Most runners like to run by mileage so they can track the distance they run each day, week, month, etc. Also, many training plans are written in miles/km to help runners reach their race goals. But what about running by time? This is also a great training method in some scenarios. So which is better: training by time or distance? Both are effective, and sometimes one may be better than the other for you. Let’s dive in to discuss so you can decide which training method to follow.
Running by time or distance
First, let’s talk about these two training methods: training by time or distance. Running by time is when you get a prescribed amount of time to run for. This may or may not also have set paces or effort. For example, a plan may read that you should run for 30 minutes easy. For a harder workout, the plan may say to run a 10 minute warm up, following by 20 minutes at half-marathon pace, with a 10 minute cool down. It does not tell you how far to go on this run, just how long to run for.
Alternatively, if you are following a plan that has you running by distance, it will say how many miles or kilometers to run. Again, there may be a pace or effort prescribed. If you typically do your easy run at a 10 minute/mile pace, then instead of saying to do 30 minutes of easy running this kind of plan would say to run 3 miles easy.
Both can get you to the same goal in different ways.
What are the benefits of training by distance?
If you are training for a race such as a 5k, 10k, half-marathon, or marathon, training by distance can help to ensure that you run the proper mileage to reach your goal. The longer the distance, the more important this becomes.
It can also help you to mentally feel prepared for a race because you will know that you can run a certain distance. Many runners like to get in a 20 mile long run before a marathon, because then they know they will have just 6.2 miles to go in the actual race.
There are some other benefits to training by distance, like learning to pace certain workouts effectively and preventing injuries because you can slowly progress your mileage. There are ways to do these things while training by time, but many runners find it easier when tracking their mileage.
You may also like: Running Tips for Pacing Yourself During Easy Runs
What are the drawbacks to training by distance?
The biggest drawback to training by distance is that runners can get too caught up in the numbers. They may also push themselves too hard in order to reach a certain distance. Have you ever been finishing an easy run and saw that your watch read 4.9 miles so you made sure to keep running to get to 5 miles? While in some cases it’s good to follow the plan, that .1 really won’t make a big difference in the grand scheme of things, especially if your body is telling you that it’s had enough that day.
What are the benefits of training by time?
Training by time can especially be helpful for newer runners who are not sure exactly what their pace should be. It can often allow runners to not worry about their distance or pace and just run whatever effort they are intending to do that day.
It is also helpful when scheduling your runs, because you know exactly how much time you will need. Instead of rushing through the end of a 3 mile run because it’s taking longer than planned, you know that you will be running for exactly 30 minutes.
Training by time is also helpful for workouts if you are not using a track. Rather than having to run 400 meters, you might have to run for 2 minutes, which can be easier to track on the roads using a watch.
For runners who often run their easy runs too fast, running by time may help them to focus on effort because they are not aiming to run a certain distance.
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What are the drawbacks to training by time?
If done properly (and by knowing your goal distance and pace) there are really no drawbacks to running by time. You can get in the same workouts as training by distance. Some runners may not push themselves as hard, but this is not usually the case. You just want to make sure that you still get in enough mileage to reach your goal race, which takes some planning either by the runner or a coach. (If you are just following a generic training plan, that plan does not know how fast you will be running and therefore you may end up not covering enough distance to effectively train for a race).
How to decide which training method to use
As you can see, there are benefits to training by time or distance. Training by time is great for newer runners or those who tend to be too competitive or too caught up in the numbers.
I like to start out newer runners, those coming back from an injury, or those not training for a race, based on time. While training for a specific race I use a mixture of time-based and distance based training. If I want a runner to do an easy run and truly just focus on their effort without worrying about pace, I may prescribe that run based on time. For longer tempo runs, I may use distance to make sure they are getting in the mileage they need to reach their goal.
Final thoughts on training methods
As with most things, there is no one right way to train. You need to find what works best for you, and be willing to try something new. Most run coaches can guide you through this process, or will have recommendations based on your training level, experience, and goals.
You may also like:
Couch to 5k Training: How to Successfully Train for Your First Race How To Effectively Use Interval Runs In Your Training
How to Determine an Appropriate Race Goal Before Beginning Your Training Cycle
Do you prefer to train by time or distance?
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