For a lot of us, our approach to training can become very routine leading to over-training, boredom and a loss of motivation. With marathon season behind us and a long winter in full swing, now is a good time to look at your training schedule to see how you can make some easy changes to keep it fresh.
We typically measure our workouts using distance, time or a combination of both. What you choose to go by can be down to your preference, schedule or a specific goal.
When evaluating whether to do a run based on time alone or the more conventional method, distance, there are some subtle differences. When running to time, you’re more likely to maintain an even pace throughout your run, adjusting your pace to meet how you feel as you have no specific distance in mind.
On the other hand, you tend to run faster in distance-based workouts, motivated to by maintaining splits and typically picking up your pace towards the end of the workout. This is explained by research that shows our minds process distance and time differently, with a higher interest in distance. Distance offers more feedback such as a finish line, which can spur us to accelerate.
For a lot of beginners, their relationship to training often reflects the carrot and stick approach, with distance the stick and carrot as time. But pushing too far, too fast will lead to burn out or injury. So when do you choose one method over the other?
Working both methods into your schedule can be done quite naturally by tweaking typical workouts such as tempo runs and intervals:
- Use time-based efforts to fit in your tempo (e.g. 15 minutes at threshold) and steady runs (e.g. 1 hour easy run).
- Then use distance to plan your long runs (e.g. key sessions such as 30-km runs during marathon training) and interval training (1,500m x 3).
A lot of us are in a habit of running to distance and that can be hard to break away from as our GPS watches and fitness tracking apps use it almost exclusively to provide feedback.
While there is nothing wrong with tracking your running progress, it is all too easy to get wrapped up in our weekly distance and our average split times, even when we are supposed to be taking it easy or getting in slow miles.
Some coaches will encourage runners to move away from their watches or tracking apps for a certain period to help stop them obsessing over the stats. While coaches understand that seeing progress is a strong motivator, tracking every run like it is your last can lead to overtraining and take the joy out of your running.
Some coaches recommend using the winter months to ditch the GPS and to focus more on your form and breathing.
Harry Wilson, coach to Steve Ovett, a former mile world record holder, would have used the winter months to train his athletes using time-based, steady-state runs at varying levels of intensity. The idea was to spend a lot of time building a strong aerobic base in preparation for the more intense speed work and competition in the summer.
Ultimately, there is no one approach and finding the balance will be the key to getting your training right for you.