Once or twice a season we’ll have our distance runners run a time trial on a well known trail in town. Joan hardly ever repeats the same workout, but there are a handful of important ones that we keep track of over time. We can go back and see over time how kids improve on specific workouts throughout their high school careers. This is really important to kids – they can see just how much they’re improving over time – a very motivating thing to do.
Of course for most races and workouts you start everyone at the same time and the finish times end up being naturally staggered. There are plenty of times where runners very quickly get segmented (through ability, current fitness level, pecking order, etc.) – sometimes lots of runners spend the entire workout running alone.
Having done the Medoc Trail Race which staggers start times based on age and gender, I thought a similar approach would be good for the XC team. Instead of using age and gender to stagger the start times, we used a recent mile time trial on the track to determine how to time advantage each runner received.
I ended up creating a spreadsheet to translate the mile time into the predicted time for our 2.4 mile time trial loop. I then figured out the how much of a head start each runner should receive compared to the fastest runner on the team. I printed out the spreadsheet with runner and time advantage. The slowest runner on the team ended up with a 7 minute head start on the fastest runner.
We had never tried anything like this and I was really hoping I did the math right and made good estimations about fitness levels. It would be pretty embarrassing for me to have the fastest runners finish minutes ahead or minutes behind the eventual winner!
What ended up happening was pretty cool. The slowest girls on the team were still leading the race with about a quarter mile to go! The slowest girl ended up in 7th place in the “race.” What really surprised me though was how much faster almost everyone ran! Our top boys beat the all time record for this loop by about 20 seconds – a huge improvement. Up and down the line people had significant course PRs!
It’s easy to see how there would be this kind of improvement. Imagine you’re the fastest guy on a team. In every normal workout you pretty much run alone – nobody passes you and you don’t pass anyone the entire time. Now imagine the “chase race” – the pressure is on the entire time to pass almost 80 people! It’s similar for the slowest runner – every step you feel like you’re getting ready to get passed by 80 kids, but you also feel like there’s a definite chance you can win the time trial!
Here’s some videos of the start and finish of the chase race as well as the top 11 finishers.