Time Trial Training

Inject some heat into winter mornings with a time trial to boost your speed and keep you on your feet

Posted: 6 December 2007
by Nick Morgan

Sure, the cold season is traditionally considered the time for base-building, but these days not even the most hardened of coaches would advocate nothing but slow plodding through the freeze. On balance, quality seems to be just edging the age-old battle with quantity amongst those in the know. So why not try something a bit different to inject some heat into your winter training schedule – the time trial.

The first thing to understand about the time trial is that it’s not a race, or doesn’t have to be, and that really is the beauty of it. Essentially, time trials are simply a chance to measure your current level of performance against the clock. Just choose a distance, measure it out on the roads, then run it as fast as you can. Once you’ve finished, check your watch – your time is your benchmark. After two weeks of solid training, try the same run again and see how much you’ve improved. Suddenly you’re not just plodding or base-building; you’re progressing, and the evidence is right in front of you.

Sound good? Well, it just got even better, because time trials are a growing phenomenon, with more and more events popping up all over the country. The Bushy Park Time Trial (BPTT) – the first weekly time trial in the UK – had just 13 entrants when it started back in October 2004, but now regularly attracts over 300 people. Buoyed by that success, BPTT organisers have exported the formula to five other UK sites – and they’re planning even more. The trials take place on measured courses every week. Once you’ve registered, there’s no entry form to fill in and little or no fee because they’re all run by a very generous group of volunteers. You can just turn up and run.

"We wanted to create something that had a different atmosphere both from your average club run and from paid-for events," says BPTT organiser Chris Wright. "We feel that anyone should be able to get up on a Saturday morning and go and run a 5K time trial wherever they are."

Regardless of whether you run alone or as part of an organised event, time trials can play a vital part in your winter training. These days it is more or less accepted by sports physiologists and coaches that simply running long, slow miles is not the best path for maximum improvement. A recent study at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology tested different types of training to see which brought the best results over eight weeks. Long, slow running did poorly when compared with faster running, and particularly with faster intervals (four minutes of effort, followed by four minutes of easier running). Both of the latter are compatible with time-trial runs.

"It’s not just about how many kilometres you run, it’s about the intensity," says lead researcher Professor Jan Helgerud. "You don’t need to feel totally exhausted at the end of a faster session, but you do need to run faster than you normally would."

As we all know, it’s far easier to run fast when you’re up against the clock and there are lots of people around you. So attending an organised time trial, or even setting up your own, is a great way to ensure you don’t go stale over the winter when there are fewer races to train for. As Helgerud suggests, you don’t need to run time trials flat-out all the time. Instead, limit that to once per month and on the other weeks try Helgerud’s four-minute interval session or run the trial as a tempo run – i.e. run it at half-marathon pace and see how much easier it becomes as the weeks go by. You could even do several miles beforehand and use it to pick up the pace at the end of a long run – a session that many top coaches swear by. Indeed, elite runners such as Craig Mottram and Sonia O’Sullivan have seen fit to build time trials into their schedules (they both hold the course records for the BPTT).

Physically then, the time trial makes a lot of sense, but mentally it’s indispensable. Studies show that 50 per cent of people give up on exercise programmes within six months, yet this figure is drastically reduced if you monitor your results and can see an improvement at every stage of the process. "There’s no doubt that seeing yourself improve week by week is a huge boost," says BPTT veteran David Rowe. "It’s made me into a real runner – something I’d never thought I’d be saying a year or two ago."

But more than that, running a series of time trials, rather than a couple of races, is more likely to build your confidence for the summer. Races are difficult to gauge: the wind can get up or the course could be tricky, and one poor time could leave you wondering whether you’re actually improving at all. But with the weekly time trials, it’s the same course every week and, yes, conditions may be poor one week, but if you do them regularly you’re going to be able to plot the benefits of your training in a way that should give you a real boost.

Plus, people who have taken part in time trials report that the events have a very different ‘feel’ from races; they are more sociable, less pressurised and they give you the comfort of knowing that if you have a bad day at the office, a second chance is only a week away.

"The time trials are great to do as training even if you don’t want to race that particular week," says David Rowe. "Sometimes I’ll have another race the following day and will just treat the time trial as a training run – though I admit it’s sometimes difficult to hold myself back when the competitive juices start flowing!"

Of course, if you’re doing your time trial alone it’s an even less pressurised environment. If you’re someone who suffers from nerves, a solo time trial can help build confidence, allowing you to see your potential when the pressure’s off. And if you’re not used to running in races, then the organised time trials give you a chance to get used to the feeling of running and competing with other people without shelling out a fee.

Finally, the organisers have taken good care to ensure there’s always a coffee shop near the finish for runners to meet up and chat about how it’s gone. Runners who attend regularly have found that this social element is as vital as any other factor in keeping them returning every week, and hence keeping their training on track.

TIME TRIAL TRAINING SCHEDULE (Beginner/20-30 mpw/40-50mpw)

  Mon Tues Wed Thurs Fri Sat Sun Total
WK 1 3M/4M/6M jog Rest/Rest/5-7M Tempo Run 3M/7M/10M jog Rest/3M/5M jog Rest 5K t-trial. Run it as fast you can to provide a benchmark Rest/4M jog/8M jog 10M/23M/40M
WK 2 3M/4M/6M jog Rest/Rest/6-8M Tempo Run 3M/5M/7M steady Rest/4M/5M jog Rest 5K t-trial alternating 4 mins fast 4 mins easy 3M/6M/11M jog 13M/24M/41M
WK 3 3M/4M/6M jog Rest/Rest/6-8M Tempo Run 3M/5M/7M steady Rest/4M/5M jog Rest 5K t-trial run at estimated half-marathon pace 5M/7M/13M jog 15M/25M/43M
WK 4 3M/4M/6M jog Rest/Rest/ 4-6M Tempo Run 3M/5M/7M steady Rest/3M/5M jog Rest 5K t-trial flat out. Chart improvement Rest/4M/6M jog EASY Week 10M/21M/33M
WK 5 3M/4M/6M jog Rest/Rest/6-8M Tempo Run 4M/6M/8M steady Rest/4M/5M jog Rest 5K t-trial alternating 4 mins fast 4 mins easy 6M/9M/15M jog 17M/28M/46M
WK 6 3M/4M/6M jog Rest/Rest/7-9M Tempo Run 4M/6M/8M steady Rest/4M/5M jog Rest 5K t-trial run at estimated half-marathon pace 6M/10M/16M 17M/29M/48M
WK 7 3M/4M/6M jog Rest/Rest/7-9M Tempo Run 4M/7M/10M steady Rest/4M/5M jog Rest 2M/5M/9M jog then 5K t-trial at just faster than marathon pace 4M/6M/7M jog 18M/30M/50M
WK 8 3M/4M/6M jog Rest/Rest/7-9M Tempo Run 5M/7M/9M steady Rest/4M/5M jog Rest 5K t-trial flat out. Chart improvement Rest/4M/6M jog EASY Week 12M/24M/39M

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raceday goal, training misc, improvement, time trials

Discuss this article

 these time trials taking place?

I can't work out where I can take part AND i've been telling everyone I know that runs that there will be a time trials near us soon (not that I'll go - I'm not even on the beginners programme I haven't run for so long)

Thank you Chappies 

Posted: 14/12/2007 at 20:21

The article mentions the bushy park timetrail. So if your local to that, follow that up.

You can do your own time trail as the article says. measure the route then race it now and again. This gives you your time trail.

On a side point bad name to give the article because time trails are for cycling!

Posted: 14/12/2007 at 20:23

Rachel, look here for Bushy Park and co 5k time trials.
There are 4k time trials at Bluewater in Kent.

TT, 'time trial' is a universal concept, but cycling has it as a competitive discipline too rather than just training progress measurement. 

Posted: 14/12/2007 at 21:08

Another southern event !!

Oh well I'll have to do it myself then! - Here to corner shop -250ms- yorkie bar - 250ms back - that should keep the fitness up!!

Keep you posted!! 

Posted: 14/12/2007 at 22:29

There is one in Leeds' Hyde Park, as well as Brighton and Zimbabwe for those not in London.

 http://www.parkrun.com/ for full details.

They are very receptive to other locations if local organisation can be found.

Posted: 15/12/2007 at 07:55

As an aside how different is this to the "wednesday night club ten" which was a mainstay of athletics training in the 70s and 80s - I've heard stories from clubmates of olympians being dropped!
Posted: 15/12/2007 at 08:04

Mike - I reckon fundamentally it's pretty similar. However, I think it's a bit different in that the www.parkrun.com stuff is very open to non-club runners, it uses the Interweb more than the runs did in the 70s (now there's a surprise!) and that it really does encourage the slower end of the field as well as the Olympian end.
Posted: 15/12/2007 at 10:55

What is a Wednesday night club 10 - is it like a group run where you crank up the pace until people start going out the back - that sounds good fun, running clubs need more of that. 
Posted: 15/12/2007 at 12:36

Also - must admit I've never heard of anyone talking about time trialling referring to running - always cycling.   I know people might run a time trial in training - meaning a set distance as  fast as they can to get a measure of their form - any running race is a time trial isn't it ?
Posted: 15/12/2007 at 12:38

There's lots of SA blood in the BPTT ancestry... and apparently "Mention time trial to a South African runner and he/she will immediately think of a low-key weekly race organized by a running club"  - http://home.hia.no/~stephens/temporun.htm

Posted: 15/12/2007 at 13:41

I think it's a brilliant idea, shame there are not any local to me.

I regulary do solo runs flat out over my own off road courses and they are all logged as time trials.

Posted: 15/12/2007 at 15:20

I agree with popsider, all running races are time trials. The only thing that separates bushy park type races from normal running races is their regularity. The reason there is a separate discipline of time trailing in cycling is because it gets rid of the whole drafting thing so is very different to standard cycling races.
Posted: 21/12/2007 at 20:14

I've been looking to get a time trial on the UKTT model started up here in Glasgow. I've had positive feedback from the council, and they're talking about it internally. I'm now hoping to build support from the running clubs, groups and wider running community up here to encourage the council along in making a positive decision.

More detail on my website here: http://www.leyton.org/glasgowtimetrial, and also on the Scottish Runners thread.

Feedback, comments and particularly notes of support welcome!

Posted: 10/01/2008 at 17:09

How about Sri Chinmoy?  They run events in a number of places all over the country. 
Posted: 10/01/2008 at 18:40

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