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