Last week, when I talked about the importance of runners slowing down most of their runs, I also touched on running based upon distance vs running based upon time.
When I started running in 2010 I used a typical training plan where all of my runs were based upon both a distance and a pace (I certainly wasn’t following the 80/20 rule there). It wasn’t until this year that I started to realize why some training plans were written with a time to run instead of a distance.
With that, let’s break down each option.
Running by Distance
- Most beneficial for long runs, especially when building to a half or full marathon distance. However, this can result in running too long for some marathon long runs. There are studies that show the typical 20 miler may not need to be 20 miles for everyone.
- Weekly distance for a training program would be more consistent than running based upon time.
- Runners can become too fixated on running a certain distance in a certain time and start to compete instead of recognizing that 1 – each run serves a different purpose and 2 – every day is different.
Running by Time
- Can help to alleviate some of the stress of burn-out after long training cycles.
- Focuses more on running and less about needing to hit a certain distance. I personally find this helps to alleviate the pace monster.
- Makes it easier to fit in a shorter run when you’re short on time. For me, a 5k will range from 32-36 minutes, but if I run for 30 minutes I can do a pretty reliable out and back in the allotted time.
- Your legs don’t know what a mile is, but they do know what it feels like to run for 10 minutes.
- Weekly distance can be inconsistent of all runs are based on time.
What’s the conclusion here?
Honestly? I’m not sure if there really is one. I think both running based on distance and running based on time can be beneficial, depending on what your goals are.
For a new runner, or a runner returning after injury, I prefer to provide training plans based upon time with run/walk intervals.
For a runner who has just completed a hard training program, or is feeling burned out, I also prefer a stint focused on time instead of distance.
A runner who has a base and an explicit race goal, then running based upon distance, with some pace goals (always following the 80/20 guideline) would be the best approach. However, it may also be beneficial to include one or two time-based recovery runs after a hard workout.
Like many things in life, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all when it comes to the best training approach. Everyone will respond differently, and some people may see a greater benefit to running by time vs. distance (and vice versa!).
Working with a run coach can help you to determine the best approach for you, and if you haven’t even used time-based runs in your training program, I recommend adding some in to try it out.
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How do you approach your training? Distance? Time? A combination of the two?
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