Time or Miles?

Whenever I sit down to write up a new training program for myself or one of my friends, the first major decision I have to make on  training strategy is time or miles. This means do you run for a specific time each session or a specific number of miles. As with most running questions, the answer is, it depends. It depends on your goals, experience, and personality.  

Time can be less stressful than miles. If you run for a predetermined amount of time, route selection is less complicated. Timed running is also beneficial when you are a beginning runner or coming back from an injury. Beginners often find it disheartening when their pace is not what they think it should be, or they start comparing themselves to other runners they know. When you go out for a specific time, pace isn’t the primary focus. You run at a comfortable pace.

When I am coming back from an injury, I run for time. I begin with a run walk pattern determined by how long I have had to take off or running. If it’s only been a couple of weeks, I start with a ten-minute run and two-minute walk for thirty minutes. If it’s been four weeks, I start with an eight-minute run and two-minute walk for thirty minutes. If it’s been more than four weeks, I start with five-minute run and two-minute walk for twenty minutes. I slowly increase my run time and decrease the walk time until I am running the entire thirty minutes. At that point, I increase my time.

When running trails, running for time can make things considerably easier. You don’t have to figure out how many miles the trail is, where your turn around point is, or how long it is going to take you to finish that many miles. Running for a specific amount of time is also useful if you have the habit of running easy runs too hard just to finish earlier.

Running for miles makes sense because a race is a specific number of miles, and you need to be able to do that amount to be ready for the race. Speed training is easier when training on miles because it is generally set up in intervals over a specific distance, such as 800 meters. Some people like numbers, miles are more appealing to this group of individuals. Training with miles does not account for bad days, however. If you are having a bad day and are one minute per mile slower, you are going to be out there for a longer time, which may be harmful to your running because you are likely overtraining.  If you run for time, so what if you are slow one day, you are still only running for sixty minutes or ninety minutes.

Running for time is appealing to me because of its simplicity. Running for miles is also appealing because of its certainty. I run for miles. I have considered making the switch to time just for a little while, to try it out, if you will, but it hasn’t happened yet. It makes me nervous that I won’t be ready or as prepared for a run. This nervousness is probably irrational because I know how long it takes to run a certain distance and my brain would just calculate the time, and I would end up with the same or near the same miles.

Perhaps the solution is to run for miles for specific types of runs and run for a predetermined amount of time for others. Easy runs could be run for a specific amount of time. This would remove the desire to run faster to be finished sooner. You could just run at the pace your body needs to recover. Easy run means conversational pace. No huffing and puffing. For your speed work and long run, you could run for miles. Speed work is generally set up based upon distance. Running for miles for long runs would ensure that you are ready for the distance of your goal race. It would also satisfy the numbers junkie.

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2 thoughts on “Time or Miles?

  1. josephwknowles May 7, 2014 at 7:29 pm Reply

    I like the idea of measuring easy runs in terms of time and harder workouts in terms of mileage. I’m not sure the mileage-log-OCD part of me can let go of the numbers enough that I’ll actually try it . . . but it still seems like a sound idea that could prove beneficial for overall training.

    • Nicole Lowe May 7, 2014 at 8:12 pm Reply

      I completely understand the OCD. I’ve written training programs based on time and end up reverting back to miles, but maybe with the mix I could ease up… Maybe.

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