Should we focus on Time or Distance?

Robert Dickison arthur lydiard Brad Beer competition distance distance running mjojo runners olympics peter snell running time time to run time vs distance tokyo

I recently saw an article written for the Gold Coast Marathon by Brad Beer, my local physio, founder of Pogo Physio Gold Coast, and author of the Amazon best seller “You Can Run Pain Free”.

The tittle of this article was “The 80/20 Rule Of Running” in which Brad was suggesting we should be running some of our training sessions at a much slower pace. – As he states

“The high volume low intensity combination helps runners perform to their potential. The difference between runners who reach their potential and those who don’t, is the amount of slow running. It’s difficult for many runners to make peace with the concept, that if they want to run faster, they need to slow down in some of their sessions. Wanting to run faster, yet needing to slow down seems contradictory”.

In the article he also mentions that recreational runners operate more on a 50/50 approach, 50% at moderate intensity, with some high intensity mixed amongst it, and 50% at low intensity, however from personal experience, I believe the moderate to high intensity percentage, could be even higher than 50%, because you may set out to do a slow run, but as you start to warm up and your mind starts to wander to thoughts of that next race, or even normal day to day activities, you find that the pace has increased, and you are running faster than intended. 

Another contributing factor to running too fast too often in training, is when you have a regular training circuit, which you run 2 to 3 times per week, you know how long it takes and mentally, you tend not to be able to relax and run it slower than this time.  I know how easy it is to get hooked in to this situation, because back when I first started running, I had a 15km circuit which I loved to run in the early morning, so there I would be usually 3 times a week trying to smash it out in under an hour.

On top of this type of training I was running for a local club, so would be racing every second week, throwing in a few fun runs, and having a shot at 3 to 4 marathons a year, and then of course the great coach Arthur Lydiard, which we were all following at the time, had mentioned we should be training 100miles per week. I tried very hard but unfortunately I could not get to that 160km, I would make it to 120km then any more than that and I would fall apart.

I met Arthur Lydiard in the late 80s and obtained a better understanding of his training philosophy, in which he said. “The fundamental principal of training is simple; it is to develop enough stamina to enable you to maintain the necessary speed over the full distance at which you plan to compete”. He reinforced this by explaining that when Peter Snell won Olympic gold in the 800metres, in both Rome in 1960 and Tokyo in 1964, he was one of the slowest runners in the finals but he had the stamina to out sprint the field over the last 100m.

At the time we met most of the athletes he was training were at a distance, so he was getting them to train more on a time basis than on distance. As a faster athlete over say 20k would not run as long as a slower athlete they would tend to miss out on the most important aspect of conditioning,- the volume of work they do. Also running over a distance created time competition, but running for an hour and a half anywhere you want applied less pressure and seemed to get better results.

So if you take Brads recommendation, and run slower for 80% of your runs, and start to forget about the distance covered while you’re out there, but just focus on running for a set time, who knows you may see an improvement in performance.


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