Running Fiesta

Writing and running in Austin, TX.

Time Trial Time

I know you’ve been on pins and needles all week, just wondering: How did Chris do in her 2-mile time trial??

Wait, what? You didn’t know I had a time trial this week? How could you not?? Ask anyone in my running group. When time trial time comes around, it’s pretty much all we think about for a solid WEEK beforehand.

“What is a time trial?”, you may be wondering. Well, according to Coach Chris, it’s “just another data point”.

For the rest of us, it’s an all-consuming obsession. A mythical event that rivals the zombie apocalypse in the fear it inspires. If you succeed (set a new record, or at least match your old record), Olympic glory is guaranteed. If you struggle (run .01 seconds or more slower than the last time we did this) you are forced to wear a scarlet J, for “jogger”.

Okay, I completely made all that up. Well, except for the part where I said that’s how we runners think of this thing.

For the uninitiated, what a time trial actually is…is exactly what it sounds like. For a pre-determined distance, you run as fast as you possibly can. You then can enter that number into a formula (which in the year 2012 translates to “an online calculator” — Rogue has one here) to get a general idea of the paces you should aim for over various distances.

It’s not a fool-proof measure. For example, according to my last time trial sometime in April, I should be able to run the following paces:

  • 5K – 27:17 (err, close)
  • 10K – 56:39 (not so close)
  • Half Marathon – 2:06:02 (YEAH! Well, YEAH asterisk – it was a downhill course in January)
  • Marathon – 4:25:46 (you’re messing with me, right?)
In every Rogue program, we run one or two 2-mile time trials. The first is to get a baseline idea of target paces for speedwork. The second — sometimes optional — one is to re-check your fitness post-speedwork and pre-race. Ideally, each trial is an improvement over the previous one. Then again, ideally my running shoes would spit out $100 bills like a malfunctioning ATM.
So yes, all that intro to get to this: We had a time trial this past Wednesday.
I am now going to write a race report for the dang thing, because it’s literally that nerve-wracking. 
First off, when you show up on time trial day, your fellow runners will either be standing around stiffly in jaw-clenched, wide-eyed silence, or they’ll be chattering non-stop about something that makes no sense at all. It just depends on how that person handles stress.
Your coach will try to make some jokes, get people to loosen up. It won’t work. He or she will give up on humor and start on the “there’s no pressure, this is just another workout” speech, and you’ll stare at him/her like they’re trying to tell you that a Grizzly bear won’t maul you if you just calmly hand over the trail mix.
Eventually the coach will give up and send you on your warm-up, which will be quieter than usual. That will be followed by drills, which will seem much more tiring than usual. Finally, he’ll send you out for some more “warm-up sprints”, which you will all run at approximately “stroll in the park” pace while griping about what a waste of energy it is to do sprints before a time trial.
After that, no more stalling. The trial is upon you. If you’re like me and not the absolute speediest person in the group, you’ll probably hang back for 20 seconds or so to let the other people start ahead of you. The only thing more depressing than getting lapped is getting lapped twice
This week’s start was interesting. We’ve now got a decent-sized group of similarly-paced people (shout-outs to Emily, Carey, Sarah, Ann, and Lisa), so I expected us to go out as a group and draft off/push each other through the trial. Maybe I’ve been watching too much cycling.
I was completely wrong. The entire group, fast and less fast, went out in one long single-file line. If you looked at us, you would have seen exactly how fast we are relative to each other…or at least how fast we think we all are relative to each other.
My typical goal for a time trial is to average two minutes per 400m lap. Traditionally, I run the first lap in 2 minutes and then proceed to fall apart for the remaining 7. To address this, I decided to go out a bit slower and try to build at the end if I had energy left.
It was working. I felt relatively relaxed on that first lap. As we crossed the start, I looked at my watch. 1:54. 
Well, crap.
The next 3 laps really did slow to a more reasonable pace, but I couldn’t give you exact splits because I’m not that good at mental math. (That said, attempting to do mid-run mental math remains one of the best distractions I’ve found from physical pain.)
With the first mile in the bag, I decided to see if I could start picking it up a bit. I set my sights on the person in front of me and slowly started moving up on her.
Immediate emotional crisis.
Yes, I’m competitive, but the “killer instinct” skipped me over. The term “team player” was invented with me in mind. I honestly want everybody to do well, and as such, I’m consumed by extreme guilt every time I pass a teammate. I nearly go into convulsions debating whether to say anything to them as I pass. Is it rude if I don’t say anything? Or is it bragging if I do? I usually end up muttering something like “Good job” in a manner that could be mistaken for choking.
The struggle isn’t over once you do pass a teammate. If you’ve ever taken part in any sort of race, you’re familiar with the no-man’s land that follows a pass. Suddenly your goal is behind you, and all you have is empty track and tired legs. You can surmount this if the next person is within 20 meters or so, but if they’re on the other side of the track it can feel like you’ve picked door #3 and won a donkey.
By the end of lap 6 I had passed 2 or 3 people (and said four Our Father’s in repentance — okay, not really), and started trying to convince myself to pick it up more for the last 800 meters. Maybe it’s just me, but there’s something about “800 meters” that sounds about 10 miles longer than “400 meters”. 
In desperation, I set my sights on Sarah. I’ve never beat her in a time trial, but maybe, maybe, I could close the gap.
Well, of course Sarah is super tough, and the damn gap didn’t change at all. I crossed the line for the last 400 and changed strategies to my tried-and-true end of the race mindset: You probably won’t die from just one lap.
I also started congratulating myself for various mini accomplishments. “That’s the last time you’ll have to pass the scoreboard. That’s your last trip down the backstretch. It’s the last turn, just run! Damn I hate the last 100!!!”
I never did catch Sarah, but I also didn’t throw up — which was a genuine concern for that last 200. And when I stopped my watch…new PR! 16:28:55.
No, it’s not going to get me to the Olympics. Heck, I’d have to run faster than that for 26 miles just to qualify for Boston. But that doesn’t matter. We all have our own version of victory, and given how run-down I was feeling just one week earlier, mine was this tiny piece of validation that all the extra miles, all the hard work, all the hot humid runs that characterize a Texas summer are paying off. 
Well, at least I hope they are. After all, like the famous proverb of “this too shall pass”, “it’s just one data point” can mean many things. I still have a lot of hard work ahead to break down that mental barrier I feel when I contemplate hitting my current “holy grail” goal of a 4:30 marathon. 
But maybe putting that number in a pace calculator and seeing a predicted marathon finish time of 4:21 will help make a dent.

Addendum: As happy as I was to beat my own PR, I can’t post without saying this. If you run a time trial (or a race or whatever) and don’t hit your goal, I honestly do believe it’s “just ONE data point”.

My advice for running, or life, is this:

Dwell on the good.

Acknowledge the not so good, then stuff it in the bottom of your gym bag and go get a taco.

One comment on “Time Trial Time

  1. Mental math is a great distraction from tree planting too!

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This entry was posted on August 4, 2012 by in PR, time trial.
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