This piece is part of an ongoing series for new runners.
As you continue to catch new strains of the running bug, it’s easy to get caught up in what other runners are doing or encourage you to do. The more experienced you become among your circle of run buds, the easier it becomes to test your body against friends’ advice. Run 6 miles? Sure. Do 20 hill repeats? Why not? While these are good goals to have, it’s more realistic (and practical) to focus on running for time before you crank out high mileage or multiple reps for the sake of padding your training log. It’s more important to get your legs moving for an hour than setting a mileage goal that might run past those allotted 60 minutes. Once you are comfortable being on your feet for a set amount of time, going even longer (or faster, or both) is the next step!
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Here are four reasons why putting minutes before miles is a most excellent way to get started as a runner:
1. Time is predictable.
Depending on your fitness level, mood, how well you fueled, the weather and a handful of other factors, the time it takes to complete a set number of miles can vary from one day to the next. But 30 minutes is 30 minutes no matter how fast you’re going. When you run with the clock, you know exactly how long you’ll be out there putting one foot in front of the other. When you set out to run a predetermined number of miles, you might have a rough idea of how long it should take before you to finish, but things don’t always work out as planned, especially as a new runner. Be patient with yourself when you’re just getting started. Build endurance and strength by gradually increasing the amount of time spent on your feet. As you gain experience, start experimenting with different types of faster workouts and challenge yourself to see how quickly you can cover a set distance.
2. You can surprise yourself.
When you set out to run a certain number of miles, you know how exactly far you ran. Set a time goal and you may surprise yourself with how far you get—and how good you feel afterward! Focusing on distance can be daunting when you’re first starting out, with the miles seeming to get longer as you go. Setting a time goal (say, 30 minutes) leaves you feeling accomplished and lays the groundwork for upping goals around that time slot. You did 3 miles the first time out? Try for 3-1/2 in a few weeks! But don’t force it—just let it come to you.
3. Time can help regulate speed.
Running for distance is a measurable pursuit and often creates a subconscious challenge to run faster splits or miles, creating a sometimes spastic workout with fast-slow variations. This type of running (called fartlek) can be fun, but it can also frustrating if you’re just starting out. As a newbie, lay the groundwork for future improvement by focusing on running for time at a pace that feels post comfortable and sustainable to you. You can shift gears—literally—as you gain experience.
4. Not worrying about miles encourages enjoyment.
Don’t let the fact that you couldn’t cover 5 miles during your 45-minute lunch run ruin your day. Enjoy those 45 minutes, or however long you were out there running, and appreciate the journey you are on as well as the environment that surrounds you. The conversations you can have with your run buds over the course of an hourlong jaunt will be more memorable than the number of miles you covered that day.