The Great Debate: Should You Run for Time or Distance?

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If Jack goes for a 3.5-mile run, and Jill goes for a 30-minute run, who's getting in better shape? Who's making quicker progress towards their first half marathon?

You can put your calculator away; this is not one of those dreaded standardized test questions. The time-versus-distance question is, however, being hotly debated within the running world, especially since the advent of easy-to-use mileage-tracking tools.

Should you run for time or distance? As with most debates, no one has the definitive answer. One response that's perhaps the most accurate is that it depends on your situation.

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An "Abomination" for a Runner's Psyche

For novice runners, measuring runs by minutes is the better method, according to Mike Hamberger, a Washington-D.C.-based running coach and owner of

"I'm very adamant about my runners training for time instead of distance," says Hamberger, whose resume includes a master's degree in kinesiology, a USA Track & Field Level 2 coaching certification and four Boston Marathon finishes.

"I think GPS watches are an abomination for the psyche of a runner," he says. "I try to get all my runners away from it. When someone tells me they ran 4.175 miles, I know I have an uphill battle working with them."

Hamberger says when his runners tell him the batteries in their GPS devices have died, he's actually happy. He then pleads with them to not replace the batteries, though his advice rarely prevails.

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