Long Runs: Time or Length?

Long runs can be wonderful confidence boosters, or they can completely suck any confidence you’ve ever had that you could run a particular distance out of you. No matter how many times you’ve raced that particular distance!

Many of us run our long runs based on distance. But should  you?

Running for distance:
Running for distance can give you a lot of confidence. I know when I decided to tackle my 18 mile race, it was important for me to get up to 17 miles in my long run. Not physically, but mentally.

If you’re training for a long distance race, you won’t get as much out of your training if you don’t get enough miles on your body. I remember training for my first half — without a GPS watch. Yes, they were available back then, but they weren’t a “thing” yet.

Did I enjoy that race? Yes. Was I a little undertrained? Yes. Did I buy a GPS watch for the next half? Yes. Did I take 20 minutes off of my finish time? Yes.

Running for time
It’s so tempting to stick to the plan, no matter what. Well, for me, anyway! There is no point on clinging to a certain distance if it’s unbearably hot, you just don’t feel well, or you feel something is off in your body. In general it’s better to be undertrained (to a point) than over trained. There’s less risk of injury or illness.

Your time on a long run, the exact same distance, can vary from week to week. Knowing you only have to run for _________ amount of time can really help you plan your time and take a lot of stress off the long run.

Running for time might actually help you learn how your pace feels. I know I definitely struggle with RPE (running by perceived effort). Taking distance and pace completely off the table lets you tune into your body and how running is making you feel — you might just be surprised!

Running for time can also be great for a recovery run. Just you, the road, an easy pace for whatever time you decide (which obviously should be relatively short). You are much more likely to actually run easy if you’re not pressuring yourself to hit a certain distance, but just enjoying a 30 minute run.

Final Thoughts
I would say 90% of my running life I’ve spent doing long runs by distance. I think last year was the first year I began to dabble in doing long runs by time. It seemed far less daunting to increase my long run by a mere 5 minutes than to add another mile.

As I was writing this post, I thought about switching back to doing a timed long run again. Then the time I had in mind corresponded exactly to the mileage I had in mind! Go figure.

How about you: time or distance?

What do you like about the way you do your long runs?

What bothers you about the way you do your long runs?


Linking up with Zenaida Arroyo and Kim @ Kookyrunner

This week I am also joining up with the new Runners’ Roundup linkup.


20 thoughts on “Long Runs: Time or Length?

  1. Ha, this is a great question, Judy.
    When I was training for my ultra, I would do two long runs each week: one for distance and one for time.
    And you are right, the one that I did for time always felt easier. Although I covered approximately the same distance. It’s all in the head! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve always done my long runs by distance. I do like to do speed work by time but those are a different subject. I like knowing that if I’m going to be running 13.1 miles for a race and I’ve run 14 miles on a couple of training runs, I’ll be fine at the race. That being said, those 14 mile runs are long and that’s really when the mental game of running comes into play.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I didn’t always do 14 milers but when I switched training plans for my last several races that was in the plan. Before, I think I had typically only gone up to 10 or 11 miles. I came to enjoy the 14 mile runs, although that first one was rough. I did go into the race feeling more prepared, though, after doing the longer runs.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Definitely distance because if you are not fast enough, you may not be prepared with that 20 miler for your marathon or 10 miler for your half.

    I love my long runs because I run them with friends and we chat the whole time. Most of my short runs are done solo….not fun at all!!

    However, they are always much slower than race pace. So they are never a confidence booster. But we know weather and course factor into whether or not you have a good race even if your long runs go well.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I would say that it’s more important to do the distance if you’re training for a long distance race. Long runs should be slower, so if you’re running for time, you might not cover as much ground. But that’s just me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I realized when I read this comment that I left out another reason to run by time, not distance — if you’re a slower runner sometimes there’s diminishing returns if you run too long on a regular basis. Sometimes it’s better to actually split up the run.


  5. its hard to mentally make the switch when you know your usual pace. For some of my athletes I schedule long runs based on time. I just think its important to have an awareness of both the time and distance of a long run so you know you’re not overtraining or under training.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I almost always go by distance. Although I’m not necessarily a numbers-obsessed runner, I do like to have a certain distance in mind. If I need to cut the run short, so be it. I do agree that it’s far better to be under-trained than over-trained.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. When I was training for half marathons/marathons, I always ran for distance, no matter how long it took me. Currently I focus more on times – I’ll run for 30, 45 or 60 minutes and whatever mileage I get in those timeframes is A-OK with me.

    Liked by 1 person

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