Should You Run for Distance or Time?

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Whether you're a seasoned runner or just getting into the sport, you've probably wondered whether you should track your training by miles or minutes. Is one way better than the other? Should beginners and seasoned runners use different methods? Before you start your GPS watch, dive into our discussion on the pros and cons of each approach.

Running for Distance

Pros: When you track your training by miles or kilometers, you know you'll be ready to run the race distance. For example, if you're training for a marathon and complete a 22-mile long run, you may have more race day confidence than if you simply ran for 3 hours. 

Running for distance is also the traditional way of measuring many speed workouts (mile repeats, 400m repeats, etc.). If you're following a training plan, it may be easier to complete workouts and runs if you track the miles. 

Cons: One of the downsides of running by distance is that it may cause you to put pressure on yourself, with less wiggle room for tough terrain or sub-optimal weather. On a very hot day (or hilly route), it might be better to plan for a 30-minute run instead of heading out for a specific amount of miles.

Running for Time

Pros: On the other hand, when you run by time, you know exactly how long the run will be. You can plan the rest of your day confidently knowing you'll be finished in X minutes. 

When running by time, there's also no real incentive to go faster—key for runners who tend to run easy miles too hard! If the schedule says 45 minutes of easy running, that's all you have to do.

Cons: If you run only by time, it's possible you won't be prepared for a race distance like the marathon, especially if you are a slower runner. 

Running by time could also cause things to get a bit confusing when it comes to recovery. For example, if a training plan calls for some long runs at easy pace and some long runs with workouts in the middle, things could get complicated. An easy 12-mile run could take you 2 hours to complete. But on another day, if you run 2 hours with a chunk of that at goal race pace, you'll run a lot farther than 12 miles. On paper, both of the runs look the same (2 hours), but you'll need a lot more recovery from the latter. 

Finding a Middle Ground 

Like many things in running, there's no definitive answer on which approach is best for everyone. Sometimes beginners prefer focusing on running by time while elite marathoners are well suited to running by distance. For most runners, a combination of the two might work best. As you map out your training schedule, plan to run by time on easy days (e.g. 30 to 60 minutes instead of X number of miles). But on quality days, such as long runs or speed workouts, you can still measure your effort in distance.

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About the Author

Megan Harrington

Megan is a writer and RRCA certified running coach who lives and trains in rural upstate New York. She ran track and cross-country competitively in high school and college and now focuses on the half-marathon and marathon distance. When she's not running, Megan enjoys coaching fellow runners (www.runnerskitchen.com), snow-shoeing, hiking and digging around in her garden.
Megan is a writer and RRCA certified running coach who lives and trains in rural upstate New York. She ran track and cross-country competitively in high school and college and now focuses on the half-marathon and marathon distance. When she's not running, Megan enjoys coaching fellow runners (www.runnerskitchen.com), snow-shoeing, hiking and digging around in her garden.

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