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.


The Marathon. It represents so much more than 26.2 miles. It’s epic battle for freedom from oppression and slavery. The overthrowing of a delusional ego manic set on world domination. It’s the strength of mind over body.  It’s an illustration of the endurance and strength found within the human spirit. It’s the compassion of the human heart. It’s the will to live life rather than watch it pass you by.

The name Marathon as most of us knows came from Greece and the city Marathon and the great runner Pheidippides. He ran 155 miles, not just 26.2. There is a race that commemorates his actual run, the Spartathon, which goes from Athens to Sparta is approximately 153 miles. Runners have thirty-six hours to finish. The Finish is at the statue of Leonidas. Not many runners make it to the end. In fact, more than fifty percent don’t finish the race.  However, that never stops the race from filling up every year. Why? Because of what the Marathon represents.

The Spartathon may be way out of most runner’s league, but running a marathon is an achievable goal for any healthy adult, who has the desire to complete the distance. Some 36,000 runners will be toeing the starting line on Monday for the Boston Marathon. Many more will be standing tall at the start of their local marathon this Saturday. The ING New York Marathon is the largest, hosting 47,000 runners. In 2012, 471,595 people ran a marathon in the United States alone. There are 850 marathons throughout the US, which you can choose from. The average finish time for females is 4 hours and 42 minutes. For males, it is 4 hours and 17 minutes.

It is a sixteen-week commitment to train for a marathon, even if you have never run before. Checkout my training programs by clicking on that page at the top of my blog. Even people who are not in the greatest condition can start training and finish the race. Most training programs are going to include one day of speed work, one day for a long run, and a few easy runs. Your longest run is 20 miles, unless you are using the Hansen method then it is 16 miles.

If none of your friends or family will buck up and run with you, join one of the many charity groups who run marathons. Team in Training does an excellent job assisting first time marathon runners in getting ready for their race. They choose incredible destination races, help you raise the money for your donation and most of your costs for the race. MarathonRookie has a whole list of charity organizations http://www.marathonrookie.com/marathon-for-charity.html

The marathon is a wonderful distance. It is far enough to be a challenge, but short enough to be within the reach of anyone who wants to try. The last 10k is where the real work begins in a marathon. Your body is exhausted and wants to quit. Your shoulders begin to hunch and your feet just skim the ground. It’s at that point that you have to draw upon your true strength and forge ahead.

I ran Salt Lake City Marathon as my first marathon in 2009. I finished the race in just under four hours, which was my goal. It was on a beautiful April morning. I rode the train to the starting line of the Salt Lake City Marathon. The train was full of contemplative bouncing runners packed shoulder to shoulder. I listened to everyone talking about other marathons they had done. I counted my GU for the fifth or sixth time. I wiped my sweaty hands on my shorts. I took some deep breaths. Not finishing never occurred to me, I knew I could do this.

I didn’t have any problems during my twenty-mile run. Sure, I was sore the next day, and I expected to be sore after the marathon, but as far as I could tell, it was a successful training season. We all piled out of the train and lined up at the port-a-potty.

The gun went off, and so did I, as if I was running a 10k. I had never been a part of a race with so many participants. It didn’t matter where we came from or who we were in the real world, only the next 26.2 miles mattered, and we were going to get there together. The course starts in Research Park by the University of Utah and winds its way down to Sugarhouse Park by mile five. The marathon and half-marathon runners split at that point and didn’t join back up until about 21 miles into the marathon.

At mile twenty, I hit the infamous wall. I slowed, and my form was falling to pieces. I continued to shuffle along the route. I kept moving forward.  The last couple of miles were a hill. Nothing serious, but after 24 miles, any hill is serious. I struggled across the finish line. A volunteer hung a metal around my neck, commemorating my achievement, and I collapsed into a chair. I sat there for a few minutes and then a few more minutes.

I’ve run many other marathons (I run them for training runs now!), but Salt Lake City will have a special place in my memories, always.