Time or Distance — Which One is a Better Training Method?
September 08, 2020
When I first started running, the distance you could cover was more important than the time it took to do it. Then, when race day came, it was all about how fast you could cover that distance. Did my training method hurt my time?
The idea was that the more distance we could get under our training belts the more endurance we would have, and the more we could endure during a race. We did speed workouts, too, but that was to help us tolerate pain for a certain distance. Although, we also ended building different leg muscles and anaerobic capacity in the process.
But running by time instead of distance might be just what was needed. Focusing too much on distance covered and pace-per-mile can take attention away from more important things, such as form or simply enjoying a run. At some point, we all can use the reduced stress distance training puts on our running. Sometimes, a break from this method of running is just what we need.
If you are a beginner, running for time not distance should be the only way to increase your mileage. It is a numbers game, and minutes allow you to get to higher numbers, which helps you to feel more confident about what you are doing. It also limits how much you can compare yourself to other runners who have been doing it for a while. I remember I couldn't even make it around the track once without stopping when I first started running. I guess if someone said go run for 2 minutes, that may have been an easier task to accomplish and less stressful than trying to complete a lap.
And if you're an experienced runner, why would you bother running by minutes when mileage count has worked in the past? Perhaps, it was bragging about the miles covered that motivated us. Of course, races are specific distances, but maybe those should be the only measured distances. Those are the days that matter to show how far we have come.
Adding runs for mileage into a training regimen can be especially beneficial for someone who is working towards a longer race, but think about some of the better training methods. For example, tempo runs are focused on building stamina and strength so runners can maintain a strong pace for a long period of time. The distance of this type of workout is not important. Instead, the length of the pace is important. Runners want to run for time to ensure they can maintain this pace.
Maybe you think that running a certain number of miles or a certain pace will show you that you are ready to go, will give you the confidence on race day. But if you find yourself mentally struggling and questioning why you are even doing this at all and if you can even complete that next mile just to round off a number, it might be a good idea to look into running time over distance.
This way you can get your head out of the negative space and just focus on getting through the minutes. You may be surprised how that feeling of failing dissipates.
Let’s say you would usually have a workout of 6 x 1 mile, and your goal marathon race pace would be 9 minutes per mile on average. If you run 6 x 9 minutes, you are still getting about the same amount in for the day, but maybe you end up running 6 x 1.2 miles because you are no longer obsessing over your watch. If it is particularly humid that day, you are running on tough terrain, or just have had a few really bad nights sleep, maybe you only make it 8 x 0.9 miles, but you still got the practice in for race day without overdoing it by forcing yourself to do extra just because some variables made it change.
When running by minutes, you know exactly how long it will take, going faster doesn’t help you in any way, which means you are less likely to go faster than your body is ready and recovered to go. You just go whatever pace feels right for that specific run. If it is a hard run, you run as fast as you can for 30 minutes or whatever it will be. If it is an easy run, you run for an hour at whatever speed feels like you are recovering as you should be.
You get the same work in, with a more relaxed and confident mindset. So, I'm ready to reform from my younger days of distance loading. How about you?