Should I Run By Time or Distance?

Runner smiling
Matthew Leete

"I'm new to running and I'm not sure if I should be measuring by running routes by time or distance. Which is better? Are there advantages to running by time?"

Personally, I'm one of those runners who loves to know how fast and far I'm running. I usually have my Garmin or running watch strapped to my wrist. It's definitely helpful to have an idea of what kind of pace you run, so you stay motivated, keep pushing yourself, measure your progress, and pick realistic race goals.

And if you're training for a specific distance race, it's important that you know the distance of some of your runs so you know your race distance is achievable. 

But I also know that it's beneficial to sometimes run for time, rather than focusing on the miles. Here are some reasons why:

  • If you're not focused on pace, you'll run based on how you feel. So, on days when you're not feeling great, you won't force yourself to go for your miles or feel guilty if you don't cover the distance. Instead, you'll run for your goal time at the right pace.
  • You won't force mileage when the conditions are not ideal. If you're trying to do a specific pace or distance on a hot, humid day, you might push it too hard and put yourself at risk for heat-related illnesses. If you run by overall time, you're more likely to run at a pace that takes the extreme conditions into account.
  • It helps you prevent boredom and explore new routes more easily because you're not worried about the mileage.
  • Although GPS watches and running apps usually make it easy to measure running routes, there are certain circumstances (like running in a large city or on trails in the woods) when the GPS doesn't work properly, so it's more feasible to use your regular running watch and just run by overall time.
  • If you always run by distance, you might be tempted to push the pace and always hit a certain pace per mile during each run, rather than varying the intensity of your workouts. Not varying your workouts is a common mistake that can lead to injury. To avoid overtraining and injury, it's important that a majority of your runs are at a conversational pace.
  • It makes running on vacation (or during other traveling) much simpler because you don't have to measure unfamiliar running routes.
  • For beginners, it's especially helpful to measure some runs by time so you don't overdo it by trying to achieve a certain mileage. Some beginner training schedules, such as this Beginner 5K plan, will include intervals of running and walking (Run 5 minutes/Walk 1 Minute, repeat 3x), rather than giving specific distances to run.

So try to vary your measurements -- you can sometimes run by distance and for other runs, just plan to run for an overall time.

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