You can’t DNF if there isn’t a finish line: timed races

Ajani Simmons and Jameelah Abdul-Rahim Mujaahid at the Athletic Equation 24-Hour run.

Trail racing doesn’t always mean running an ultramarathon.

In addition to various shorter races, DC-area trail runners can look to timed races to run as little — or as much — as they want.

Timed races are a great alternative to traditional set-distance events because the format means your finish line is where ever you want it. Runners have a set amount of time to complete as many — generally short — loops as possible;  who ever runs the farthest is the winner, but everyone is a finisher.

“There’s no such thing as a DNF,” says Alexandria resident Ajani Simmons. “You can go out and do one loop and still get counted for that.”

Simmons, 41, got his start with ultramarathons at timed races, completing this first official ultra-distance finish at Athletic Equation’s 12-Hour event in 2014.

“With a timed race it’s up you, so you can set your [goals],” he says. “Ultimately I feel like you’re competing with yourself so it’s like a fun thing to do to see how many miles I can get in this allotted time.”

Runners new to longer distances can sign up for 6-, 8-, 12- or 24-hour events (among others) and not have the additional pressure of time cutoffs.

John Pan, who lives in Petworth, decided to jump into the 2016 Crooked Road 24-Hour near Rocky Mount, Virginia. Pan’s wife, Leah, an experienced ultrarunner (and — full disclose: my training partner), was signed up already and Pan thought it would be fun to see how far he could go.

“Most people,” Pan says, “Just don’t want that DNF, and these allow you to not ever get a DNF. You can set your own finish line, but more importantly you can change your finish line on the fly.”

Pan, 43, decided he’d try to walk/jog the course’s 1.178-mile loop once or twice an hour, until he decided he was done. He could get in some loops and cheer on his wife and their other friends at the same time.

13 hours later Pan had finished his first 50K.

“It was great,” Pan says. “I wanted to see what it was all about because I’ve supported [her] for so many years.”

Timed-Race Tips

Simmons does numerous timed races each year, and has these tips for those new to the format:

  1. Have multiple goals. Simmons says his No. 1 goal with any race (and especially at trail races) is not to get hurt. Then his subsequent goals might tie to total mileage.
  2. Embrace the loops: Shorter loops mean you’ll have frequent access to your drop bag and supplies, but also means it’s easier for friends and family to come spectate and see you multiple times. “That can be a huge boost,” he says, “You can get support whether it’s mental support of physical support that you probably wouldn’t get if you were doing a race that didn’t have these smaller loops.”
  3. Be efficient at aid stations. Because the atmosphere at timed races is sometimes more casual and less competitive than at traditional races, it can be easy to get lulled into the social scene at the aid station, which a lot of times doubles as the end of the loop. If you’re continuing on, make your pit stops quick. “That goes for any race,” Simmons say, “But at timed races you can get a little too lax like you have a whole bunch of time, but the time goes by much faster than you think.”
  4. Freshen up on your math. Trying to do trail math late in any race is always comically difficult. If you go in with a goal, make sure to write down the total loop mileage before the race starts. “Your math may get a little shaky,” he jokes.
  5. Have an over all game plan. “Have it mapped out in your head,” he says, “How many miles do I want to run per hour? Then calculate your breaks.”

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