to TransAmerica ultramarathons. Races at metric distances tend to be shorter than those at imperial distances. Enjoy the thrills of both the 1500 meters and the mile. Experience the unparalleled pain of the 400- meter dash. Wave to friends at the end of a 15K and a 10-miler.

By now, your PR portfolio has a dozen entries at different distances. Weekend after weekend, you cross the finish line looking good and you shout to the crowds: "IT'S A PR!" Alas, one day you run out of new distances, and you are unable to improve at any of them.

When you exhaust the various distances available in your area, it is time to travel. Combine the family vacation with a race at an unusual distance. New England is full of races at distances like 7 miles 131 yards and 2 feet.

Despite your best intentions, the day comes to consider more drastic measures. It is time to separate your PRs into categories. Keep separately a track 5K PR, a road 5K PR and a cross-country trail 5K PR. Divide your track PRs into an indoor track 5K PR and an outdoor track 5K PR. Further divide track PRs into fully automatic timing PRs and hand timed PRs. Similarly, divide your road PRs into a point-to-point course 5K PR, a loop course 5K PR and an out-and-back course 5K PR.

Do not forget that point-to-point courses can be level, uphill, downhill, or even wind-aided. Maintain a separate PR for each. On the subject of wind, the weather plays a significant role in road races. Therefore, maintain separate PRs for hot weather, cold weather, rainy weather and fair weather. Better yet, break your PR list into spring, summer, fall and winter PRs.

In fairness to race directors and course designers, we should recognize that no two road races are created equal. Therefore, consider maintaining a course PR for each race, which we will call a CPR.

Age is a good friend of runners. The wonderful invention of 5-year age groups permits us to compete against runners our age. It also gives us the opportunity to reset our PRs and start all over every five years. Now you can have a diapers PR, an elementary school PR, a middle school PR, a high school PR, a college PR, an open PR, a sub-masters PR, a masters PR, an AARP PR, a senior PR and a back-to-diapers PR. Life repeats itself. Any way, to maintain scientific rigor, mathematicians go a step further and recommend maintaining single-age PRs that you can reset at every birthday.

Short of undergoing a sex-change operation and starting a new PR list in the opposite gender, you may consider combining running with another sport. There are run-bike duathlons, run-shoot biathlons, swim-bike-run triathlons, run-bike-canoe rowathons, and my favorite run-eat-sleep carboloadathons.

A treatise on PRs remains incomplete until PR's evil twin PW is recognized. PW (pronounced pee wee), or personal worst, refers to a runner's worst performance at a given distance. PWs are a lot easier to achieve than PRs, as evidenced by the baby boomers generation.

Kamal Jabbour drives a green minivan with license plate ITS A PR. His 5K out-and-back flat-course wind-aided summer-season all-age hand- timed PR is 19:32.8. His list of PRs can be found on The Syracuse Running Page. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays.


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