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  • Writer's pictureAnne

Time Trials & Virtual Races - Set Yourself Up for Success

Updated: Apr 17, 2020

Listen to this post inside here & you will also get to hear some of my embarrassing "pump up jams" in the episode:

I have a bit of a (fun) problem at the moment. Since October, I have set an unofficial, personal best time in a "time trial," rather than a real race, in the half marathon, 10k, and 5k. I really hope I am still running well when real races come back 🤞 My unofficial half marathon personal best is 1:26:08 (official personal best is 1:29:29), my unofficial 10k personal best is 38:08 (official personal best is 40:24), and my unofficial 5k personal best is 17:32 (official personal best is 18:48).

I know some people don't put much stock in these times because they are not official and I totally understand that. I won't update my "personal best" times until I get a new time, at a real race. However, doing time trials have been very valuable to my training, especially the mental aspect of training. It is hard to get in the right frame of mind to execute a time trial or virtual race and achieve a time goal, especially when you are running alone. There are a few things that I do to set myself up for success. All of these tips would apply for virtual races as well. In the wake of COVID-19, I know a lot of runners are participating in a virtual race for the first time.

Plan Your Route

Make sure you have a running route mapped out that you do not have to stop for traffic and you know the exact distance of the route beforehand. Running trails and walking paths are perfect for this and don't forget you can do a few loops of the same path to get enough mileage.

If there are not trails or paths near you, a track might be good option. If you are new to running, stick with me for a second. A year ago, I would have never considered the track as an option to run anything farther than a mile at a time, but hear me out.

As I have shared before, I was a swimmer growing up, so I have only been a runner as an adult. The first race I ever trained for was a half marathon. In the fall of 2019, I trained for a 10k and it was the first time I ever did specific training for anything shorter than a half marathon. I started working with my coach and picked a local 10k to race. Training went well, but the race was not what I had anticipated. My goal was to run under 40 minutes and I needed to have a good day to pull it off. When the gun went off at the start of the race, things got off to a bad start. All of the racers got bunched up, the course was super hilly and on dirt, and worst of all the course was marked over half a mile long. My finish time was 42:42 and according to my watch, I had ran 6.72 miles. I was super bummed! I looked for another 10k to run the following weekend but there was nothing within driving distance. Since a different race was not an option, my coach suggested I run a "time trial" 10k on a track, just to see where I ended up fitness wise at the end of the training cycle.  

At first I thought this idea was crazy. I had to google how many laps a 10k on a track was and when I read 25 laps I thought there was no way I could handle that mentally! It would be so boring! I wrestled this over in my mind and ultimately decided I was being silly and needed to just give it a try. The time trial ended up going great and I ran 38:08.

While the track can be boring, it is nice because you can measure the distance accurately, there is no traffic to worry about, and you usually have somewhere to put water bottles, sweats, etc.

Eat Like It's Race Day

Like many runners my nutrition is slightly different right before a race then on normal days. For both my 10k and 5k time trial, I ate a few extra calories (in the form of carbs) the day before I planned to run. I am an early morning runner and usually I just have coffee before running. On the morning of a time trial, I change this up and I have a little breakfast before. I like having some instant oatmeal with 1 scoop of chocolate Generation UCAN, and some almond milk. I also take a Vespa Junior about 30 minutes before I am plan to start my run. If I feel like I need it, I may take a Honey Stinger gel right before the time trail. This also means I have to get up a little extra early to let my food settle. I use the extra time to foam roll and do some activation exercises.

Dress Like It's Race Day

Putting on the same type of outfit and shoes that you normally wear on race day will put you in the right frame of mind to run fast. I don't wear a "race kit," I like to wear shorts and a light weight tank, but if that's what you normally race in, that is what you should wear. I also don't have any carbon fiber or special foam racing shoes (yet), but if you have racing flats or "special" racing shoes, this is a perfect time to practice running in them before a real race.

Set a Firm Goal

The first time trial I ever did, I did not set a specific time goal beforehand, I simply thought, "I will run as fast as I can." Well as soon as the run got hard, I quit trying hard. Since then, I have had a clear time goal that I want to achieve going into every time trial. I think of the clock as an opponent running next to me. If that watch starts to beat me, I push harder, even if it hurts. If you want to reach a goal, you may have to hurt a little, but it is only temporary.

Virtual races make goal setting even easier. You can set a time goal, but you could also set a goal like ranking in the top 10% of your age group or win your age group! Don't limit yourself.

Warm Up

It took me a long time to "believe" a warm up helped you perform better. I think because not so long ago running felt really hard to me, I never wanted to run more miles then I "had to." Or maybe I was trying to "conserve my energy." I now know, doing a nice slow warm up will get your muscles loose, warm, and ready to run fast. Don't skip it!

Have a Pump Up Jam

Finally, I love to listen to a good pump up jam while I am warming up. In the music department, I am a super, lame mom at the moment, so you don't even want my playlist, it's a decade old. It does get ME pumped up though, so listen to whatever gets you in the mood to run fast.


After your time trial take the opportunity to look back and consider what went well and what you would like to improve on in the future or in a real race. Did your route work well or should you try a different location? I take a mental note about my nutrition. Did I feel hungry, too full, or just right? How did my pacing feel? Did I go out too fast or too slow? Did I warm up enough or did I still feel a little tight when I started? All this information will help you execute your next race to your full potential.

Do you have any tips for running a fast time trial or virtual race? What is your favorite pump up jam?

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