Thursday, January 3, 2013

12 Tools for Your Triathlon Toolbox - #11 Time Trials

What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “Time Trial”?  Pain and suffering?  Puke fest?  All out sprints?  How about these:  Benchmark?  Progress?  Race pace? 

Over the past five years of coaching, I have advised my athletes to do time trials in all three disciplines.  The tests are relatively simple, however they always seem to bring on a wave of panic when athletes discover them on their training schedule. 

Time trials should not be considered a workout of “pain and suffering”…okay, there may be a bit of pain and suffering toward the end of the trial.  Time trials are not “sprints”.  Time trials are important tools for athletes and coaches to set a benchmark for the athlete's current fitness and help coaches plan a smart training schedule.

I attended a web seminar with Justin Trolle, USA Triathlon Level 3 Coach and President of Vanguard Endurance titled “Field* Based Testing: Taking testing into the field for better race day results”.  He discussed field based testing as ways to help answer three questions:

#1 Where are we now?
#2 Where do we want to go?
#3 How far do we have to go to get there?

*Quick Note: “Field based testing” or “field tests” are any tests done outside of a laboratory.

Performing a time trial in the field will set a benchmark for the athlete.  (Where are we now?)  After a field test, athletes and coaches can discuss goals for training and racing performance.  (Where do we want to go?)  Depending on the athlete’s goals and the date of their “A” race, workouts can be developed accordingly.  (How far do we have to go to get there?)  These steps should be repeated periodically throughout the season to help stay on track.

Justin provided a handful of field tests to be used for athletes.  He also recommends picking just one for each discipline for both short-course and long-course athletes to be used across the board for all athletes.  I have been using the same tests for all my years of coaching. 

It is important that prior to each test, athletes are rested, well hydrated and nourished.  Tests should be repeated at the same location under similar circumstances when possible.


After a 10 – 15 minute warm up of easy swimming and drills, swim 10 x 100 as fast as you can maintain for all 10 with a 10 second rest after each 100.  Record your total time and subtract 90 seconds for the rest interval to determine the average for the 100s.  Cool down with easy swimming and drills for 5 minutes.

Another test I use for a long-course athlete is a straight 1,000 swim.


Choose a flat course with little traffic and stops for the test.  After a 15 mile warm up riding in the small chain ring at 90 – 95 RPMs, ride 25 miles as fast as you can maintain for all 25 miles. Record your total time.  Record your average heart rate as well.  Cool down for 5 miles with easy spinning in the small chain ring riding at 85 – 95 RPMs.

Another test I use for a short-course athlete is a 15 mile test.


Choose a track or flat course for the test.  After a 10 – 15 minute warm up with easy running and dynamic stretching, run 6 miles as fast as you can maintain for all 6 miles.  Record your total time and average heart rate.  Cool down with easy running and static stretching.

Another test I use for a short-course athlete is a 3 x 1 mile test.  The first two miles should be at High Zone 4/Low Zone 5 with the last mile as fast as they can maintain (Zone 5 or above).  Take approximately 2.5 minutes of recovery after each mile. 

These time trials should be repeated, however not too often to avoid “analysis paralysis” and/or burn-out.  For example, I give my Blue Iron Swim Team athletes a monthly time trial.  This might be too often for an individual athlete, however I do this because not all the swimmers show up on “Time Trial Day”.  For the athletes who do attend "TT Day", they typically notice a huge improvement over the course of the first several months, then they experience a plateau.  This is normal.

The time trial results are excellent indicators for race results.  Why?  These tests push the limits in training and show what can be tolerated in terms of pace and heart rate.  Then, coaches and athletes can use data from the tests and apply it to racing.

Now, get out there and do your favorite time trial to benchmark your fitness.  After 6 – 8 weeks of training, repeat the test to track your progress!  Test + Train = Results!

Happy Training and Racing!  


For a chance to win a Blue Iron Coaching Nalgene-style water bottle, become a follower of my blog and leave your guess in the comments section of what you think my average 100-yard pace of my Swim Time Trial on Wednesday, January 2nd.  One guess per follower.  Don’t repeat another person’s answer.  In the event a duplicate answer is given, I will take the one who answered first.  Do it now!  Contest ends at the end of the day! I will contact the winner to coordinate delivery of the bottle.  (Photo courtesy of Sarah Tynes.)