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Time vs. Mileage: Which Is More Important to Your Training?

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Running, like many sports, can be divided down into several different training styles and involves a variety of aspects of overall fitness. In order to benefits as much as possible from your workouts and steadily progress toward your goals, then, your routine needs to be focused on the right things.

Unfortunately, athletes don’t always understand what they should – in fact – by targeting through their training. With runners, in particular, a fair amount of confusion exists around the importance of time and mileage. If you’re like most runners, you likely deal with a constant internal debate regarding with one is more important to your training. So… what’s the answer? What factors impact this decision?

Your Goals and Your Style

In order to understand this issue, the first thing you need to do is sort out what kind of runner you are. Your personal preferences, goals and upcoming races can all combine to give you pretty strong indication of where you fall on this spectrum.

Left to your own devices, with no outside influence, what type of runs do you enjoy and gravitate toward the most? Would you generally tackle, short intense interval runs? Or are you more likely to settle in to a long, slow endurance-centric workout? Similarly, what sort of races do you enjoy and excel at the most?

Tailoring your training style around your natural ability and preferences will make it easier for your to stick with your routine and make steady progress.

What We Really Mean

It’s also important to take apart the topics of time and mileage to fully understand how these terms relate to your athletic performance. So, when discussing “time,” what are runners really talking about?

In scientific terms, the amount of time that it takes you cover a given distance is your speed. That’s the real focus here, then. Your time gives you a solid idea of your overall speed and power.

But what about mileage? Somewhat unsurprisingly, an emphasis on mileage directly translates to an increased concern over distance, which is of much greater concern to endurance athletes than to sprinters and the like.

Building Up To Your Race

How can you apply this information to your training routine, though? What real value does any of this hold for the athlete? All too often, runners don’t progress as quickly as they should or struggle to meet their goals simply because their aspirations and training style aren’t properly aligned.

For example, think about someone looking to take on a 5k. This is a relatively short race, consisting of a distance many people can cover. The competitive runner, then, would need to focus on speed – or time – in their workouts in order to progress. Each week, you’ll want to increase the speed (and decrease the time) in which you can finish.

Longer runs (marathons and beyond) though, place a much greater emphasis on distance. To succeed in these events, your training routine needs to gradually increase in mileage.

Think In Phases

In reality, though, the above explanation is incomplete, unidimensional and oversimplified. Let’s return to that 5k runner, for instance. What if they aren’t able to cover that distance yet? Things would be reversed; that runner would need to increase their mileage until the length of that race is no longer a problem.

A similar situation would exist for the marathon runner. Maybe you’ve trained your endurance up to the point at which that once intimidating distance is no longer an obstacle. Fantastic. Now, you probably want to get faster – reducing the amount of time that it takes you to finish. All of the sudden, time does gain some importance.

Really, then, the decision to focus on time or mileage depends not only on your goal but also on what stage you’re at in your overall fitness progress.

Balance Is Key

While you might shift your focus at different stages in order to improve certain weaknesses in your performance, taking a more balanced approach throughout your entire training program will likely produce better results.

For this reason, many experienced runners will focus on various training styles during the week – incorporating speed runs and endurance workouts on different days. You might run a slow and steady run on Monday, but crank out some HIIT on Wednesday. Not only will this give you the chance to steadily improve all aspects of your performance but this type of crosstraining will reduce your risk of overuse injuries.

It’s important to understand, though, that by dividing your athletic attention in this way, you will limit your ability to make rapid progress in any one aspect of your training. The trick, then, is to decide what’s important to you. If you’re looking to build your base and work your way up to a given event, it’s probably best to take a more balanced approach to your training.

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