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

Run by distance

Learning the art of pacing
Pacing is a critical skill for a runner to learn. Running just a few seconds too fast or too slow at any point during a race could change your primary energy system and spell disaster for a personal record attempt. Unfortunately, learning to pace is also hard. It takes lots of practice and there are no shortcuts.

Training by miles gives you visual and quantitative feedback that makes it easier to hone in on specific paces, whereas time cues, which can only be imagined, are cognitively more challenging and are not directly observable. Admittedly, with the pace tracking devices available today, you could run for time and still control pace. However, if you’re tracking both pace and time run, you’re simply shooting for an arbitrary distance. Running five minutes at 10-minute per mile pace is going to be 800 meters. At this point, you might as well just set out to run 800-meter repeats.

Use the pace feedback a track or a well measured course to improve your pacing abilities. If you consistently find you’re one of those runners who start a race way too fast, only to fade at the end, training by miles might be the right choice for you.

Race specificity
Another critical skill to racing is teaching yourself how to push, especially in the final portions of the race. As many experienced runners know, racing hard requires taking your pain threshold to another level. You can’t expect yourself to perform such a difficult task during a race if you never get close to it in training.

RELATED: Develop A Finishing Kick

As discussed in the previous section, when training by minutes, it’s difficult to cognitively process how much time is remaining during a repeat. Research on the brain has shown that when there is a cognitive disconnect about how much longer you have to run, the brain protects itself by convincing the body it can’t or shouldn’t speed up.

However, training by distance provides concrete visual cues about how much longer you have to run. When the brain can process this information, you’re able to kick into another gear and finish harder.

This knowledge is useful if you’re a runner who struggles with the mental aspect of racing. Perhaps you have trouble pushing yourself or digging deep when a race starts to hurt. If so, training by time, and implementing some specific workouts, will help you overcome this weakness.

There isn’t a clear winner in the debate between minutes versus miles. Depending on the type of runner you are and your particular strengths and weakness, one method may work better for you. Even further, the best method may change given your fitness and the specific aspects of your running you need to improve during the year. Don’t be afraid to mix it up and add a little of both to maximize your training this spring.

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