Time trial (Technical)

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 what 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.

Our signature “Technical Time Trials” focus less on the athlete’s ability to generate speed or display stamina but rather it tests for how long you can sustain the best possible movement quality. This workout is a keystone of our Masters of Running programme.


  • Sustained run over prescribed distance.
  • Do technical warm-up.
  • Be barefoot or wear shoes that allow almost no interference with natural foot mechanics (such as the VivoBarefoot Aqua Lite)
  • Time your splits and overall time
  • Do technical cool-down

Important points: 

  • This workout is not about intensity but quality of movement
  • Run at the best effort you are capable of up to 95% effort.  Save full effort for your races only.
  • Sprinting to the finish if you are technically capable of doing it. Otherwise keep an even effort throughout.

Rate of perceived effort:

Up to 7-9 (no max effort) RPE


  • Ability to maintain highest possible movement quality for full distance


  • Concentration
  • Pace
  • Sustained speed
  • Rhythm
  • Distance-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 run a PB
  • Sacrificing quality to inject more intensity and speed

How to interpret

Since it is impossible to be consciously aware of whether you run correctly, you need to rely on three feedback mechanisms in a technical time trial:

  1. Feedback from the ground: You need to run on hard even ground barefoot (or in barefoot technology shoes) so that you instantly feel uncomfortable if you execute a poor landing or are running with poor form full stop (i.e. a heel strike should hurt immediately as it would running barefoot on tarmac)
  2. Feedback from coach and camera: Many technical details can only be seen by an outside observer and even your coach will need to be aided by a camera capable of playing back your running at 60 frames per second as some details cannot be seen with the naked eye. record the entire time trial or at least the start, middle and finish to see how your style looks early (when fresh), middle (when settled) and late (when tired)
  3. Feedback from yourself: Throughout you should make note of whether you feel comfortable or uncomfortable and whether the comfort/discomfort comes from the intensity or from landing badly on the ground. Note when during the distance you felt good and when not. Finally, if you feel any real pain in joints, ligaments or bones, the time trial must be stopped immediately.

Technical time trials will tell you whether your technical ability currently constrains your ability to run at your best pace over a given distance. It will also provide early clues on physical and psychological weaknesses – i.e.  finding the pace difficult early on but coming through strongly in the end either means stamina is sufficiently developed but speed less so or that you did not warm-up sufficiently and thus needed part of the time trial to get into the correct form.

Conversely being comfortable early on but uncomfortable or in pain late on, means you cannot sustain your movement quality for the full distance. Note down at what point during the distance this occurred. Your coach* should note down the following score for you:

  • 0 – Pain during time trial
  • 1 – Time trial incomplete or severe compensations
  • 2 – Completed but with some compensations in technique
  • 3 – Unquestioned ability to execute time trial correctly
* This requires your coach to have a proven understanding of biomechanics and correct running form. If your normal coach does not have this expertise ask him/her if you can work with a technical specialist for this aspect of your training.
If you performed the time trial on a hard even and reasonable smooth surface mark an asterisks (*) next to the result if you had to use barefoot technology footwear in order to complete it. Runners with competent technique should be able to run barefoot on any surface that is not gritty.  Using any other footwear automatically scores the Technical Time trial “0”.
Time trials done on trails or very difficult surfaces are best done with the best compromise footwear you can find. Technical time trials are meaningless if done with footwear that include any of the following:
  • Narrow toe-box
  • Any type of cushioning
  • More than 3mm sole (exception is trails where a shoe like the Vivobarefoot Breatho may give you some indication of technical ability)
  • Any type of motion control, stabilisation or other interference technology
  • Heel to toe drop
  • Shape that does not match the anatomical shape of your normal foot

Comparing time trials

The next time you complete the time trial you will again get a time and a score, so you might see progress like this:
  • 1st January: 1 mile in 5:30 (Technique: 0, pain!)
  • 1st March: 1 mile in 5:33 (Technique: 2, still a bit sticky)
  • 1st June: 1 mile in 5:01 (Technique: 3, getting there!)
Once you have attained a score of “3” at a speed that reflects your physical ability (i.e. if you are normally fast enough to run 17:30 for 5k but can only manage 22:00 in a time trial with a score of 3, then you need to keep working on technique, not physiological aspects of training such as endurance). But once you can run close to your best race performances, it is time to change to Performance Time Trials and test races.

Example: you conduct a 1 Mile time trial early in your Technical training phase. You find the pace strenuous in the early stages but your rhythm is fluid. In the late stages your pace drops and you feel that your technique is breaking down. You finish with two sore feet! The coach notes down your time and a score of “2”. To avoid a similar problem in the future, you need to look at how long and how far you could keep you perception on correct movement (for instance 1200m at 3:30min/km pace). Doing technical intervals at the pace (such as 4x400m at 3:30 with technical drills as recovery) will help you get more skilful at the pace causing you issues. Similarly running for longer periods at slightly slower paces (say 4:30min/km) will help you keep perception on higher speeds for longer periods than the time trial.


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 cannot rely solely on shorter distance time trials to test whether their technical ability is prepared for the race distance they are competing at. MAF tests with a technical emphasis (rather than physiological) and controlled runs over 1 hours, 2 hours and 3 hours can be used together with Technical Time Trials up to 10km.

Ultra-marathoners need to pass much longer technical milestones and these technical time trials are as much a test of the psychological ability to keep focused on high quality of movement as the technical ability itself. Commonly the below distances are used.

  • 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

Example: If you are preparing for a 100 mile race but cannot execute a 50 mile to 100 km race with generally good quality of movement you are not technically ready to complete a 100 mile race.


Leave a reply