Time trial

Time trials are one of the most important, and one of the most misunderstood, components of your final preparations towards peak race day. They are not workouts to determine how fast you can run a given distance: their purpose is to combine and coordinate the speed and stamina you have attained in previous phases of training and determine weaknesses and strengths to indicate what further training and racing is needed to improve the former and capitalise on the latter.

If you give your body a certain exercise to do often enough, you will become efficient at it. The same can be said about running over certain distances. The idea is to run trials under or near the distance you are training for. For 800 meters, for instance, you should run 600- and 700-meter trials; for 1500 meters, you should run 1000- and 2000-meter trials. For these two events it is usually best to use under-distance trials because of the high speeds involved and the resulting oxygen debts. For 3000 and 5000 meters, time trials can be at the same distances but for the 10000 meters use mostly 5000 meters with the occasional 10000m. – Arthur Lydiard, Running the Lydiard Way


  • Sustained run over prescribed distance.
  • Do race warm-up.
  • Wear racing shoes.
  • Time your splits.
  • Do extra long cool-down

Important points: 

  • This workout is closest to race simulation than any other workout.
  • Run up to 95% effort as your schedule reads but be sure to save full effort for your races only.
  • Do not sprint to the finish. Keep an even effort throughout.

Rate of perceived effort:

7-9 (90-98% VO2Max)

Experienced competitors/elites: 

The last time trial should be run about ten days before the first important competition and should be run at your best effort. After this it is time to start freshening up and the only continuous fast workout you will do is the up-tempo workout.


  • Aerobic threshold to anaerobic


  • Pace
  • Sustained speed
  • Rhythm
  • Race-rehearsal

Biggest mistakes:

  • Starting out too hard and having to slow down
  • Tensing and fighting to sustain pace
  • Running at 100+% in training
  • Trying to do a PB every time
  • Sprinting to the finish

How to interpret

If you could run the early part of a time trial easily and were tired near the latter stages, it would be advisable to run in over-distance races or time trials the following week. On the other hand, if you found the pace a little difficult throughout the run even though you were running strongly near the end and not overly tired, then it would be wise for you to run under distance races or trials during the next few days. – Arthur Lydiard, Arthur Lydiard’s Athletic Training

Time trials will tell you whether your stamina or your speed currently constrains your performance the most. Finding the pace difficult early on but coming through strongly in the end means stamina is sufficiently developed but speed less so. Choosing an under distance time trial or race will help add the extra level of sharpness lacking ahead of your peak race day.

Example: you conduct a 5,000m time trial in preparation for your 5,000m peak race. You find the target pace strenuous in the early stages but finish strongly. To avoid a similar problem on race day, you could select a 3,000m time trial or race for your next scheduled time trial workout in the programme with the aim of accustoming to the faster pace.

The above advice applies in reverse. If during a 10,0000m time trial for your 5,000m race you find yourself fading towards the end despite being comfortable during the first kilometres, a 10 mile or half-marathon development race would help fortify your stamina.


The choice of terrain depends on what you wish to practice. In general a flat uniform course or track is the best choice as it will reduce the amount of variables you have to interpret afterwards. For mountain and off-road runners, however, an uphill time trial or similar exercise may give more specific clues to strengths and weaknesses specific to those disciplines.

Half-marathon, marathon and ultra-marathon time trials

Athletes focusing on half-marathon and marathon distances generally do not need over-distance time trials but will rather continue to do “out and back” workouts and long races up to two hours with occasional 5k and 10k races and time trials used to identify a lack of marathon-specific speed.

Experienced ultra-marathoners do not have to concern themselves with a lack of speed late in the programme and more commonly employ a shorter ultra-distance race. Bryan Powell suggests in the following preparatory races for differing ultra-distances in “Relentless Forward Progress – A Guide to Running Ultra-marathons”:

  • 50k: marathon race about nine weeks prior to peak race
  • 40 miles to 100k:  50k race 5 weeks prior to peak race
  • 100 miles: 50 miles to 100km race 5 weeks prior to peak race

Workout descriptions are adapted from BreakThrough Running with permission.