The dreaded time trial whether it’s a 2km, 3km, 2.2km or 3x1km most athletes shudder at the thought. While time trials seem like a punishment for most athletes they are actually an invaluable tool for coaches. They provide coaches a way to measure their athletes fitness level and in-turn an guides them on what type of training is needed to get their athletes physically prepared to play their sport. It also holds both the athlete and coach accountable by giving both quantifiable evidence of whether the fitness program has worked.

Maximal Aerobic Speed
The point of a time trial is to measure an athletes aerobic capacity or cardiovascular fitness. The time itself is a great number as a before and after comparison but it doesn’t help you become any fitter. This is where a Maximal Aerobic Speed (MAS) score becomes helpful.

MAS is the average speed of your time trial, it is also the lowest speed at which maximum oxygen uptake occurs (aerobic capacity/cardiovascular fitness). In other words if you go any faster it’s becoming more of a sprint, which can only be sustained for brief periods of time. Time trials are a great way to work out your MAS score (so is the yo-yo, 30-15 IFT and beep test).

No matter what your time trial distance is you will need to work out your MAS score. Knowing your MAS score will help determine your training distances and times you need to improve your time trial. To work out your MAS score convert kilometer distance into meters and convert minutes:seconds into total seconds e.g. 2km = 2000m, 7:30 = (7*60)+30 = 450 seconds. Then, divide the distance in meters by the time in seconds e.g. 2000m/450s = 4.44m/s

Interval training
Now that you have a MAS score you can plan your training. Intervals are a great way to improve your running capacity for a time trial as you can break down the your running into smaller time frames which allows you to run at faster speeds than your MAS. Using the example above you can work out how far you can run in common time frames i.e.

4.44m/s x 120seconds = 532m
4.44m/s x 60seconds = 266m
4.444m/s x 30seconds = 133m

Now that will give you how far you can run if you were running at the same pace as your time trial, however, we want to improve your time trial – enter supramaximal running. Supramaximal running is just running faster than your time trial speed. This is what you can base your interval running speeds off. One way to work it out is to multiply your MAS score by 105,110,115 and 120%. Here is an example of 110% and 120%:

4.44 x 1.1 (110% MAS) = 4.88m/s
4.44 x 1.2 (120% MAS) = 5.33m/s

Here’s what these running speeds would look like over typical time frames:

4.88m/s x 120seconds = 585m and 5.33m/s x 120seconds = 640m
4.88m/s x 60seconds = 292m and 5.33m/s x 60seconds 320m
4.88m/s x 30seconds = 146mm and 5.33m/s x 30seconds 160m

Typically you would start at the lower end of the speed range (4.88m/s) with longer intervals (120 seconds) and progress to shorter faster intervals. Just as important is the rest intervals, resting too little will mean you won’t be able repeat enough reps. Resting too long won’t give you the proper training adaptations you are looking for. Use a 1:1 work:rest ratio, i.e. if you are doing a 30 second run your rest will be 30 seconds.

Longer intervals
You can flip the script and cover a certain distance in a determined time e.g. 1000m divided bt 4.88m/s is 205 seconds or 3:25, therefore you would run 1000m in 3 minutes and 25 seconds. This is actually a bit too quick and we would suggest only doing 105% of 4.44m/s which is 4.66m/s or 1000m in 3:34. Because it’s a longer run your work to rest ratio should be 2:1, running 3:34 and have 1:45 rest.

The program
Now you’ve got an idea of what type of running you should be doing to improve your time trial here’s how you can put it all together as a program. You can run up to three times a week, however twice per week is usually enough.

Program example
Week 1
Day 1 – 3 x (5 x 160m) 30 second run/30 second rest – 2 minutes rest between sets.
Day 2 – 2 x 1000m in 3:34 – 105 seconds rest between sets.

Week 2
Day 1 – 3 x (6 x 160m) 30 second run/30 second rest – 2 minutes rest between sets.
Day 2 – 3 x 1000m in 3:34 – 105 seconds rest between sets.

Week 3
Day 1 – 3 x (7 x 160m) 30 second run/30 second rest – 2 minutes rest between sets.
Day 2 – 3 x 1000m in 3:31 – 105 seconds rest between sets.

Week 4
Day 1 – 3 x (8 x 160m) 30 second run/30 second rest – 2 minutes rest between sets.
Day 2 – 3 x 1000m in 3:28 – 105 seconds rest between sets.

If you wanted to add a third day in we would suggest Fartlek’s of 20 second Jog/Run/Walk for 3 sets of 5-8 minutes.

Learn how to pace
One more thing to add, a time trial is technically a race so learning how to pace your race is critical. All too often have we seen athletes either go out super hard and die early or go out too slow and come home fast and finishing with plenty in the tank. The training above is a great start to learning how to pace your running, although it’s important to learn how to “run your race” over the longer distances.

A good strategy is to create a plan before the time trial. If your doing a time trial around and oval or track you want to know how far one lap around the track is (400m track, 470m football oval). Once you know the distance of the lap you can work out how fast you should be running your laps in to achieve the time you want e.g. if you want to run a 7:30 2km on a 400m track you’ll need to run each lap in 90 seconds.

Most athletes hate doing time trials because they are scared of failing. The truth is there is no reall pass or fail it’s simply a way to measure where your current fitness level is at. If you change you mindset on the purpose of the time trial it becomes a lot less daunting and more so a chance to challenge yourself to get better. Changing your perspective on time trials allows you to take control and dominate!