The Soggy Sock: Running by Distance vs. Time

Jan18th 2023
Written by Christina Schultz

Should you be planning and tracking workouts based on distance or time?

Yes. But I am biased to time.

As someone who traditionally has always been under coaches that relied heavily on distance, this was an adjustment for me-but one I feel confident with. Now to be clear, there are a couple schools of thought and ultimately neither is right or wrong. There are different considerations that are necessary for each and there is a place for both in your planning.

Lately, I have begun to rely heavily on time-based workouts with strategically placed distance-based workouts sprinkled in and here’s why:

Your body interprets stress through time and intensity– it has no concept of how much distance you covered.

We’re going to break it down but it’s a good bit of math so hang in there.

Seeing It In Action

  • A hobby jogger going for a 60-minute run at an RPE of 4 may cover 6 miles
  • A professional runner may go for a 60-minute run at an RPE of 4 and cover 12 miles

Remember that training load is measured by rating of perceived exertion (RPE) x time.

So, all else being equal, these athletes experienced the same training load.

On the other hand…
  • A hobby jogger going for a 6-mile run at an RPE of 4 may work for 60 minutes
  • A professional runner may go for a 6-mile run at an RPE of 4 may work for 30 minutes

The same workout but the first runner accumulates a training load of 240 and the second 120.

This is a great example as to why following a generic training plan can be a problematic situation as the less experienced runners typically cannot withstand as much training load as elites and we are now asking them to handle more.

So now let’s look closer at why its effective to use even on your own customized plan that is geared to your level.

Let’s say you have a 6-mile run planned at an RPE of 4 and it takes you 60 minutes one week but the next week, you have the same workout planned but you didn’t sleep well that night and have had a cold, so it takes you 72 minutes. The first time your training load was 240 but this week, when you’re not feeling well and need more recovery, you have a training load of 288.

Now, say you have a 60-minute run planned at an RPE of 4 and you cover 6 miles one week but the next week, you have the same workout planned but you didn’t sleep well that night and have had a cold, so you only cover 5 miles.

This is a built-in fail-safe where you can put in the same effort levels and come out with the same training load and not have it effectively drain the rest of your training week.


This doesn’t mean all distance-based activities are out the window…

In part 2 we will discuss when I like to use distance as a measure.

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About the Author: Christina Schultz

Christina Schultz graduated with a degree in exercise science from Florida Atlantic University. She was a captain for the cross country and track teams at the University. She went on to earn a Doctorate in Physical Therapy from the University of St. Augustine. While at St. Augustine, she was a head high school cross country coach and distance track coach at a local high school. During this time she became a certified strength and conditioning specialist in order to enhance her abilities to treat athletes and improve their performance.

Christina moved from Jacksonville, FL to Greenville, SC with her dog Rosie to help keep our community active. She continues to run in her spare time and is enjoying exploring the city and hiking.

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