Time Vs. Distance – Should you Run in Minutes or Miles?

It’s a question most runners ponder, but just like anything else, there’s no one TRUE answer as it really depends on many factors such as your fitness level and training goals.

Here’s the truth.

Whether you are a beginner runner or have been around the block for a while, it is key to understand the differences between running for distance and running for time.

Both methods have a lot to offer, regardless of your current fitness level and training goals.

In today’s article, I’ll discuss the pros and cons of each method so you can make the most out of your training.

Sounds great?

Let’s get started

Running By Time

Let’s discuss some of the benefits of running by the time

Ideal For Beginner

If you took up running recently or coming back after a long layoff, training for time instead of distance should be your only way to increase your training load.

Training by duration works well for preventing injuries, especially for beginners, as going too fast too soon when taking up running for the first time is the main cause of overuse injury.

Stick To Training Effort

One of the greatest benefits of running by time instead of miles is that’s it’s easier to stick to an appropriate training effort.

For example, when running for 45 minutes, it’s 45 minutes, so running faster only makes it more challenging.

But when you run in miles, you’ll likely feel tempted to push the pace and run a little bit faster so you can finish sooner.

Easy To Schedule

Another reason to run in minutes is it’s easy to schedule the workout into your daily routine. You know precisely how long your workout will last—if anything, this makes planning your runs less complicated.

For example, if you’re on a busy schedule, knowing that you need to run for 30 minutes and then doing it will create a sense of accomplishment because you’ve crossed off an important item of your to-do list for the day.

The Downsides Of Running By Duration

Of course, this one has many disadvantages.

Let’s discuss the main one.

No Incentive

When you run for time, you might be discouraged from pushing yourself as hard as possible in order to improve performance.

There is little reason to push yourself to the limit, as you will be running for the same duration regardless of how fast or hard you push.

Just like anything else, you can only improve when you push your body out of its comfort zone.

woman starting a run

Running By Distance

Here’s what running in miles has to offer.

Ideal For Completive Runners

If you’re looking to push the pace and reach your full athletic potential, running by miles is the way to go.

Let me explain more.

Pace Properly

The art of pacing is one of the most important running skills, especially when you have a specific goal pace.

But proper pacing takes a lot of trial and error, and there are no shortcuts.

Here’s the good news. Running by distance helps your body get used to what is actually the pace feels like so you can perform your best on race day.

Race Properly

By running in miles, you can focus on training for a certain time for a certain distance, which, as you can already tell, it’s key for racing.

For example, if you’re aiming to run a 5K in 25 minutes (8:02 minute per mile), you’d do some of the following sessions:

  • 10 X 400 meters (one lap around a standard track) at your goal pace, with 90 to 120 seconds recovery between each.
  • 3 X One-Mile in six minutes or less, with roughly 90 to 120 seconds recovery between each.

Shoe Mileage

The common rule in the running world is to change running shoes every 400-500 miles.

When you run by miles, you can easily keep track of the mileage your shoes are racking up. This, in turn, makes it easier to tell when it’s time to replace your running shoes

Good Fitness Indicator

By far, this is the reason I often run by distance instead of time.

By measuring my runs in miles, I can easily tell if improving or not as it reveals a lot about my current fitness level.

For example, if you have a specific racing goal, it’s key to keep track of how many miles you’re logging each week. It also, and I hate to sound like a broken record, helps you better understand your pace per mile

The Downsides Of Running By Miles

Running by distance has a few disadvantages. Here’s the main one:

Too Competitive

Since you might push yourself when running in miles, you might be tempted to do more than your body can handle, especially when you’re trying to hit a specific pace per mile during your training instead of varying the intensity of your workouts.

You also have less wiggle room for adverse weather and challenging terrain. That’s why, on a very hot day, or a hilly route, you’re better off running for 30 to 45 minutes rather than hitting the pavement for a specific amount of miles.

Time Vs. Mile  – The Final Verdict

Should you be training for time or for distance?

There are pros and cons to each method, so the one that you pick usually comes to down to your needs and preferences.

There are days when you want to run for miles, and other days when going by time may be best.

Running for time improves your endurance, enhances your technique, and allows for recovery. Running for distance increases your speed, strength, motivation, and feeling of self-accomplishment.

That’s why a well-rounded running program involves performing runs at different speeds and paces. You have to hit all of your energy systems.

What I’d recommend is to use both methods for different purposes.

Here’s how to implement it

  • Taking up running for the first time? Run by time for the first few months.
  • Returning to running after a long layoff? Run by time for the first few weeks.
  • Easy or recovery running day? Time is the way to go.\ Farlek or tempo workout? Run by time as it is easier to practice pacing based on time.
  • Doing intervals? Go by distance, preferably on a standard track.
  • Running on trails and hills? Run by time as these surfaces require training by feel.
  • Training for a specific distance, like a 5K? Of course, run by distance and remember to time your runs.
  • Long runs? Base long runs on time when increasing training load. Then switch to distance once you have established a base.

Conclusion

There you have it.

If you’re wondering whether you should track your runs in miles or minutes, today’s post should be enough to help you make the right decision. The rest is really up to you.

Please feel free to leave your comments and questions in the section below.

In the meantime, thank you for dropping by.

Keep training strong.

David D.