RD - Miles or Minutes

Running Debates: Miles or Minutes?

Miles or minutes? Minutes or miles? It's an age-old topic of debate among runners and coaches alike, one that seems to have only grown more fervent as new technologies have developed. In the past, when *all* watches did was tell time, running for minutes was clearly the easiest choice. With GPS watches now tracking our movement down to the hundredth of a mile, the ability (and possible temptation) to run for distance has become much more of a reality. The emergence of routing tools like MapMyRun and Strava's 'segments' have certainly blurred these lines a bit, but there are still a number of runners firmly grounded in either one camp or the other. Where do you fall?


written by Katie Kellner

I can measure almost anything by minutes. I can take a nap for 30 minutes. I can go to the grocery store for 40 minutes (double that if it’s Wegmans). I can sit and binge watch the entire first season of Stranger Things for approximately 400 minutes. Or, if I wanted to clump running into all of the other random stuff I do in my life, I could go run for 60 minutes.

But running is special. It’s a way to get from here to there both literally and figuratively. Running has challenged me to become better person and has changed my work ethic, self-esteem, and confidence for the better. How does one accurately measure going from one place to another in minutes? They don’t. They must measure it in MILES. Miles are concrete and accurate, but that is only one of the many reasons that my running log is full of records of miles run rather than time spent out on the roads.

The biggest argument for running by time is that it gives the athlete flexibility to run any pace they would like and still be done at the same moment. There isn’t that temptation to run faster to be done sooner. Therefore, running by time is often recommended for an athlete when they are coming back from injury or on their recovery days. What many fail to remember is that it can work in just the opposite way as well. My former college coach would probably get angry at me if he reads this (Hi Artie!) but there was one time he was helping me come back from an injury. He gave me a “back to running plan” all built around timed runs. Soon enough, a 20 minute easy run turned into a challenge to get in 3 miles. Before long, I found myself converting the times into distances so I wouldn’t be tempted to run too fast to fit as much as I possibly could into the time allotted. Similarly, Rachel and I used to do a lot of long runs together my senior year at Cornell that were measured by time. As much as I hate to admit it, I know we both know that each week was a competition to see if we could fit in more miles than the previous week. We had some great memories on those runs, but our competitive spirit would get ahold of us sometimes.

Running by miles has also led to a lot of amazing MILEStones (yes, I know, great pun) in my life that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. I have been adding up a grand total of the miles I have run since I started training for Cornell University back in the summer of 2009. As the outdoor Heptagonal Track and Field Championship loomed closer my senior year, I realized that my grand mileage total was steadily increasing towards 10,000 miles run. When the Heps was finally only a week away, I noticed that my 10,000th mile would magically fall on the same day as my 10,000m race. After a meeting with Artie, we devised a plan to make sure my 10,000th mile run as a Cornell athlete would fall as my last mile in the 10,000m (which surprisingly only required some very minor adjustments). That 10,000th mile ended up being quite an unforgettable one. Going into the final 4 laps of the 10K, Olivia Mickle (former Brown runner and awesome friend who I still have the pleasure of seeing at races) and I had formed a slight gap over the rest of the field. Anyone watching the race could tell that it was going to be a close one… and it was. I beat Olivia by a mere 0.2 seconds and had to run my fastest ever last mile of a 10K (and quite possibility the fastest 400m of my entire running career) to just barely cross the finish line in front of her. I became the 2013 10,000m Ivy League Champion during my 10,000th mile and I would never had known that if I had been counting my minutes.*

So treat your running as the special part of your life it is. Almost anything can be measured in minutes, but running is one of the few awesome activities that can be measured in miles!

*If you are interested, my 20,000th mile just happened to fall on my first day of Graduate School this past August! I swear, there is significance to these random coincidences!

Katie Kellner was a three-time DI All-American while at Cornell University. She has personal bests of 32:58 for 10000m, 1:14 for the half marathon and 2:41 for the marathon. She competed in the 2016 Marathon Olympic Trials and recently qualified for the 2020 Marathon Olympic Trials. She currently runs for the BAA in Boston, MA where she is also in graduate school to get her Masters of Public Health.


written by John Schilkowsky

Easy days easy. This is a mantra that I feel is important for every runner. My first coach in college (who took me from 4:54 as a miler neophyte to 4:03 in just two years) would stress that the point of every non-workout day was simply to recover from the previous workout and to prepare for the next workout on the training schedule. Based on this thinking, I feel it is important to always remind myself what the point of every day’s run is. At the start of every easy run, which usually begins with me stumbling down the stairs, groggily rubbing my eyes, and then stepping out into the chilly Boston air, I try to remind myself the purpose of the day’s run. If the purpose of a given day is to run easy and recover, the easiest way for me do that is to go by how I feel, and to run for time.

As a miler who knows the distance of a mile down to the exact specifications (5,280 feet, 1609.1 meters, 4.02275 laps of an outdoor track, 8 full laps around the weird 220 yard track at Harvard etc.), sometimes it is nice to not measure myself based on the distance that I race. When in the middle of an easy run, if someone were to tell me “we’re getting there, just a little over 4 miles to go”, based on the fact that I know down to the inch precisely how long each one of those miles are and how I feel after racing just one of them, it seems like an almost insurmountable distance. At the idea of trudging through another 4 whole miles, my mind begins to drift to thoughts of “ugh that’s 6400 meters and like doing 32 laps at Harvard; why must I punish myself for that long”. Obviously, I know I can run 4 more miles (hell the idea of my easy days is to go so easy that I COULD supposedly run much, much further with little effort), thinking about it in terms of miles makes it seem significantly farther to go and harder to do.

Focusing on only the time I have to run rather than the distance gives me a way to distract myself, making the run infinitely easier. By telling myself “just 30 minutes to go” I am able to take the focus off of the distance left to run and remind myself that I should be following what my body tells me to do and be relaxed. Heck, I can tell myself “30 mins is how long it takes me to roll out my legs every evening. It’s the time it takes me start to finish to dump ice in the tub and fill it up with freezing water, shiver my way through 12 mins of an ice bath plunge, and jump out and get in snuggly-ass clothes for the rest of the night”. I can think of so many easy tasks that take me 30 minute, or 60 mins or 90 minutes or however long it is that I have to run, and this to me makes running for minutes over time feel like nothing at all.

As the mind and body are intricately interwoven in running, this sort of thinking can allow me to feel like I am putting in an “effortless effort” (another of my college coaches favorite sayings for easy runs and progression days).  It allows me to maintain the purpose of the day's run without worrying about what each mile split is or how fast or far I am precisely going. I accomplish my goal of getting in the time on my feet, going home, doing recovery activities and getting ready for the next hard workout on the docket. Because after all, easy days should be easy.

John Schilkowsky was a standout runner for Cornell University, setting personal bests of 4:02 for the mile and 8:06 for the 3000m during his time there. Since graduating, he has found success over longer distances on the roads, most notably running 14:49 for 5k and 31:30 for 10k. Currently he competes for the New England Distance Project and is an ambassador for rabbit running apparel.