Running for time or for distance?

Fancy taking your running to the next level by going for your first marathon? Great idea! You’ve probably found hundreds of different trainingplans online (Trainingpeaks is a good source). But should you pick a time based or distance based running plan? What’s the difference anyway?

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Check out the video below where I tell you a little more about the difference between distance based running and time based running.

Some training plans tell you to run your runs in minutes or hours, others tell you to run a specific distance. The latter might make much more sense to you. You are after all training for that (daunting!) 42km, and not three, four, or five hours.

Although there are some great distance based training plans out there, tailored towards non-elite runners, a time-based plan might be a better idea for you. For several reasons.

Injury prevention

Let’s imagine you go out for a 10K run. You feel great, and you’re running that 10K in 50 minutes. Now let’s imagine another day where you do a 10K, but on that day your legs are tired and you feel sluggish. It takes you 60 minutes to run that 10K. That means you are out on your feet for 50 minutes on a day you feel great, whereas you are out on your feet for more than an hour on a day you feel sluggish.

Now if you run time based you will only run 8K in that hour when you feel tired, and maybe 12 on a day you feel great. That means you’ve got increased effort on good days (12km) and take it a little easier on a day you feel fatigued and sluggish (8km).

Mimic the elite

The logics of time based running become even more apparent when you look at long runs if you’re training for a marathon or ultra marathon. Elite runners generally run their long runs no longer than three hours. This would get them to thirty five or even forty kilometers on their runs.

if we consider running for such a long time detrimental for elite runners, how could we possibly ask that effort of non-elite runners?

Elite runners stick tot that three hour limit because running longer than that, say, four hours, would add fatigue, but not so much extra benefit. It would increase their recovery time and probably have a negative impact on their next run.

If we would ask most non-elite runners to run a forty kilometer long run it might take them four hours to do that run, depending on their level of experience of course. We should ask ourselves: if we consider running for such a long time detrimental for elite runners, how could we possibly ask that effort of non-elite runners?

Time cramped runners

Another reason to pick a time-based running plan is the fact that most of us are not blessed with sponsorships and unlimited running time. We have full-time jobs, kids, a girl- or boyfriend, friends and other business to take care of. Our lives are cramped.

If you are on a tight schedule it is easier to plan a one hour run then a twelve kilometer run. An hour remains an hour, no matter what… And three hours remain three hours… Three long hours of running… You’ll learn to love them. Seriously.

A little distance based running

All that said, I personally do add in a little distance based workouts into my training (for example Yasso 800s). Being a fast runner (but seriously, nowhere near elite or sub-elite runners) that goes well under three hours on a marathon, I believe that I reap a lot of benefits from adding in thirty five or thirty eight kilometer long runs (with sometimes tempo blocks at the end). These runs are guaranteed to demand some effort, workouts like these teach me to run on tired legs and demand me to push through when my body (not so) politely asks me to quit.

But note that I can add in these runs because with thirty five kilometers I stay firmly under three hours! Generally under 2 hours and forty minutes. I reap the benefits of distance based running, but I don’t get the unnecessary extra fatigue.

I hope this article helped you with picking your training plan.

Good luck with your training! And most of all: enjoy!

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