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Running: Time v. Distance

There are two basic ways to keep track of your running—by time or by distance. with so many tech tools designed to track your mileage with considerable accuracy it makes this debate even hotter amongst the running community. Truthfully, there are advantages and disadvantages to each method and the one that you choose should depend on your specified needs and preferences.

Running by time often works better if you are on a tight schedule; while running by distance can push you to stay motivated. If your running a consistent pace, your mileage and speed will likely be the same no matter which method you choose. A good idea is to run by time for each individual run, but be sure to track your overall mileage for the week to be sure that you are running enough miles or not running too many miles.

Running for Time

One reason to run for time is that it is easy to fit a run into your daily routine. When you only have a certain amount of time available, a timed run ensures that you can get in a workout without having to worry about hitting a certain distance.


  • You're more likely to run based on how you feel and not focus on maintaining a certain pace.

  • On days when you're not feeling at your best, you aren't forcing yourself to go for your miles or will you feel guilty if you don't cover the distance. Instead, you are able to run for your set time at a pace that is right for you.

  • For those just beginning their running careers, this is especially important, you will see that most beginner 5K plans will include intervals with running and walking, rather than setting specific mileage to run.

  • If you are a person that struggles with sticking to a running schedule, running by time will be much more attainable for you. Knowing that you only need to dedicate so many minutes to your run, it is easier to make a commitment to the run.

  • Although we live in the age where most sports watches can make it easy to measure our running routes, there are certain circumstances (i.e. trail running) when the GPS doesn't work properly. This is when running by time tends to be more reliable.

  • When running on trails, your pace often slows down and it is much tougher/tiring terrain. Running for time is a better way to train when you are running on trails. Less risk of injure due to fatigue and you can strengthen you stabilizer muscles steadily over time.

  • Another positive, is you won't force your mileage when the weather conditions are not ideal. You wont put yourself at risk for heat-related illnesses or risk frost bite conditions. If you are running by overall time, you're more likely to run at a pace that takes these risky weather conditions into account.


  • Tracking by time might inadvertently discourage runners from pushing themselves as hard as they need to in order to improve speed, strength, and endurance.

  • Because you know that you will be stopping at a certain time, you might find yourself just putting one foot in front of the other instead of trying to maintain a decent pace.

Running for Distance

If your training for a longer event, running by distance can be an important factor. Covering a certain set number of miles each run can be motivating at times and it encourages you to keep a continuous pace so that you can achieve your day's goal.


  • Tracking your run by distance tells you a lot about where current fitness level is at. When training for a specific distance race, it's important that you know how far you’re running each day making sure your race distance is achievable.

  • Running by distance can help you better understand your pace per mile. Having an idea of what kind of pace you run, keeps you motivated, keeps you pushing, measures your progress, and helps you pick realistic race goals.


  • Temptation to push the pace and have the desire to always hit a certain pace per mile can become an issue, rather than varying the intensity of your workouts as you should be.

  • Not varying your workouts is a common mistake that can lead to injury. It's important that a majority of your runs are at a conversational pace.

  • Running by distance can be difficult if you are traveling/vacationing. Planning and measuring routes you are not familiar with can be difficult, which means you might be more apt to just skip your training.

  • Running for distance can be hard on your body. Always using this method can lead to feelings of both physical and mental fatigue.

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, it is a good idea is to run by time for each individual run, but be sure to track your overall mileage for the week. Personally I like to run 60-75 minutes 6 days a week and then have a specific mileage goal for my long run. But, when things are not feeling easy, it is nice to switch gears and make your long run 2 hours - no set mileage. Time on your feet is what matters, not pace, and not mileage - especially as a beginner.

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