Should You Run By Time Or Distance?
Is running by time or by distance actually the same thing? (Yes...and no.)
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Yes, because the two are inextricably tied together: Distance x Pace = Time. More generally speaking, you likely approach any given run both by the rough distance of the route you’ve chosen and by the approximate time that it will take you to complete it. You’ve made sure that you won’t be 2 miles from home when you reach the end of your planned run time or that you’ll have sufficient consume-calories-every-30-minutes fueling for your 10-mile run.
But also no, because of the different intents of workouts defined by time versus those defined by distance. A workout defined by time has an intended training volume: run for this amount of time, regardless of distance. A workout defined by distance has an intended training, well, distance: run this many miles, no matter how long it takes you.
So the real question is: Should you pay more attention to training volume or training mileage? And the answer is: That depends on the overall context of your run training.
Running by time vs. Running by distsance
If your runs exists within swim-bike-run(or bike-run) training for a multisport event, then volume dictates your training. A typical multisport training plan builds overall weekly training volume in accordance with the expected duration of your event. It then balances that volume across swim, bike, and run (or bike and run) in general proportion to the typical relative duration of each leg. Multisport plans have the freedom to do this because the fitness built within each discipline bleeds over and benefits the others. Cycling fitness in particular does a great job of supporting run fitness. For multisport training, this means that you don’t have to build all of your run fitness by running.
A typical multisport training plan also considers recovery in the overall swim-bike-run balance. Because your run fitness is developed concurrently with bike and swim fitness, there just aren’t enough days in the week to place easier days before and after every hard run session. Multisport training plans must therefore carefully consider the fatigue that’s created during each workout, and run workouts create the greatest amount of fatigue. Running by time, then, creates a ceiling for your run volume – particularly your long run volume – which serves to manage the fatigue created by those runs within your multisport plan.
If, however, your runs exist within single-sport training for a run-only event (or within the training for a swim-run event), then distance dictates your training. Your run fitness will only be developed through running and it must be sufficient for the distance of your event. Additionally, there are enough days in the week in this context to have easier (or swim) days before and after key run sessions. Running by distance, then, creates a floor for your run distance – both weekly and for your long runs – which serves to ensure your preparedness for your run-only (or swim-run) event.
Whether you’re running by time or distance, your run workouts will look very similar in structure. The following interval run and long tempo run examples show how the same workout can be structured both by time and by distance.
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Running Time vs. Distance: Interval Run
|By Time||By Distane||At...|
|Warm-up||15 minutes||1.5 miles||Recovery pace / Zone 1|
|Prep Set||4x30 seconds strong with fast feet / 30 seconds easy||4x100m strong with fast feet / 100m easy||Strong @ 3K pace / Zone 5a
Easy @ Recovery pace / Zone 1
|Recovery||3 minutes||0.25 mile easy||Recovery pace / Zone 1|
|Main Set||4x5 minute interval / 2 minutes easy||4x1000m interval / 400m easy||Interval @ 5K pace / Threshold
Easy @ recovery pace/ Zone 1
|Cooldown||5 minutes||0.5 miles||Recovery pace / Zone 1|
Running Time vs. Distance: Long Tempo Run
|By Time||By Distance||At...|
|Warm-up||20 minutes||2 miles||Recovery pace / Zone 1|
|Main Set||8 minute tempo interval / 5 minutes easy||1 mile tempo interval / 0.5 mile easy||Interval @ half marathon (70.3) race pace / Zone 3
Easy @ Recovery to Endurance pace / Zone 1
|Cooldown||10 minutes||1 mile||Recovery to Endurance pace / Zone 1-2|
Should you find yourself with a run that needs to be translated from time to distance or vice versa, you can use your run paces to convert the workout:
To Convert Distance to Time
Miles x Pace per Mile = Minutes
- Round up to the nearest 5 minutes for warm ups and cool downs
- Round to the nearest minute or half-minute for intervals and recoveries
- Check the overall duration of your workout against your intended duration and modify the number of intervals / duration of your main set as appropriate
To Convert Time to Distance
Minutes / Pace per Mile = Miles
- Round to the nearest quarter mile for warm ups and cool downs
- Round to the nearest tenth or quarter mile for intervals and recoveries
- Check the overall distance of your workout against your intended distance and modify the number of intervals / distance of your main set as appropriate
*The trick when converting runs by time to runs by distance is to use a decimal format for pace per mile rather than mm:ss; round your pace to the nearest quarter-minute to simplify the decimal conversion.
Ultimately, your runs will create the same training load and physiological adaptations whether you structure your runs by time or distance. The intensity, time at intensity, and work-to-recovery ratios will be consistent regardless of the workout format, which will lead to the same fitness development and results.
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