Time-Based Runs vs Distance-Based Runs

Why Time-Based Runs are as Important as Distance-Based Runs from Elevate Fitness in Syracuse

By Run Program Director, Kevin Collins

Like many of you, and for more than half of my running life, I too, ran for miles over time-based runs. This was during a time before the Garmin when there were only two ways in which to measure your courses: 1) You measured by a car (if you could). 2) You asked somebody who thought they knew (they never knew). It was even more frustrating for speed work. You’d measure out a quarter mile on your favorite running road and goodness help you if construction or travel prevented you from being there or a track. So, of course, you can imagine how liberating the discovery of time-based running was to an extensive traveler like me in a post-collegiate racing world. It’s hard to let go of. We get jittery when we think we aren’t covering EXACT mileage each day. Time-based 60 minute, for example,ample can be a half-mile to a mile long or short of your daily goal. I’m here to tell you that the fitness gains between a half-mile more or less a day in and out are insignificant as they generally balance each other out. You might even say “Well how will I know how FAST and how FAR I’ve run?”

Stop right there.

Is this a base run, a long run, or a speed/tempo workout?

If it’s a base run, you don’t need to analyze the pace per mile or the distance because “performance” is not at all what these are about. Remember that progress is not pushing harder and harder every run each day. Progress is something you can see and feel in a mindless state.

If it’s a long run, the objective is to run for a LONG time. The 20 miler is no more a mystic make or break distance for your marathon than a 19.6 miler or a 21.2 miler, so when you are doing that 3 hour and 30 minute run, just make sure it’s close. If you see on your Garmin that it’s shorter than intended, add 10-15 minutes – problem solved.

Speed-workout: Is there a difference in benefit between 12 x 300m on a track and 12 x 1 minute on the same track (or road for that matter)? If the instruction was to run them the best you can taking into account # of intervals and total time intended: No, not much. Perceived effort is the art of pacing. Sometimes the watch can intimidate you. Run free. Run wild. You will find the line be can and can’t all the same.

Too many times I’ve seen runners set time goals in their workouts, perhaps too ambitious, only to see themselves fall short, allow frustration to settle in, and mentally deteriorate in workouts, perhaps storm off the track in self-manifested disgust. Is this how to train?

In the world of time-based training, there ARE no bad days. There is only training and the road ahead. Learn to embrace the struggles of training day to day. Nothing will make you tougher and less the quitter (the REAL source of our disappointments).


Teach us how to embrace the “BAD” days and see them as neither bad nor good.
Are easier to schedule around life activities (a 60 minute run is STILL a 60 minute run and always will be for the next 20 years!)
Cater to the obsessive-compulsive just the same: A 60 minute run that ends at 59:46 will bug you just as much as a 10 miler that ended at 9.95 miles.

Like Garmins, allow you to run ANYWHERE (Imagine how liberating time-based runs were BEFORE Garmins on this point).
Make for stronger runners. Your improved capacity to plan runs around scheduling conflicts will result in MORE total days run per year, which, when or if measured, will result in MORE miles run per year. This directly correlates with your base conditioning specific to running and consequent endurance (your ability to sustain high intensity longer than you could before!)

So instead of 2 milers, 4 milers, 6 milers, 8 milers, & 10 milers. Try 15 minute, 30 minute, 45 minute, 60 minute, 75 minute, & 90 minute runs! You will free yourself from needing anything more than a basic wrist-watch.
In the end, it will be consistency that brings the goods, NOT the gadgets!


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