Let me start this post off by saying that I am not an expert on time-based vs. distance-based training. Having started my distance running with the Running Room programs, I was ‘raised’ on distance-based training plans and have done almost all of my training for everything from 5ks to ultra marathons this way.

This past summer however, I entered into a formal coaching relationship and found myself training with my very first time-based training plan. All of my long runs were specified in number of hours instead of a set number of kms. Eeek.

I’ve only completed one cycle of time-based training and that doesn’t make me an expert by any means (hence the term ‘unofficial’) but I did notice a few things throughout and thought I’d write about that today. There are probably so many other things worth noting but here’s just a few from my experience. 

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So here goes, my ‘unofficial’ pros and cons of distance-based training…

Pros:

  • You learn to run by perceived effort. When running for time, you get to know your pace based on how your body feels (your perceived level of effort) not just by what your watch tells you.
  • Easier to listen to your body. When running for distance, sometimes there’s the tendency to push yourself beyond how you’re feeling that day in order to run a better pace. With time-based training, you can run at a pace comfortable for how you feel and still achieve your goal of a specific length of time.
  • Allows for terrain. A super-hilly 10k can feel like twice that distance because of the difficulty. In time-based training, your distance is adjusted accordingly when you’re running on more challenging terrain. 
  • More convenient for trail running. When it comes to trails it can be very difficult to plan a route of a specific distance because trails can vary, things change and detours happen. Basing your trail workouts on time make it easier to plan your training runs.
  • More representative of ultra running. When training for an ultra, it’s all about getting your body used to being on it’s feet and running for long periods of time. It’s not necessarily just about being trained to run 50k or 50 mi. Time-based training allows you to prepare your body for the gruelling durations of an ultra marathon,

Cons:

  • Your distances won’t always increase. Depending on how difficult the routes are that you choose to run, your long runs may not necessarily increase linearly. This drove the Type A parts of my mind crazy because I’m so used to increasing my distance bit by bit.
  • You might find it easier to slack off. The converse to one of the points above, when you’re running only for a specific length of time, one could easily just slow their pace and take it super easy until their time is up. Completing the correct length of time doesn’t necessarily imply a high level of effort.
  • It can be difficult to plan routes. When you run for time, it’s hard to know exactly how far you will go so planning a route can be tough at times. I found myself doing many out-and-back routes (which aren’t exactly my favourite).
  • Pace isn’t always a fair comparison. When your long runs are all time-based you can’t always compare the average paces because your distances (and therefore your paces) are somewhat dependent on the terrain run. Not actually a big deal but it can be tough to resist the comparisons when that is what you’re used to.

So how did it all work out for me anyway?

Well, pretty good I’d say. It felt very strange at first basing my runs on just a specified length of time. I found it tough to shake that need to see nice linear increases in my distance. I also had to learn to run by feel so that I could be sure I was keeping up a reasonable effort and not just passing time until I could stop. It was tough but I think it’s leading me to some good running habits.

And did it make me any faster? Well it’s tough to say because in addition to the switch to time-based training, I also continued to add in more speed training than I was doing leading up to last fall. The distance-based training may not have made me ‘faster’ but in learning to run somewhat by feel, I think my body naturally found it easier to keep up my pace during my most recent ultra marathon. I knew the way my body should be feeling when I was running the pace I wanted.

So these are just a few thoughts on my first experience with distance-based training but I’m interested to see how it goes over the long term. Do you train based on time or distance? Are there any pros or cons that you would add?

I’m going to link this one up with everyone else for Fitness Friday with Jill Conyers, so take a moment and head over to see what other fitness topics others are posting about today.

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Comments

  1. Crystal    

    I have completely bought into “time on feet” compared to training based on distance. This definitely works for me and I think this is how much trail runners or ultra runners train/run/race.

    1. slowfastnik    

      It’s definitely a different way of thinking of things but it works well! And definitely more widely used in the trail community. Not sure what I’ll do for my road marathons next year…

  2. Jen @ Pretty Little Grub    

    I’ve always wondered bout time based training. I get so caught up on the numbers but I can see how especially with trail running distance and time are so different.
    Jen @ Pretty Little Grub recently posted…FYI Friday – Preventing the Thanksgiving bulgeMy Profile

    1. slowfastnik    

      I’m a real numbers girl too and I actually found that I stopped tracking my mileage after I started training this way. Now that the cycle is over, I think i need to go back and add it all up because it bugs me not knowing! Ha ha.

  3. jill conyers    

    I incorporate some of the time based training practices in my training but I’ve never trained strictly by time. Interesting read.

    Thanks for linking up with Fitness Friday! Have a fabulous weekend!
    jill conyers recently posted…5 Things FridayMy Profile

    1. slowfastnik    

      Thanks for stopping by Jill! It definitely took awhile to get used to it but I think it worked well!

  4. Tammy    

    I run by time and have found it’s a safer way to increase “mileage.” Your distance increases as your fitness does. Your body does not know or care how far you have gone, only how long you have been running.

    I too was type A about distance so what I did was eliminate the field on my garmin and I now have heart rate and time only. Afterwards I can see the distance. Sometimes it’s more, sometimes it’s less. It doesn’t matter. This is why people do not run 26.2 miles over and over again to train for a marathon. Time on feet is more important than actual mileage.

    1. slowfastnik    

      I guess I just always thought of it as when my mileage increases so does the time on my feet. Anyhow, it’s a different way of approaching things and definitely takes some time to adjust the way you think. I like the idea of eliminating the distance field but I just don’t think I could! Ha ha.

  5. Kate    

    This is an interesting comparison. I’ve always done distance-based training, and I’m not sure my Type A brain would easily adapt to a time-based model, but this is good food for thought. Thanks for sharing!
    Kate recently posted…Hungry Runner: Pumpkin Chocolate Chip MuffinsMy Profile

    1. slowfastnik    

      Me too, I think my brain works in a distance-based kind of way (that doesn’t make any sense, I know) It’s a big change to think of things so differently but I think it paid off for my trail ultra. I’m curious what I should do for my upcoming road marathons though…

  6. Leana    

    My coach tends to schedule most of my long runs based on time instead of on distance. It was a bit of a mental switch for me at first, but I really like it. After all, I think it really equates well to building endurance by focusing on time on your feet instead of how far you are going. I will say that many of my runs tend to be out and backs (partially because that is easier based on time, but I also really enjoy them). If I’m focusing on time and running an out and back I will work a bit harder on the way back to aim for a negative split.

    Great thoughts! Thanks for sharing!
    Leana recently posted…Race Report: Disney Happy Haunted 5K Trail RaceMy Profile

    1. slowfastnik    

      And do you always find that you are able to cover enough distance in your training for your ultimate race distance? I guess that’s my concern, do you learn to run a fast enough pace to cover the distance you need to… Clearly it works, I know first hand, it’s just my mind that is doubtful! :)

  7. Jeff Pelletier    

    Time based training is definitely the way to go for trail running as you said. But it also makes sense for road running when doing heart rate based training, as it’s all about spending a certain amount of time in certain heart rate zones. Your millage then increases as you get faster.

    I still like to track my millage though! In addition to vertical gain, of course 😉
    Jeff Pelletier recently posted…Sept. Training Recap: Run Now, Sleep LaterMy Profile

    1. slowfastnik    

      Ugh, vertical gain implies climbing hills! Ha ha, that’s the lazy side of me speaking. I suppose if I want to continue this trail running thing, I need to learn to love the climb… Anyhow, I’ve always been curious about heart rate training but have never taken the plunge and done it. Perhaps it’s something I should consider…

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