Take on time trials

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A week before his legendary race, Roger Bannister ran a three-quarter-mile time trial: "I felt that 2:59.9 for the three-quarter 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:

Dress Rehearsal

Racing at PR 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 pre-race 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, e.g. 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. Remember that race-day nerves, spectators and competitors will unlock reserves that a time trial can't access. That said, if you're more than 5 per cent off goal pace, consider revising your race goal.

Speed Test

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. Low-key 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 build-up, with the last at least two weeks pre-race. Unlike a dress rehearsal, the goal isn't to maintain a particular pace — it's to suffer in a way you don't during regular longer-distance training. Fighting through the symptoms of anaerobic fatigue will help train your body to handle slower paces more efficiently. To maximise the effect, err on the side of starting aggressively—at least 2 per cent faster than your best recent time at that distance.

Stimulus Package

Time trials exist in a grey zone between workouts and races, and the distinction is blurriest when you add a time trial to a larger interval workout. For example, to prepare for a 5K, you might run a mile time trial, recover for 10 to 15 minutes, then do a ladder of 1200, 800, 600, and 400 with 2:00 rest, starting at 5K pace and getting faster. The extra volume will stimulate more fitness gains than a speed test, but it requires more recovery — schedule it three to four weeks before your race.

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.