Post by Coach Jon Mott, two time Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier

When a runner starts a new training cycle, it’s common for a coach to ask you to do a time trial. A time trial is running the fastest pace over a distance that may or may not be a common race distance, and they are often run alone without the benefit of running with others like in a race.

Time trials give both you and your coach valuable information. The main purpose of these time trials is to get an indication of your current fitness. Typically, these are fast efforts that tap into your anaerobic system. But you also have to be conscientious of how fast you’re going at the beginning so you don’t run out of steam way before you get to the finish line. The goal of these is to demonstrate your potential that can then be used as a baseline to see how you might do at various distances.

Implementing time trials into your training is a valuable component. I recommend doing one at the beginning of a training cycle, within the first few weeks. Think of it as useful information that you can use to complete a successful training cycle and utilize to improve your running. In order to set realistic goals to work toward, having a baseline to work from is necessary. When your coach prescribes particular paces (easy pace, threshold pace, interval pace) this time trial is going to help you figure those out.

For the time trial you’ll want to do it on a flat route. A track would be best but if that’s not an option then a flat paved trail would work. If you do end up using a trail, you’ll need an accurate way to track your mileage. GPS watches aren’t the best tool for this because there can be inaccuracies. A pre-measured route is the best option. After the time trial you’ll want to analyze your result. Doing nothing with your result will have missed the point. You’ll want to look deep into your data so it can help you with your training moving forward. It’s a true data point for your capabilities as a runner that you can now utilize to set paces and goals for the rest of your training block. But how do you get training paces from a time trial result? Inputting your result into a running calculator, like VDOT, will give you all the information you need moving forward with training. 

Also, take time to think about how you felt while you were running and if you went out too fast or, conversely, realized you could have gone harder at the end. Reflecting on this will help you with pacing as you race in the future and modify your goals. If you are left feeling like you thought you could’ve done a bit better, in a race environment, you likely would have. It’s also important to use it as a guide and not let it define you as a runner and where you’re headed. Same is true if you have a great time trial. Doing well in your time trial is a testament to the fitness that you’ve developed, but you also have to keep putting in the work and showing up to make it count come race day.

Purpose of Time Trials