Miles vs. Minutes: Which Is A Better Training Method?

One school of thought is to train for your races by time. Photo: www.shutterstock.com


A closer look at two different ways of training for your race.

Is it better to train by minutes or by tracking miles? It’s a question many runners ponder, but like almost everything in running, there isn’t a definitive answer. For some runners, training by time provides a more flexible and adaptable plan. For others, training by mileage offers is a quantitative element necessary to quench their thirst for data.

In this article, we’ll look at some of the strengths and weaknesses of each method in the context of important training components and suggest which method might be best for you based on your experience level and training needs.

Run by time

Adhere to the appropriate training effort
Perhaps the greatest benefit to training by minutes rather than by miles is that it’s easier to adhere to the proper training effort of a given run. For example, when training by time, 60 minutes is 60 minutes, so running faster only makes it harder. On the other hand, when you train by distance, there is always the temptation to run faster, either to finish sooner or to pad your ego.

This is important because for many runners, one of the primary causes of injury is progressing at a rate too fast for the structural system to adapt. From a physiological perspective, your aerobic system improves at a faster rate than your tendons, ligaments and muscles. As such, you’re able to run faster without breathing harder, but your body isn’t yet ready to handle that increase in pace. Training by time, rather than miles, can often help you slow down by not having the internal motivation to speed up needlessly.

Further, running faster on easy days is not a sign that you’re getting fitter and it’s not inherently better than running slow. Not only does running faster on easy day negatively impact your ability to recover between hard workouts, but research shows there is a “grey zone” in training (usually between 15 to 60 seconds slower than marathon pace) that does not provide additional aerobic benefit.

Training by minutes is ideal for those runners that can’t seem to slow down on their easy days and who always want to push the pace. Since ego is removed from the equation, you’ll naturally begin to run by feel and the appropriate effort.

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You’re returning to training or you’re a beginner runner
Sometimes, knowing your exact pace can be demoralizing. For experienced runners returning from downtime or building back up after an injury, the ability to compare previous workouts to current fitness can be a tough pill to swallow. This feeling is often the reason runners avoid downtime after a race or why they push too fast coming back from an injury.

Likewise, many beginner runners are ashamed of their pace. They’re always comparing their speed to that of their peers or some imaginary conception of how fast they think “real runners” run. Not only is this counter-productive, but it can be demoralizing enough to cause beginners to quit.

Running easy days by time and implementing fartlek workouts rather than track intervals will help eliminate these two potential issues and help keep you motivated without pushing beyond your current fitness capabilities.

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