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by Michael Conlon, PT, FAFS

Posted in Blog.

July 13th, 2018

Should You Run By Time or By Miles?

When talking to runners about their training programs, most runners will validate their workouts in miles and not time. However, it’s the amount of time spent running that’s more important, as it’s the duration of effort that represents the amount of training stress, not the miles.


Our bodies do not understand what a mile is, it only knows how hard we are working and for how long. We can’t expect a slower runner to undergo the same amount of stress as a faster running during any given training week (think total volume). For example, if two runners complete 40 miles/week but runner A averages an 8 minute pace (320 minutes of running) while runner B averages a 12 minute pace (480 minutes of running) then runner B would be required to run a significant amount of more time to cover the same distance. This increase in time would increase the amount of stress which would greatly increase this runners risk of injury.



The Law of Diminishing Returns sums it up perfectly:

To continue after a certain level of performance has been reached will result in a decline in effectiveness.”  Essentially, your return on investment (logging extra miles) drastically decreases and the risk of injury drastically increases the longer we run. Running is an extremely stressful sport as it is a high impact activity. The amount of “impact” force that is placed on our bodies with each foot fall is approximately 3-4x our body weight. Think of how much repetitive stress we create when running 1 mile. Now think about the amount of stress created during a given training cycle.


How Do You Maximize the Effectiveness of Your Training Program?”

Here are SIX important points to consider:


1. Focus on the QUALITY of training vs. the QUANTITY of training. Endurance training is not about what we do on one day but the culmination of training (i.e. recovery runs, strength training, weekly workouts, etc.).  Your “TOTAL” volume of training is much more important. It is imperative that you focus on the frequency of your weekly runs and workouts and not just on the duration of one individual long run.


2. Complete your “recovery” runs or cross training workouts the day after your long runs. These are key for endurance athletes as it “trains” our bodies to get used to running on tired and fatigued legs. Recovery runs give slower runners the opportunity to “stack” or split their long runs. For example, three hours on Saturday followed by 90 minutes on Sunday would be much more beneficial than running 4.5 hours in one day.


3.  Incorporate strength training into your weekly training program 1-2x/week. Completing a program that includes movement in all three planes of motion will help us improve our mobility, flexibility, stability, endurance and overall strength. The “stronger” we are, the less fatigued we will become during our long runs and on race day. A stronger runner equals a healthier runner as our muscles will help absorb and dissipate the impact forces we create when running, thus reducing stress on other tissues (e.g. bone, joints).


4. Finish your long runs at your estimated “marathon pace”. Complete the end of your long runs 1-2x/month at your “estimated” marathon pace. A faster pace/mile at the end of the run will mean more miles covered within the 3-hour time limit and will build your confidence exponentially come marathon day. Otherwise, ensure you are running the proper long run pace – which, on average, is approximately 1-minute/mile slower than your estimated marathon pace.


5. Post-long run cross training (optional). After a long run, for those who want a longer workout, go to the gym and complete 30-60 minutes of cross training (ie bike, elliptical trainer, etc.. ) to increase your TOTAL time of exercise. This will assist you in expediting your recovery and increasing your overall cardiovascular fitness. For those runners concerned with the 3-hour time limit, this will get your bodies used to exercising for longer periods of time without the added stress of running. If you are using a bike (best option for runners in my opinion), focus on maintaining a cadence of 90-95 RPMs while cycling; this is key in order to mimic a similar cadence to running.


6. Complete your weekly “speed” workouts (repetition, interval and tempo). The goal of these workouts is to help improve your VO2 max and anaerobic threshold. In English, these workouts will improve your overall cardiovascular fitness, thus making your easy and marathon pace workouts feel that much easier. The correct intensity of these workouts is often compromised when runners are still extremely fatigued from a previous long run (especially for those runners who choose to run longer than 3 hours). These runners often have to skip their recovery run or cross training workouts to take an extra day or two of rest because their bodies will require additional time to recover.



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