The Great Running Debate: Minutes vs. Miles – What’s Best for You?

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Cross Training For Runners
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David Dack

Whether you’re a seasoned marathoner or just starting your running journey, one question often lingers: should you run for minutes or miles?

Well, my running friend, the answer isn’t a one-size-fits-all. It depends on various factors, including your fitness level and training objectives.

The truth is, both running for distance and running for time have their merits, and they can be valuable tools in your training toolbox.

In today’s article, we’ll explore the pros and cons of each approach, helping you decide which one aligns best with your goals. So, whether you’re chasing personal records or simply looking to enjoy your runs to the fullest, read on to make an informed choice.

Running By Time

Let’s discuss some of the benefits of running in minutes.

Ideal For Beginner

If you’ve recently taken up running or are returning after a long break, focusing on training by time instead of distance should be your primary approach to increasing your training load.

Training by duration is particularly effective for injury prevention, especially for beginners, as attempting to run too fast or cover too much distance when starting out is a common cause of overuse injuries.

Stick To Training Effort

One of the significant advantages of running based on time rather than miles is that it’s simpler to maintain an appropriate training effort.

For instance, if you plan to run for 45 minutes, it’s a fixed duration, so running faster would naturally make it more challenging. On the other hand, if you’re tracking your run by miles, you might find yourself tempted to increase your pace to finish the distance more quickly.

Easy To Schedule

Another advantage of running based on time is the ease of incorporating your workout into your daily routine. You have a clear understanding of the workout’s duration, simplifying the process of planning your runs.

For instance, if you have a hectic schedule, knowing that your run will take 30 minutes and then actually completing it can provide a sense of achievement. By doing so, you’re able to check off a significant task from your daily to-do list.

The Downsides Of Running By Duration

Of course, running by time has its share of disadvantages, and let’s delve into the primary one:

Lack of Incentive

When you run based on time, you might find yourself lacking the motivation to push your limits and improve your performance. There’s minimal incentive to push yourself to the maximum, as your run will last the same duration regardless of your speed or effort. Just like with anything else, improvement often comes when you push your body beyond its comfort zone.

Running By Distance

Now, let’s explore the benefits of running by time:

Ideal for Competitive Runners

If you’re aiming to improve your speed and reach your peak athletic performance, running by miles is the preferred method.

Don’t take my word for it.

A study conducted by Saunders et al. (2007) and published in the “European Journal of Applied Physiology” demonstrated that distance-based training, such as interval workouts based on specific distances, can lead to substantial improvements in running speed. This evidence supports the notion that training for distance can be effective in enhancing speed.

What’s more?

A study published in the “Journal of Applied Physiology” by Smith et al. (2010) found that time-based training, particularly focusing on steady-state runs, can lead to significant improvements in endurance capacity. This research suggests that running for a set duration at a consistent pace can indeed enhance endurance

Proper Pacing

Mastering the art of pacing is crucial for runners, especially when you have a specific target pace in mind. Achieving proper pacing often involves a lot of trial and error, and there are no shortcuts. The good news is that running by distance allows your body to acclimate to the actual pace required, helping you perform at your best on race day.

Race Properly

Running by distance allows you to specifically target your training for particular race distances and times, a critical aspect of racing success.

For instance, if your goal is to complete a 5K race in 25 minutes (equivalent to an 8:02-minute-per-mile pace), you can structure your training sessions accordingly:

Ten repetitions of 400 meters (equivalent to one lap around a standard track) at your target pace, with 90 to 120 seconds of recovery between each repetition.

Three repetitions of one mile in six minutes or less, with approximately 90 to 120 seconds of recovery between each repetition.

Shoe Mileage Tracking

In the running community, it’s widely recommended to replace your running shoes every 400-500 miles to maintain optimal support and cushioning.

Running by miles provides a convenient way to keep track of your shoe mileage, helping you determine precisely when it’s time to invest in a new pair of running shoes.

Here’s how to measure your running distance.

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.

Additional resource – How To Run An 8-Minute Mile?

The Downsides Of Running By Miles

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

Too Competitive

Running by distance does come with its share of disadvantages, with one prominent drawback being its potential to foster excessive competitiveness.

When you track your runs by miles, you may find yourself pushing your body beyond its limits, especially when striving to maintain a precise pace per mile throughout your training instead of adjusting your workout intensity as needed.

Additionally, running by distance offers less flexibility when dealing with adverse weather conditions or challenging terrains.

For example, on an exceptionally hot day or a hilly route, it may be wiser to focus on running for a duration of 30 to 45 minutes rather than fixating on covering a predetermined mileage. This approach allows for better adaptability to varying circumstances and reduces the risk of overexertion.

Minutes Vs. Miles  – The Final Verdict

When it comes to the age-old debate of training for time versus distance in running, there are merits and drawbacks to each approach. The choice ultimately depends on your individual needs and preferences.

Training for time can enhance endurance, improve running technique, and facilitate recovery. On the other hand, training for distance can boost speed, strength, motivation, and a sense of accomplishment.

A well-rounded running program often incorporates both methods to target different energy systems and goals.

Here’s a practical way to combine them effectively:

  • If you’re new to running or returning after a layoff, start by running for time for the initial months or weeks to build a foundation.
  • Reserve time-based running for easy or recovery days, as it allows you to focus on maintaining a comfortable pace.
  • Utilize time-based runs for fartlek or tempo workouts, as it’s easier to practice pacing based on time intervals.
  • When doing interval training, opt for distance-based runs, preferably on a standard track, to track specific distances and repetitions accurately.
  • For trail or hill running, stick to time-based training, as these surfaces often require a more intuitive approach based on feel.
  • When training for a specific race distance, such as a 5K, prioritize distance-based runs, but don’t forget to time your sessions for pacing practice.
  • During long runs, particularly when increasing training load, start with time-based runs, then transition to distance-based runs once you’ve established a solid foundation.

By blending both time and distance methods strategically into your training regimen, you can effectively address a wide range of running goals and optimize your overall performance.

Time vs Distance  – The 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.

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