When PRs Are Out of Reach, For What Do We Reach?


It’s a funny thing about PRs. Technically, they stand forever, do they not? They stand until we break them, and then the new one stands. No one can ever take a PR away from us. Once earned, a PR is a bragging right forever. But there comes a point when our PRs are a decade old (or more) and the likelihood that we will ever break them dwindles with each passing birthday. It begs the question; when we get too old to break our old PRs, when do we get to reset them? Or is it presumptuous to assume we ever get to reset them?

Last weekend I whoo-hooed with my friend over her new 15k PR. She’s setting them in nearly every distance she runs these days. She’s hitting her prime. For the next five years her times will likely get lower and lower. She’ll be bringing home more hardware. It’s a thrilling ride into that sweet spot between age 30 and 40, when female distance runners are known to hit amazing strides. It was back then that I set all my old PRs too. And there they stay, back there in time.

When she asked about my time I had to give the standard bygone PR disclaimer:

Well, it wasn’t anywhere close to my old PR, but it was a seven minute improvement over last year…

At a certain point does it not make more sense to start over than to keep over-explaining this? At what age do we get to stop comparing current PR-esque finish times to the originals we will likely never see again? Not that I want to wipe out my old times (I worked hard for them!) but if I want to celebrate big improvements like seven minutes I don’t get the succinct application of calling it a PR. That is, unless we can agree that at a certain age we get to start over. Young PRs and Old PRs, or something like that. Or for the more sensitive, Mature PRs instead of Old? Prime PRs and Post PRs? PPPR = Post Prime Personal Record.

I’m well aware that there are many older runners still running competitively against their original PRs. For them, they don’t need a reset. I get that. For the rest of us, getting older and slower and less inclined to train to the point of injury chasing those old records, are PRs just something we have to live without until we die? When can we start over with a fresh threshold? Age-grading finish times is a thing now–check it out here–so these are not entirely unseemly questions.

Running Boomers are aging. We don’t get PRs anymore if we can’t beat our times from 10, 15, or 20 years ago but that doesn’t mean we won’t still enjoy seasons of significant achievement. What do we call big improvements when the only two letters that matter in post-race convo are PR? Or are we just supposed to be done talking about it if we can’t hang anymore? It feels like lying to call my improved 15k finish time a PR when it technically isn’t a PR at all. It isn’t anywhere close to my old 15k PR, so what do I say that isn’t lengthy and cumbersome?

I’m not ready to stop celebrating improvements (especially when it’s been so long since I made any), but I do grow tired of the PR disclaimer. Do I get the liberty of just picking a day and wiping the slate clean? How ‘bout today? Do I just proclaim From This Day Forward and start claiming new PRs? And if so, what’s to stop me from doing that every time I race, letting me legitimately set new PRs at any given time? Even if I was disciplined about it, it stands to reason that I could do it again in what, another 20 years? Where would it end? How would we keep it from being abused?

It seems that without a standard there isn’t a way to make it credible. And maybe that diminishes the value of a true PR, now that I think about it—as if the old ones never meant anything if we can just make up new ones. I mean, if we can call anything a PR, what’s the point of setting them?

I guess middle-aged packers will just continue to do without, unless y’all are game for coming up with a new acronym. I mean, isn’t that one of the privileges of getting older? We get special associations. Special discounts. Special seating. Special parking spaces. Special housing. Special underwear. Under-populated age groups. Peace and quiet since no one wants to talk to old people. Plus, we get to make up stuff and people will just chuckle and overlook it, right? And we can’t hear you making fun of us anyway, right?

Okay, so maybe I’m not ready for all those privileges. But I’ve been running long enough to rate some kind of post-prime unit of measure, haven’t I? No, I probably haven’t. If PRs ever mattered they can only continue to matter if we maintain their integrity. Maybe age-grading is just muddying the waters. Maybe I just miss the days when my vintage PRs were still within reach, or at least close enough to be relevant in conversation. Once the glory days are gone, they’re gone. The mature thing to do is let them go, I suppose. Which makes the PR disclaimer the mature choice by default, so I’ve circled back to proving I was already handling it the best way possible.

So let’s try it this way. While I did not set a PR last weekend, I aged another year and got seven minutes faster. I got older but I ran seven minutes faster than the younger me of a year ago who still had a standing PR at the same distance. It’s a PPI. A post prime improvement. It’s an old kind of glory, reserved for those of above-average age.

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