Race Your­self

Test your­self (and build fit­ness) with a time trial

Runner's World (UK) - - In This Issue - BY ALEX HUTCHIN­SON

Test your­self with a time trial

A WEEK BE­FORE HIS leg­endary race, Roger Ban­nis­ter ran a three-quar­ter-mile time trial: ‘I felt that 2:59.9 for the three­quar­ter mile in a solo train­ing run meant 3:59.9 in a mile race,’ he re­called. He ran ex­actly 2:59.9, giv­ing him the con­fi­dence he needed to break four min­utes. While coaches often warn their run­ners not to race in prac­tice to avoid burnout, an oc­ca­sional all-out time trial can be use­ful as a men­tal boost, a train­ing stim­u­lus or a re­al­ity check. Here are three ways to try it your­self.


Rac­ing at PB pace is a trip into the un­known, but a well-ex­e­cuted time trial blazes a path for most of the route. Sim­u­late race con­di­tions: wear rac­ing shoes and clothes, run at the same time of day on sim­i­lar ter­rain and do your usual pre­race warm-up.

Dress re­hearsals work best be­fore races of up to 10K. Aim to cover be­tween half and three-quar­ters of your race dis­tance (with shorter rel­a­tive dis­tances for longer races, eg 75 per cent of a mile, 50 per cent of a 10K) at goal race pace, one to four weeks be­fore the race. The dan­ger is that you’ll find the time trial so hard that you won't be able to imag­ine hold­ing the pace longer. But race­day nerves, spec­ta­tors and other com­peti­tors will un­lock re­serves that a time trial can't ac­cess. That said, if you're more than five per cent off your goal pace, con­sider re­vis­ing your race goal.


If you're pre­par­ing for a longer race (10K to marathon), time tri­als at shorter dis­tances are a painful but ef­fi­cient way of main­tain­ing speed. Lowkey road races work too, but time tri­als re­quire no en­try fee and you can pick the date that works best. For marathon­ers and half marathon­ers, aim for be­tween 5K and five miles; if you’re pre­par­ing for a 10K, you can go as short as a mile. In­clude one or two speed tests in a buildup, with the last at least two weeks pre­race. Un­like a dress re­hearsal, your goal here isn't to main­tain a par­tic­u­lar pace – it’s to suf­fer in a way you don't dur­ing reg­u­lar longerdis­tance train­ing. Fight­ing off anaer­o­bic fa­tigue will train your body to bet­ter han­dle slower paces. To max­imise the ef­fect, err on the side of start­ing fast – at least two per cent faster than your best re­cent time at that dis­tance.


Time tri­als ex­ist in a grey area be­tween work­outs and races, and the dis­tinc­tion is blur­ri­est when you add a time trial to a larger in­ter­val ses­sion. For ex­am­ple, to pre­pare for a 5K, you might run a mile time trial, re­cover for 10-15 min­utes, then do a lad­der of 1200m, 800m, 600m and 400m, with twomin­utes’ rest be­tween each, start­ing at 5K pace and get­ting faster. The vol­ume will stim­u­late more fit­ness gains than a speed test, but it re­quires more re­cov­ery – do it three to four weeks pre­race.

The time trial should still be run all-out, so try to for­get about the rest of the work­out un­til you're fin­ished, and be flex­i­ble about the pac­ing and num­ber of reps – don't give your­self ex­cuses to save en­ergy. A time trial isn't a race, but it should feel like one.

Solo time tri­als build men­tal tough­ness, but chas­ing a pacer may help you push harder.

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