As a runner, nothing beats that feeling of elation when you hit pause on your watch, glance down and realise you have surpassed all expectations and achieved a shiny, new personal best. This can come in many forms, whether during a speed session setting a new record for your 200m sprints, or at the end of a half marathon you've spent 12 weeks training for. However, the particularly somewhat grey area in this comes surrounding the question of whether a PB counts outside of a race format. Can a time recorded in a solo time trial run, measured only by the GPS of a running watch, be included? Or, must the conditions host a certified, measured course with digital timing and fellow competitors in order to be counted as a personal record?
It's an interesting topic. One which many people have conflicting views on as well as a multitude of different scenarios where exceptions are made. Admittedly, I can quite easily see both points of view on this argument, however, my stance is perhaps a little more complex than agreeing with just one side or the other.
Initially, my thoughts when faced with this question are; no they don't, at least not 'officially'. Race days provide a multitude of added factors that ensure the personal times achieved are exact representations of your performance. For example, digital timing on a course that has been specially measured means your finishing time will be correct for that precise distance. Relying on GPS can often result in some under or over calculations of the distance, meaning what you think is a 5km PB could actually be a 4.98km PB or you may have even ran an extra 200 meters than you thought. In addition, a race day allows us to complete the distance on a day in which no other external factors are controlled. What I mean by this is when running a solo time trial, athletes will undoubtedly choose a day in which all weather conditions are ideal, or even decide to head out because they had an exceptionally good sleep the night before. However, a race setting does not take into account any of these circumstantial factors. Whatever the weather on the day and however tired your legs may feel, you run the distance on that day. Therefore, this can provide a more realistic representation of where your current performance levels are at. Having said that, extreme weather conditions or unexpected personal factors out of your control that arise on race day can cause a sub-par performance from any athlete, so given it is not always an entirely accurate representation.
Finally, you may actually find that by counting your solo time as your PB, you're undermining your performance capabilities. Races provide us with another, added factor that solo running does not; competition. Having other athletes running with you on a course can be an incredibly important driver for you to be able to push out those top times. Competition ignites something within us that, unfortunately, cannot be sparked when only competing against yourself. The entire race atmosphere creates an added level of determination that I have never experienced elsewhere and therefore is likely to make you push out that little bit extra.
Why shouldn't it count? If you, yourself, have run said distance in said time, with record of it on your own fitness tracking device, why should you not be able to claim that as a personal best? Whether you have trained for it or not, to reach that time took drive, determination and a whole load of effort - therefore you should be able to own it. There are no written rules and requirements in which runs are allowed to count as personal bests. It's in the name, it's a personal best - meaning it is entirely down to you in how you wish to measure your best times.
For me, I keep note of all personal bests achieved, whether in a race format or not. However, in my mind, I count solo attempts as 'unofficial' PB's and times achieved in either club time trials, Parkrun's or races as 'official' ones. I'm not saying this is how everybody should categorise them, but it is just how I like to align them in my mind. My stance is that, if it has been timed properly and fairly and I know that I have worked to achieve that result, it's a personal best. I can completely understand those who are competing athletes at a higher level only using official races to provide their PBs. However, us recreational runners should just remember that, no matter what conditions we get an achievement in, we did it. It is our best time over that distance, and that is something that cannot be argued.
Given the current national climate, races are few and far between, with us relying more and more on solo time trials or virtual races in order to gain an indication of where our training and fitness levels are at. This means, more and more athletes will be achieving PBs during these types of sessions. Do we just wipe out a whole year of personal bests? I think not. Many runners really found their stride *excuse the pun* during lockdown this year, seeing their highest levels of fitness and running further than ever before . 2020 has really shown us that, sometimes, we cannot rely on races going ahead to track and celebrate our own progress, and that recording your own race time may become more frequent that we ever thought. Considering this, we need to be more open to the effects this brings in terms of perhaps slightly less accuracy of results - surely this outweighs the lack of joy in no racing at all? As runners, celebrating your own progress is so important, in whichever means you see fit.
I can understand people thinking that this could cause inaccurate reflections of people's abilities - but why should that bother anybody but the individual in question? If we personally feel happy that a time reflects our honest ability over a set distance, then that is all that should matter to all within the running community. As mentioned before, those competing to a higher level of competition understandably may need to be more strict and regulated in when and where they can achieve their record times. However, for recreational purposes - celebrate your personal achievements whenever you wish!
Overall, after consideration, when faced with the question 'does this PB count if I achieved it outside of a race?', the answer is - yes it does, if you want it to! I believe we must keep the personal aspect of personal bests in tact, meaning individual athletes should feel they can decide whether to assign a PB flag next to a run without being made to feel invalid. I have to admit, achieving a PB outside of a race format is a considerably less exciting experience and doesn't always feel as 'well earned'. However, we have to try and discard those feelings and remember that we should be proud of what we have accomplished in such uncertain times. Parkrun will be back. Racing will be back. That unexplainable feeling of elation and pride when crossing the finish line with a new personal best will be back. For now, we keep the miles ticking over and putting in the work to ensure these moments are back with a bang, as soon as can be.
Do you count PBs achieved outside of a race format? I would love to know your thoughts on the topic in the comments!