words x sean hamilton
photos x erin andrews

Why time trial? 

It’s a question I have been asking myself a lot lately. Mere months ago we had a seemingly endless rolodex of races in places near and far, big and small, exotic and local. An embarrassment of racing riches. Then, for reasons that need no explaining, it all went away. Things went virtual, and that had its merits. Although not the same, genuine effort was put into the sphere of virtual racing and it got pretty good depending on who you’d ask​.​ ​

So why time trial? Why set a goal for ourselves or with our coaches and race the clock? Maybe with nobody even around. On one of those mundane, nondescript, cold weekday mornings before five scheduled zoom calls or at the end of a week from hell when the kids have finally gone down and the indulgent comforts of food and drink call out soothingly, promising the known warmth of complacency. Why not just wait for another shot to race again, however long that may be? 

Could just you and some numbers in your mind ever compare to the humming hive of starting corrals? Could it compete with the disorienting gallop of feet thundering all around, jockeying for position? What could replace the wry smile flashed to the little girl holding the 100th “worst parade ever!” sign you’d see that morning? Civilians buzzing off to work or coffee shops certainly wouldn’t be shouting words of encouragement as you try and keep stride while avoiding a collision on uneven sidewalks. To be frank, nothing will compare to those feelings we are gifted from real honest to goodness races. That’s where a different kind of magic was found, wasn’t it? Hopping on a plane. Planning a road trip to the race. Seeing some old friends. Shaking out with a new crew. Showing off your prowess on your own streets, playing host, repping your city. The swell of tension in the days leading up to that day long ago marked on your calendar. That sacred spirit of nervous energy on race morning. That was the good stuff, and that was what we had, but now, for those of us who feel that desire to toe the line rising up inside after sitting dormant these monotonous months, we are forced to ask, what do we do with ourselves? 

Again, why time trial? Why go race the clock when you won’t hear that familiar patter of feet steadily encroaching on you or feel your heart hammer as you pull another runner closer, their form faltering while your cadence steadily increases. Why perform these self-imposed audits of will with no shiny medal or after party or cheesy signs to commemorate the achievement? What will fuel us to keep going when it gets easier and easier to say “another time?” Why will we push ourselves to, well, push ourselves?

Because we are built to suffer. To strain. Pull ourselves up. Push ourselves forward. Build to break. Tear it down. Start again. The axis is ever shifting. The apex of discomfort promises imaginary treasure troves of intangible bounty, and in the afterglow of these self-imposed traumas, depleted of all resources we are somehow fuller. Granted clarity and a haze of relief, draped in a Dopamine blanket while muscles fill with lactate.  What was unbearable mere moments ago – now the times of our lives. 

To play the observer during those cavernous gasps for air, doubled over, shaking hands pressed into quads and knees – you can watch as pain washes away like sand, coming back with the tide of oxygen as glory. Gut splitting agony becomes rose tinted memories. Cramped arms, legs and shoulders once screaming for air – now sing a chorus of “let’s do that again”. 

We have gifted ourselves the chance to gain something that can’t be hung around our necks and will only be within our grasp for this fleeting moment. We can feel alive in a way that seemingly only extreme exertion and discomfort can bring. We have stood tall, taken the task, ran faster than we dreamt we could, maybe farther too; we have gone into the dark depths of suffering where only images of failure and quitting and questions of “why the hell am I doing this” exist, and we have come out on the other side, maybe a bit fractured, but certainly not broken. If anything more whole.

So why time trial? Why push personal boundaries? Why commit to a task with such little recognition? Why grind out the moments of agony and doubt for something void of all the pageantry we’ve grown accustomed to. Because, we are gluttons for punishment, built to suffer.