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The Time Trial

Friday 15th May 2020

In the last eight weeks I have done so many new things. I have worked from home, I have walked through empty streets in the city centre, I have heard birdsong in the morning, I have washed my hands ten times a day, I have breathed clean air on the balcony of my apartment, I have bought a turbo trainer, I have crossed the road to maintain a two metre distance from other pedestrians, I have experienced irrationally high levels of excitement at finding flour on supermarket shelves, I have made and delivered face shields for care homes and doctor’s surgeries, I have read books, I have learned songs. And I have been running. A lot.

Granted, the last activity on the list doesn’t really qualify as ‘new,’ but the way I have been doing it is. I haven’t raced since the first day of March and haven’t done a group training session since just after that. Instead I have filled my time with a sustained period of high mileage, aided by the fact that I have more time to train and to rest and that there are no races to taper for or recover from.

About a week or two ago, I was really starting to notice the fitness gains that were resulting from this block of heavy training. Frustrated not to have any races to put this fitness to good use in, I asked my coach if he could include some kind of time trial or race simulation effort in the next two week plan. He agreed it was a good idea, not just as a means of testing fitness in the absence of races but as a way of adding some variety and novelty to the training. When I saw the plan I immediately regretted asking, though, as he had included not one time trial but two in the next week’s schedule. The first was a 3 mile flat out effort and the second an hour test to establish how far I could go in that period of time.

Doing something new can be equal parts daunting and exciting and I experienced both feelings on Wednesday afternoon before doing the 3 mile test. The fact that it is not a common race distance is a clever way of making sure I have no PB for the distance and am therefore unencumbered by expectation. The main worry I had was that I would not be able to raise my level of effort to anything like the level I would in a race, given the lack of competition and the fact that the result carries no weight or significance beyond being a loose indicator of fitness. I was pleased to hit 3 minutes for the first km but was also very worried I would blow up completely.

One advantage of running purely against the clock is that you have no external stimuli to respond to and can run a very even pace if you are able to judge it correctly. I slowed slightly in the next couple of kilometres but still felt I was running smoothly and in a controlled way; I glanced at my watch just after 3km and was just outside 9 minutes. Pretty good on my own on grass. I tried to visualise what a proper race would feel like to give some motivation and help me push as hard as I could. Every time I looked at my watch I tried to picture how many laps of the track remained. The last few minutes were very tough, a situation that was not helped by the wind, which was starting to pick up. I threw everything I could at the last few hundred metres and stopped my watch as soon as I saw 4.83km. 14:42. I’d have been happy with anything under 15 minutes, so was pleased with the effort I was able to put in. Further evidence that I had managed to get a lot out of myself came the following day; my legs were completely wrecked.

Although any self-timed result must be taken with a pinch of salt, not least because GPS watches are known for measuring inconsistently and unreliably at times, it’s a good indicator that I haven’t lost any fitness. In fact, I’m feeling as strong as I ever have so it feels like a shame that there are no real races for me to take part in any time soon. In the mean time I will just have to make do with running as far as I can in sixty minutes on Sunday. Pain awaits…

Three Thousand Metres

Wednesday 22nd June 2011

A few weeks ago a training partner and I decided to do a 3k time trial on the track and to try and get close to 9 minutes. A couple of friends agreed to pace us at 72 seconds per lap. There are actually plenty of opportunities to run 3k races, as our club organises as series of open meetings every summer. This one was quite a late one, so we decided to give it a miss, as well as benefitting from perfect pacing!

My PB was 9:19 from last summer, and I felt that I would be happy with anything below 9:10. We set off at 9 minute pace anyway though. Might as well give it a go. That’s the good thing about doing a time trial rather than a race; it doesn’t matter if you screw it up. The obvious down side is that it isn’t an official PB if you run faster than you have before, but I don’t really mind. For me this was just a chance to see what I could do, regardless of whether anyone else is there to see it. As it happened though, there were people to see it. The first was Mark, who paced the first kilometre in 2:59. Rob took over for the second kilometre: 3 dead. I suspected before hand that if I could get to 2k in 6 minutes then 9 minutes was probably on the cards, but it took a lot of concentration. We’ve done time trials before but usually over greater distances, where you can afford to switch off a little in the knowledge that it’s easier to make up a few seconds here and there. 3k is right at the bottom of my racing range so I find it hard to vary the pace. At least I only had to focus for 3 more minutes.

Mark took the next lap, giving me something new to focus on. My legs were getting really heavy by this point but his 72 kept me right on pace. Rob took over for the next 400 metres and I just about managed to hang on, only dropping a few metres back. This meant I got to 2800 in 8:25. I had to pick up the pace to break 9, but I could see the finish line. With lungs and legs burning I took off and sprinted down the home straight, crossed the line and collapsed.

I lay on the ground for a few moments trying to get my breath back and then looked at my watch:

Tim crossed the line shortly after, not feeling 100% after a week’s holiday. He was disappointed not to have run closer to 9 minutes but I know he’s got it in him in the right conditions. It’s always hard to feel sharp after a week off.

I know I can do it now. Just need to do the same in a race. After all, if it’s not on Power of 10 it never happened.