One Dirty Magazine

Training in Minutes vs. Miles

How should you quantify your training?

David Roche October 2nd, 2017

Training in Minutes vs. Miles

This article originally appeared in the July 2017 issue of Trail Runner magazine.

Should you quantify your training in minutes or miles?
– Robyn Reed, Minneapolis, MN

If you get a group of running coaches in a room and ask them this question, a sequel to Fight Club will break out almost instantly.

In one corner, a coach played by shirtless Brad Pitt will advocate for time-based training. Coach Shirtless Pitt will say that that running by distance presents perverse incentives to run faster to finish the daily total, which can contribute to injury and burnout. Time-based running makes a runner less aware of pace feedback, avoiding the unnecessary stress of self-judgment from a GPS watch.

In the other corner, Coach Shirtless Edward Norton would say that races are almost always defined by distance, so training by time is not specific enough. When training for a trail marathon, for example, doing a three-hour long run can be a great peak long run if it’s 20 miles. But if it’s only 13 miles, it’s probably not enough.

Related: How Much Mileage Should You Run?

In the end, there is no wrong way to quantify training. My athletes do most long runs and weekend runs by distance, to gain distance-specific stress adaptations. During the week, we usually train by time, since many athletes are time-limited. And all intervals are in time, so that athletes aren’t racing a GPS watch.

If you don’t have a coach, the key is to know thyself. Do you stress about your pace? Then run by time. Do you love crunching numbers? Train by distance. Are you a runner of many different—possibly even split—personalities? Then mix it up based on your time constraints and training goals.

Have questions for Coach Roche? Send them to

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2 years ago

Starting out as a New runner, it is beneficial to do time based running. As a runner becomes more acclimated to running more minutes I think it could switch over to miles.

2 years ago

I haven’t seen too many “30 minute” or “1 hour” races out there, but I’ve seen tons of 5K, 10K, 13.1M, 26.2M, 50M, 100M race listings . Point is that the race metric is distance based, period. If you are training for a certain race you have to do the distance. If you are not training for any specific event then I guess time works great. That way you don’t have to quantify how slow/fast you are and avoid disappointment.

2 years ago

Chuck and Tommy your both right- new runners need to put the time in to learn as well as when non-new runners aren’t training for specific race distance. Distance training needs to be put in at certain pace over time to help achieve time goals in races.


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