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.
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.
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