Time vs Distance

I've recently started reading Ironfit by Don Fink and I have to say that for the most part, it all makes sense and I think it will have a big impact on the way I train. The one point I am unsure on though is his theory on time based training vs distance based training. I'm not saying I disagree (I don't know enough about it to argue one way or the other yet), rather I don't understand why he thinks that time is better than distance.

I find that if I was to start time based cycling rather than distance, it would make it very hard to plan a nice route for my long rides. Instead I feel I would just end up cyling for say an hour, turning around and then just coming back again. I know he says that it is a real benefit if time is a big constraint, but for me it isn't. Also, what if your ride outward is all uphill with wind against you, then coming back is the exact opposite. Surely you are going to have to work out where to turn around based on elevation and wind, not just time which just seems to complicate things further.

Running isnt so much of an issue as I can do an out and back route pretty accurately but again, I still don't understand why time is better than distance other than if you are just pushed for time? If you are training for a set distance, then why is distance training not better?

I have seen a fair few people use the Fink method on here so I though I would ask as the book doesn't really seem to explain it very well.

Like I say though, I am not disagreeing with his method, just wanting clarity on why it is considered better. I have started time based training in my running now but I haven't converted to time based on my rides yet for the reasons above. I really enjoy planning my route around the country side so swapping to time based will be tough, but if there is a good reason to do it then I am all in image



  • I know what you mean - but the other part of the Fink training is heart rate zones. The balance is that a heart rate zone 2 one hour run is just that - it doesn't matter if this takes you 4 miles or 8 miles (or any other distance for that matter).

    Obviously if you choose a hilly route you may go less distance, similarly if you are fighting a headwind on the bike. The 'time in the zone' is the important factor.

    Before I started with Fink - a 30min run would have been 6k, but in Week 1 of base training it might only be 4-5k as you are training purely for endurance rather than speed. These first few weeks of base training do give you a 'feel' for the pace you hit at heart rate zone 2, so with some practice you can judge how far to plan your 60min runs and rides (and if you are out by 5-10mins either way every now and again it doesn't really matter). And with time, your pace in that heart rate zone improves... allegedly!

    Just my, probably poorly expressed, opinion!

  • You will probably know your average speed for certain types of riding. I would use that to estimate the distance in relation to the time in the plan.

    Say my average is 17 mph on a rolling route. Fink wants 4 hours so I would plan a route of about 70 miles. Slightly longer for pan flat, shorter for hills.

    A few people also say Fink is a bit short of bike time, so I would use the hour sessions as they are (or slightly longer) and then look at the weekly long ride to push the distance, using the time as a rough guide.

    My understanding of using time based training in place of distance is to try and remove that set target. Its easier to run for an hour, it then doesnt matter if its gilly, flat, hot, cold or whatever - the time will be achieved.

    Also, come race day, I guess it is about time after all, rather than distance

  • Yup. Lets you focus on the purpose of the session rather than just distance. Hill repeats measured by distance is just silly. I plan routes by distance for longer stuff. I know I average 18mph on the bike so a 5-hour bike is roughly 90 miles. Plan route adjusting for terrain and off I go. Equally I have a few local 45-minute and 1-hour routes. 

    Plus scheduling benefits for the time poor or disinterested spouse. Check the plan - 60 minute run - and automatically knows how long you will be gone for. 

  • It is a bit of a strange concept at first, but I've been training this way for 3-4 years after doing the complete Fink programme my first year.

    The important thing to understand is it's not just "training for 2 hours" it's "training for 2 hours at Zone 2 intensity".  The combination of intensity and time is what builds fitness - and it does work.

    Planning routes is difficult - I find I build a portfolio of loops large and small to make up my time.  There are two scenarios, that I arrive home well before I'm due and I have to go down the road, or worse I'm still a fair way from home when my time runs out.

    On the bike, going out for an hour, then returning the same route doesn't usually work as headwinds would impact one way or the other.

    I use the method above - work out your usual average speeds for specific intensities (be they HR or power) then plan your routes around that.  For running, I use out and back courses as the headwind fluctuation isn't significant.

    Fink states two benefits for time based training - first the hr zone for a particular time as above, and second for time management purposes.  e.g. a 1 hour run will always take one hour, whereas a 10km run could vary in time

  • marshallinimarshallini ✭✭✭
    7755matt wrote (see)

    Also, come race day, I guess it is about time after all, rather than distance

    Surely it's all about "distance" on the day. You can't just stop at 10 hours and say that's me done, you've got to cover the full 140.6 miles to finish.

    My problem with Fink was the Zones.

    On the bike my Zone 1 was 136.5 bpm max. A typical ride for me was 110bpm. On 10 mile TT I recorded 145 bpm ave, upper zone 2. I just couldn't work in the zones on the bike.

    Running on the other hand was all at least zone 3.

    I gave up on Fink almost immediatley because I was typically doing 15+ hrs a week before the plan started and was not prepared to halve that and when I couldn't work the zones I just binned it and did my own thing.

  • Marshallini

    the plan is meant to build up. If you are already ahead of the plan then maybe it wasn't the right plan. 

    Given this s runnersworld we have a lot of strong runners. It is likely your legs are at max but your cardio isn't. Maybe a sign of not enough bike fitness in comparison to your  running fitness. 

    Beginners triathlete intermediate and advanced run at 13-15 hrs from the start. And unlike fink don't hit 18-20. 

  • marshallinimarshallini ✭✭✭

    I'm not criticising the plan. I was highlighting my personal problem with it, but like you say "maybe it wasn't the right plan".

    At the end of the day my "random sessions" plan worked and got me round with a performance and a time I'm happy with.

    I haven't really helped this thread along at all and the point I was trying to make was

    marshallini wrote (see)
    7755matt wrote (see)

    Also, come race day, I guess it is about time after all, rather than distance

    Surely it's all about "distance" on the day. You can't just stop at 10 hours and say that's me done, you've got to cover the full 140.6 miles to finish.


  • i agree with you Marshallini - i made a point to someone about the slower cyclists, they get told to do 6 hour bikes - and they do a couple of 6 hour bikes covering only 70ish miles - but when race day comes they have to be in that saddle for... 9 hours?? thats a lot longer than what they been training for.

  • For the 'get round' FInkers it is all about time. There are the cut offs to beat.

    Those that are naturally fit, or have a good background in tri, running, cycling or whatever tend to be the ones who would either be in teh competitive plan, or find that Fink just does't work for them.

    I used time at the start of Fink, but now I'm moving over to am ix of time and distance. Time on the weekly sessions and distance for long rides.

    Next time (if there is one) I will work to a variation of Fink maybe the other one and the knowledge of a mentor and the pirates

  • I've gone from Fink, to my own adaptation of Fink, to having a coach telling me what to do.

    My coach sets everything on time and never mentions what distance I should be/am doing.

    It's just about specific intensity over time for reasons that I don't necessarily understand, but he does. My long bikes have gone from 2hrs to 5hrs in the last six months and long runs from 45-100 mins.

    To ensure I can do the whole distance, I'm also doing a 100 mile+ ride every six weeks or so.  To build the endurance you probably don't need any more than 5 hours, but personally it gives me confidence if I've done the 112 miles in one go in training a few times.

  • popsiderpopsider ✭✭✭

    It's about time rather than distance because as someone said 50 miles on smooth tarmac on a still day is easier than 50 miles on a rough road with a headwind.  

    For the OP though I don't think you need worry.   If it says 3 hours at zone x it's not going to be a disaster if you do those 3 hours and still have 20 miles to get home - just relax and ride home at easy pace.  Plan your long rides with an eye on the plan but a bit over isn't an issue.

  • Thanks for all of the responses. Sorry I haven't come back sooner, I've been away all weekend working so haven't had chance to get onto my pc.

    The problem with me is if someone is telling me to do something then I like to know why. Being a faster than average runner (in my opinion) and probably an average cyclist (which I am still finding out as my fitness improves) then I think this method will work well. I can see the problem though for someone that is a lot slower on average, as they wouldn't be getting enough 'time' to simulate anything near the time spent actually completing the race.

    I shall crack on and try and base most, if not all, of my training on time. Thanks again for all of the responses, it really is very much appreciated. image

Sign In or Register to comment.