Last Tuesday I participated in the Arete mile time trial. This is something the Arete Women’s Running Club encourages all of its members to participate in yearly as a fun way to gauge your current fitness. This type of time trial is actually quite common. We did the same thing in high school at the onset of every Cross Country season. At the time, I only viewed it as something I dreaded.
The mile was not my favorite race. I preferred the 5ks of cross season, and the 2 mile during track. I vividly remember feeling sick to my stomach the week of those mile time trials in high school. I’m sure it’s because I put so much undue pressure on myself, thinking I had something to prove. Instead, I needed to look at it as a way to get honest feedback on where my fitness currently put me, so that our coach could do a better job of setting my paces for future workouts. All the time trial asks of you is to show up and give your best on that day. As long as you give your best, that’s all you can ask. If you had put in the work all summer, it would undoubtedly show. And if you slacked off? Well, that definitely became apparent as well.
We had similar workouts to kick off our Cross Country season in college. It was more along the lines of a series of mile(ish) repeats during team camp. But it was the first indicator after a summer away as to where everyone stood in terms of their placement on the team, and of their physical fitness. I get nauseous just thinking back to these workouts.
So when I heard about the Arete mile time trial I instantly put my guard up. I mean, I just came off of a marathon training cycle. Speed was definitely not the focus as much as the endurance had been. So to be quite honest, the idea of doing an all-out mile scared the shit out of me. What if I went out hard and died after two laps? What if I ended up slower than I raced a road mile last year? What if my time indicated that my fitness had dropped off a lot over the previous 2 months of doing very little training after the marathon? When looking at these thoughts objectively, of course none of that truly mattered in the grand scheme of things. It’d be impossible for me to lose that much fitness after a brief spell of less running. And it was very unlikely that I’d run it slower than last year, seeing as my half marathon pace from last year was now my marathon pace – I’ve made huge strides in just 12 months.
“It’s kind of amazing what can happen when we push our fears aside and go all-in on something.”
I decided to push all of those thoughts, all of the fear, aside. I decided I’d go out there and do the all-out mile. I’d go as hard as I could on that day. I’d show up, and do my best. And that’s exactly what I did. And it’s kind of amazing what can happen when we push our fears aside and go all-in on something. In my experience, I’ve found that more often than not I end up surprising myself. And I did. I finished in a 6:03 (sooo close to that sub-6!). It’s not my lifetime best, which is somewhere in the 5:20’s. But it’s definitely my best since having three kiddos. And for that, I am damn proud. And you know what else? I got excited from seeing that time. Not only did it indicate my fitness was where I had hoped it would be, but I knew that with some shorter workouts (400’s, 800’s, and mile repeats), there was no doubt I will continue to drop that time.
Why a Time Trial Is Beneficial
A time trial can do a few things:
- Give you a great baseline idea of fitness
- Act as a good indicator of what type of training paces you should use in your workouts for an upcoming training cycle
- And oftentimes, this type of workout can build confidence
Will you always have a time that gets you excited? Definitely not. But that doesn’t mean it was any less useful.
How to Do a Time Trial
If you’re ready to commit to doing your own time trial, here are a few tips.
- Whether you go for a mile time trial or a 5k, a sufficient warm up is crucial. You need to give your muscle time to warm up, especially before jumping into any type of speed work. This helps reduce the risk of injury. It also helps prep your aerobic system for the task ahead.
- Next, you’ll want to do some stretching. While static stretching is good, dynamic stretches are even better. Amanda with RunToTheFinish has some great ideas here.
- Do a few quick strides prior to starting. Strides are short sprints roughly 20-35 seconds in length at approximately your mile race pace (think 85-95% effort). Start easy, progress to your mile pace, and then ease back down at the end. These help acclimate your body to the faster running before jumping into a fast workout.
Once you’re properly warmed up, hit the track (or the roads, if you prefer) for the time trial.
- Try to stay as relaxed as possible. Remember, this is an opportunity to shape your future training. Your time is not the end-all be-all.
- Don’t start off at an all-out sprint. While this is an all-out effort, remember that it needs to be sustained for at least a mile (or a 5k).
- Go out hard, and try not to pay too close attention to your watch. This should be effort-based.
- If you’re doing a mile, it’s common for the 3rd lap to be the hardest. Remind yourself to keep pushing; it will be over soon.
- Focus on pushing hard on the final lap. Give it everything you have left, and empty the tank. You should finish feeling like you could not have went much further, if at all, at the same effort.
- Celebrate! You’re finished.
Afterwards, remember to do a cool down (10-15 minutes), followed by stretching.
How to Use the Information
A good way to use the knowledge this workout gives you is to fill it into a training calculator. These calculators will give you estimated paces for everything from easy runs, to long runs, to specific workouts. The two I use the most are here:
- https://runsmartproject.com/calculator/ – I find this Jack Daniels calculator to be the most accurate across all paces.
- http://www.jeffgalloway.com/training/magic-mile/ – While I disagree with Jeff Galloway’s philosophy on how fast to do your long runs, I do think the calculator’s indication of 5k, 10k, and half marathon fitness is fairly accurate.
A very important thing to consider when using these calculators to determine your workouts is that you should be doing workouts based on your current fitness, not your goal fitness.
My fitness indicates that my current half marathon time is roughly 7:10 pace. However, my goal in the half marathon equals out to 6:50 per mile. When doing workouts at half marathon pace (such as tempo runs), I should not be trying to race them at 6:50 pace. That is actually closer to my current 10k pace and would be counterproductive for a tempo workout. Instead, I should be doing them at the 7:10 pace (or whatever the similar perceived effort is on that day). By doing this, your fitness will naturally improve. And, over time, those paces will drop. I found this to be 100% accurate over the past 2 years of training. By following these guidelines, and by keeping my easy runs honest (NOT doing them at tempo pace), I was able to drop my half marathon time from 8:11 per mile to now approximately an entire minute per mile faster.
To recap, time trials at the onset of a training cycle can be extremely beneficial. A mile is very common, but 5k’s can also be an excellent indicator of current fitness. Don’t let the idea of the time trial scare you. Instead, look at it as an opportunity to gauge fitness and have a productive training block.
Keep your eyes out for my next blog, which will cover the basics of putting together your own block training. Whether you’re looking to improve in the 5k or the half marathon.
And drop me a note below on your thoughts about time trials. Have you ever done one? What scared you the most about it?