Have you ever wondered as a runner if it’s better to focus on your how long you run or how far you go? Or if it really matters if you focus on one approach over the other?

There are pros and cons to both schools of thought – running by time and running by distance. Depending on who you ask, you may hear recommendations for doing one or the other. But the fact is that whether you focus on time or distance may have more to do with your personal goals than with any tried-and-true tactic. You can use either method to train effectively. And at different times in your training, you may want to switch your focus so you get the best of both approaches.

Here are some of the advantages of focusing on time or distance:

TIME

Good for beginners – Most trainers recommend focusing on time when you’re new to running. Running by time has you focus on just one number – how long you can run until you feel like you need to stop. Start with a set amount of time and increase how long you run as your stamina increases. This is also a good approach during the off-season, when you’re getting in base mileage or when you’re returning from injury.

Even pace – When you’re not constantly looking at how far you’ve gone, you’re less likely to keep varying your pace to cover the desired distance. Studies have found that runners are more likely to maintain an even pace when focused on time.

Measured effort – It’s easier to pay attention to the pace you can sustain when your focus is on time. Tempo runs help you determine what pace feels right during a set amount of time.

Appropriate for more advanced runners, too – If you’re training for a distance event, your focus will likely primarily be on distance so you know you can get to the finish line. But advanced runners can also benefit from time-focused training. Tempo runs help you learn pacing based on feel. During interval training, you can use time as a means of determining when to increase or decrease your intensity. Recovery runs should be all about running for a specific amount of time at an easy pace, without worrying about distance.

DISTANCE

Faster pace –When your main goal is to cover a specific distance, it often motivates you to increase your pace to get it done more quickly. Of course, there are times when you simply want to log miles at a more relaxed pace. In this case, focusing on distance doesn’t motivate you to run faster.

Easier to judge pace, fitness level and race times – If you have a concrete distance to cover, it’s easier to judge the pace you need to get there in a given time. Being able to cover a greater distance in the same amount of time also gives good insight into an athlete’s fitness level.

Builds confidence – If you are training for a distance race, say a half-marathon or marathon, it’s important to know that you can cover the distance required to get to the finish line. Therefore, focusing on distance is important as you progress in your training plan so you feel confident that you can meet your goal.

More common for distance runners – Most races are defined by their length. That’s why most popular race training plans are defined by the distance you need to run on any given training day.