Club member, Jimmy submitted this question: You’ve mentioned in past articles that 300m sprint times are a good indicator of racing performance. How can 300m time trials [ED. – time trials in general?] be used for long distance training purposes?
This is a really cool topic because on one front it’s against traditional thinking to use them for training (versus just a progress measurement tool) and on another front it goes against many runners’ mindsets (fear adn loathing) towards time trials.
Let me clarify that the 300 meter and 50 meter time trials that have been used in a couple research studies were performed with distance runners. Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell and Tyson Gay did not line up against them. Be clear, this was research on distance runners. And these research studies have found stronger correlations to distance running performance (i.e. actual race times) than VO2max! In other words, if you lined up distance runners by their speed in a 300 meter time trial – fastest to slowest – it would be very predictive of the order they would finish at a 10k or even marathon for instance. On the other hand, if you lined up distance runners by VO2max – highest to lowest – it would be less predictive; the people with higher VO2max readings in fact do not regularly outperform those with lower VO2max readings in distance races.
The reasons for this are hidden within the measures themselves. VO2max does not have any “efficiency” calculation incorporated. It is merely a volume. On the other hand, sprint times REQUIRE high muscle power output with coordinated and efficient movement. These are critical to ALL race distances. vVO2max is another measure which is far more predictive than plain VO2max because it incorporates “velocity” – speed – within the measure. And finally, lactate threshold levels are good measures of performance, but problematic to identify accurately.
What that all means is that in the process of training, focusing on faster running and doing regular time trials are critical to your performance improvement. Indeed, time trials now become part of your comprehensive program, not some test to through in once in awhile.
So, what is the practical implication?
By doing multiple distance time trials you can plot your strengths and weaknesses. You can identify strength, speed and endurance needs. If you do the same distance time trial, you have a consistent apples-to-apples comparison to gauge your fitness progress. Either way supports a solid training program.
Let me also clarify: a time trial is an all out effort, feeling fresh for the given distance. Time trials are not pace work. Time trials are not run over your goal race distance or even at your goal race pace. TTs are mini-races. Practically speaking, coaches most often use distances less than two miles; but might be as long as a 5k for a marathoner. The research however supports using six to seven minutes or less all out efforts. Thus, for me, I use 2000 meters or less for most of my age group runners.
Time trials (TT) themselves are superb high quality workouts. At only a fraction of a distance ultimate race distance, they can be carried out regularly. There is no science on how often or how much. Here is my recommendation. I would use variable distances for time trials: 200, 300, 400, 600, mile, mile and a half for instance. If you stick with shorter time trials you could probably do one each week – changing the distance each time. You have to be careful not to overdo these. More is not better in miles, just as more is not better with speed.
Next, a time trial is not done in isolation. It is not the only thing you do on that day. It should be designed to fit within a comprehensive warm-up, cool-down, and full workout. It would not offer the best benefits to show up, warm up and just do a time trial. You would not gain as much conditioning with this approach.
For my distance runners I typically do one to one and a half mile time trials. We do a couple miles warm-up. then a 400 @ about 5k pace. Strides, stretches and any other exercises are then done to ensure that they are fully warmed up. Then we do the time trial (amidst the whining of course). After a full recovery, we then hit 4-6 x 400. The goal is to hit your mile race pace on those 400s. Then there is a cool down run. So, you see, time trial day is not an easy one for reasons beyond just doing the TT. My runners will have run 4-6 total miles and 2-2.5 miles at their mile race pace… this is good! My more advanced runners can handle even more.
To have validity, time trials need to be run relatively fresh. Otherwise it wouldn’t be a real test. We don’t usually want to see how you perform when you are tired. The goal is to measure your progress towards your race goals. This being said, you may be jeopardizing a lot of training by doing time trials because of inserting too many “easy” days in order to do them right. I hope this makes sense. Time trials are a tool and they are good training but you can’t have your entire training program revolve around time trialing.
A final factor is personal predisposition. If time trials cause stress this wouldn’t be a good approach. Once a month is good for most distance runners. If you are a middle-distance runner 800-5k you may want and need them more often and of shorter variety.