With conventional racing on hold for the time being, runners have taken to setting up time trials with the help of teammates, family and friends. These time trials were considered at first to be a place holder for real racing, but in actuality, they have produced some very serious and shockingly race-like results. Over the weekend, Mohammed Ahmed shattered his personal best and national 5,000m record, Regan Yee ran a huge 5,000m personal best and Olympic standard just a few weeks ago and way back in April Ben Preisner ran a solo 2:15 marathon debut.
With these out-of-the-box performances becoming increasingly common, is the time trial actually a disadvantage, or has the low-pressure atmosphere brought out the best in people?
I find all these Time Trials very interesting. Some athletes seem to thrive when there is less pressure. Other athletes need a big stage to dig deep.
I’ve never been much of a “time-trialer” but without races I’ve gotten psyched for TTs more than I ever thought I would.
— Reid Coolsaet (@ReidCoolsaet) July 8, 2020
John Gay is one of the runners who has continued to tick off impressive times through this physically-distanced period. Over the weekend Gay knocked 22 seconds off of his pervious 5,000m personal best to run a 13:35. Gay says training has gone extremely well this spring and summer and that this result wasn’t entirely unexpected. “I’m really happy with a breakthrough like that. My teammates and I have obviously been charting the right path.”
Gay competed at the 2019 World Championships in the 3,000m steeplechase. When asked if he’s moving up to the 5,000m permanently, he says not yet. “Right now, due to logistics, it’s hard to run a steeplechase. With track closures and restrictions on training, coordinating a steeple has a lot of moving parts, so it’s too much to ask right now. On top of that, it’s been really nice to take this opportunity to not have to run the steeple. You’re kind of beholden to your main event during a normal season. I’ve run so many steeplechases over the past couple of years, so we decided it was a nice window to work on other things.” Gay has instead worked on his weaknesses: the 1,500m and mile events. “Speed isn’t my strong suit,” he says.
When asked if the low-pressure environment of a time trial has been beneficial, Gay says it has in some ways. “It has allowed me to enjoy racing again. When you race eight to 10 steeples a year, you become hyperaware of everything. On the weekend I was running based on feel – I wasn’t worried about time.”
Gay says he also feels that the race environment might matter less than he initially thought. “No matter the environment you’re running in, you’re still doing the same thing and feel quite similar during, proving that you’re capable of being at your best when nothing is really on the line. It helps you believe that you’re capable with or without a crowd. That being said, I’m really looking forward to racing again.” Gay’s next big goal is to break four minutes in the mile.
If you’ve got a time trial lined up for the next couple weeks, let the Canadians who’ve clocked some stellar times inspire you, and don’t be afraid to swing for the fences. You might surprise yourself.