Should You Run for Distance or Time?

Running is a popular form of exercise that offers numerous physical and mental benefits. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced runner, one question that often arises is whether you should focus on running for distance or time. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the advantages and considerations of both approaches to help you make an informed decision.

Runner checking watch

The Mind’s Perception of Distance and Time

Researchers have discovered that our minds process distance and time differently. When we have a visual representation of the finish line, such as in distance-based runs, we tend to accelerate as we near the end. In contrast, time-based runs provide discontinuous feedback, requiring us to constantly glance at our watches. This distinction plays a significant role in how we pace ourselves during workouts.

Running by Time: Hone a Sense of Effort

One compelling reason to consider running by time is to develop a strong sense of effort. Focusing on time-based repeats allows you to tune into your body and identify the pace you can sustain. This skill is particularly valuable for racing, where understanding your body’s capabilities is crucial. Pay attention to your breathing rate and how your legs feel during these runs. Additionally, incorporating time-based tempo runs once a month can help you refine your sense of effort and track your progress.

Running by Time: Saving Your Psyche

Running measured workouts can be challenging when you’re returning from a break or not feeling your best. It can be demoralizing or tempt you to overexert yourself to achieve more impressive splits. In such cases, incorporating fartlek runs into your training can be beneficial. By removing the need for precise measurements, you can focus on the workout’s structure and enjoy the freedom to run at a pace that feels comfortable for you.

Running by Distance: Learning Pace

While running by time has its advantages, there are also benefits to running by distance. By focusing on running specific distances, you can better understand and internalize your goal race pace. This approach allows you to gauge your performance accurately and make necessary adjustments. For instance, incorporating track runs and fartlek runs into your training regimen can provide continuous feedback and help you tap into your finishing instincts, simulating real race conditions.

Running by Distance: Mastering the Kick

Many runners fall into the trap of always launching a finishing kick during track repeats. Instead of ingraining this jog-and-kick pattern, it is essential to train yourself to maintain a consistent pace throughout the effort. If you feel fresh enough to sprint at the end, use it as an opportunity to set out at a slightly quicker pace on the next repetition. This approach trains your body to handle varying speeds and prevents you from relying solely on a finishing kick.

Finding the Right Balance

Ultimately, choosing whether to run for distance or time depends on your specific goals and preferences. It is important to strike a balance between training for performance and enjoying the process. By incorporating both approaches into your training plan, you can benefit from the advantages each method offers. Experiment with different combinations of time-based and distance-based runs to find what works best for you.


Deciding whether to run for distance or time is a personal choice that should align with your goals, preferences, and training style. Both approaches have their merits, and it’s essential to consider how they affect your performance and mindset. Whether you choose to focus on developing a sense of effort through time-based runs or mastering pace through distance-based runs, remember that consistency, listening to your body, and enjoying the process are key to becoming a better and happier runner.

So, lace up your shoes, hit the road or trails, and embark on a running journey that suits you best. Whether you run for distance, time, or a combination of both, the most important thing is to keep moving and savor every step along the way. Happy running!

Additional Information:

  • It is important to consult with a healthcare professional or a certified running coach before making any significant changes to your training routine.
  • Varying your training approach can help prevent boredom and plateauing. Consider incorporating different types of runs, such as tempo runs, interval training, and long runs, into your overall training plan.
  • Don’t forget to prioritize rest and recovery to avoid overtraining and reduce the risk of injuries. Listen to your body and give it the time it needs to repair and rebuild.
  • Proper nutrition, hydration, and sleep are crucial for optimal performance and overall well-being. Make sure to fuel your body with balanced meals, stay hydrated during your runs, and prioritize quality sleep for optimal recovery.
  • Remember, running is a journey, and it’s essential to enjoy the process. Celebrate your accomplishments, set realistic goals, and appreciate the physical and mental benefits that running brings to your life.