On Timed Runs


Timed runs are kind of awesome.  If you have not tried it, I would suggest doing so.  Maybe they aren’t for everyone, but you might just be surprised.  My first experience at a timed event I was totally sure I would hate
it, and ended up very surprised – loved it and excelled.  Since then, I have done a number of timed runs on differing surfaces, weather, and terrain – with varying degrees of success and suffering.  A 45 pound rucksack or 90 degrees in a mall parking lot were both pretty terrible…

What is a timed event?  Rather than running a predetermined distance to achieve the fastest possible time, you run for a predetermined amount of time to achieve the maximum distance possible.  Usually they are small loops or out-and-backs and sometimes even done on indoor tracks.  I have done timed loops in asphalt mall parking lot, dirt path around a city park, hilly trail, outdoor track, and indoor track.  I have done timed events ranging for 6 hours to 24 hours.  Here is my take on timed runs based on these experiences:

Reasons Timed Runs SUCK

  • Repetitive – no new scenery.
  • It gets boring.
  • If the course sucks, it sucks the entire time.  No reprieve from the suck.
  • Feelings of being a hamster on wheel or a carnival pony-ride pony are unpleasant.
  • If you are suffering, running faster does not help you get to the end, it just makes you suffer more.
  • Nobody can tell how fast you are.
  • When you are really tired or in pain, it is hard to keep moving rather than just waiting out the clock.

This biggest downside is the mental aspect of running the same (usually small) course over and over.  That’s really all the bad things I can think of, and they are mostly all kind of the same.  On to the upside of participating in a timed run.

Reason Timed Runs are AWESOME

  • You won’t ever get lost.
  • You are never very far away from your own gear and food.  (Most allow you to access your drop bags each loop)
  • You are almost always with other runners.
  •  There are usually people cheering you on the entire event.
  • If they allow pacing you can pick up pacers easily.
  • Simple and convenient for crew to support.
  • Nobody can tell how slow you are!
  • Everyone finishes at the same time, so you can socialize with other runners at the end and if you run with others, you (or they) don’t have to wait for others to finish.

But really the biggest benefit is having access to all  of your own stuff every pass around the course.  I recently did 24 hours on an indoor 300 meter track and was literally never farther than 1000 ft away from aid.  Logistically it is great.  You can really challenge yourself if that is your goal.  For me, it really feels that as you enter the zone that time really just starts to melt away – before you know it another hour or two is gone.  In my opinion it is also great for building your mental toughness, which to me is the key for success in ultras.

So, if you have been considering a timed race but just haven’t quite been ready to pull the trigger, I say DO IT!  It is a great way to change things up and really put yourself to the test and find out what you are made of!  And besides, if you feel like you want to quit, just finish the lap, hop in your car and head out… no need for the DNF ride of shame back to the finish line!

See you in the middle of the pack!  #midpackzach

www.midpackzach.com / Twitter @midpackzach / Instagram @midpackzach / Facebook: /midpackzach / Email: zach@midpackzach.com



About Author

Zach masquerades as a white collar corporate zombie Monday thru Friday in order to afford race entries, but is much happier writing columns for Ultrarunning Magazine or blogging at www.MidPackZach.com. Writing and playing Dungeons and Dragons are his hobbies, but running ultras and having adventures is his passion. Zach loves sarcasm, dislikes whining, and occasionally likes to write what lots of people are thinking but don’t dare say in public.


  1. BrieMiller on

    I did my first 50K last month and have a 6 hour in a couple of weeks. I’m really excited to see how different it is. I just checked out the trail today and it’s looking and feeling good! Thanks for sharing your pros and cons. I could use the mental exercise!

  2. Chris Butcher on

    I ran my first timed event, the Alaska Endurance Trail run a 6 and 12 hour event here in Fairbanks, Alaska. It was ran on a 6 mile course and a half mile loop for running out the clock. It was an amazing experience and very different compared to running a traditional ultra.