Good Question: Miles or Minutes

>> Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Kimberly asks: "I am a relatively new runner and looking at training plans for my first 10K. I notice that some plans go by minutes while others go by miles. What's the difference between training with miles and minutes?"

I've always been slightly confused about why some training plans have you running a specific distance versus a specific time. To add to the confusion, the training plan I'm following at the moment has BOTH miles AND minutes prescribed. Easy runs, mostly in the 3 to 5 mile range, are written out by distance. While tempo and long run workouts are written out in time.


Well, I'll be honest. I don't really know. I'm not a coach. I'm not even what I'd consider a competitive or fantastic runner. I can't exactly speak to why some plans go with minutes while other go with miles. I can, however, share the benefits I see through my experience with each type of training because I have prepared for races using both methods. So, I hope this answer is at least somewhat informative to you all.

I've been participating in road races for over 10 years now. And I found it helpful to train by time, particularly when I was a beginner. Especially for increasing long runs when my longest run ever was like 3 miles. I'm sure there are more technical reasons than this one, but even just mentally, increasing my time by 10 minutes sounded a lot easier than increasing my distance by a mile, for example. I used this method when I was preparing for my first 10K -- completing a few 60 minute runs before race day -- and I imagine that my pace was faster than 10-minute miles.

In other words, I was running 60 minutes, but likely going farther than a 10K. So, the approach prepared me well.

On the flip side, years and years later, I often don't run with a watch. As a result, I've been training by miles more and more. Mapping out routes and sticking to them is easy because it's simple to remember my two favorite 4-milers and 5-milers and my three best 8-milers. When I trained for my most recent half marathon, I depended on distance. I didn't want to dwell on my pace because coming back from pregnancy has been hard on my times. Instead, I felt the most accomplished by number of miles run and chose to ignore the speed at which those miles were completed.

But then there are those times I'm between plans and just running to run. So, I do neither.

Overall, I think I toggle between the two depending on my mood. A sort of "whatever works" scenario. If I'm feeling motivated by running 13 miles, I'll map out a route. During marathon training, if I had a 20 mile run ahead of me, I'd break it down by hours and live half-hour at a time until I reached around 3 hours total. Even with training for shorter distance races, I find I can win the mental game by training miles OR minutes day by day.

I try my best not to get hung up on either of the two and, instead, to train my best for how I'm feeling. I may not break the sound barrier, but with keeping a positive attitude -- thereby actually completing runs versus dreading them -- I've consistently improved my race times. Again, I'm not incredibly competitive, though, so you may find the following resources a bit more helpful.

Nike: Training Tip: Minutes versus Miles
Runners World: Minutes vs. Miles
COMPRESSPORT: Run Training: Measure by Miles or by Minutes?

How do YOU train? Miles or minutes? Or BOTH? I'd love for you guys/gals to weigh in.

Pssst: Check out a great sugar-free peanut butter cookie dough recipe today on Writing Chapter Three!

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