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Outdated Training? Choose Load Over Distance

Training effectively for running is a complex equation, one that transcends the one-size-fits-all mantra. You may be a road runner, trail enthusiast, or an ultra-marathoner. Regardless, you’ve probably stumbled upon the age-old debate: Should you train by distance or by duration? While both these methods have valuable insights to offer, they’re not the entire story. Welcome to the future of training—training load. This article will help you navigate the landscape and understand why metrics like TRIMP (Training Impulse), TSS (Training Stress Score), Strava’s “Fitness,” and Garmin’s “Load” could be game-changers for your regimen.

The Traditional Methods: Distance and Duration

Training by Distance


  • Standardization: A uniform metric that’s easily understood and comparable.
  • Specific Goals: Exceptionally useful for races with set distances.


  • Varied Effort: Terrain and other factors can make a specific distance misleading in terms of effort.

Coach’s Perspective: Distance-based training works well for road and track events where surfaces are generally uniform and terrain is smooth. However, a significant drawback I’ve often observed is athletes pushing too hard to complete a set distance—sometimes to post an impressive number on their social feeds. This competitive drive, while commendable, can sometimes lead to the risk of overuse and injury.

Training by Duration


  • Flexibility: Allows for adaptations based on how an athlete feels on a particular day.
  • Consistent Load: More uniform physiological load, irrespective of external conditions like terrain.


  • Lack of Specificity: May not adequately prepare athletes for races with fixed distances.

Coach’s Perspective: Duration-based training proves beneficial for trail events where it’s nearly impossible to set a meaningful pace due to the varied terrain. However, there are pitfalls. I’ve seen athletes run purposefully slow knowing they’re being measured on time. Even more problematic is when athletes pause during a run to chat or take a break but don’t pause their watches. This leads to a discrepancy between moving time and actual training time, skewing the true training load.

More Than Just a Trend: Training Load

What is Training Load?

Training load is a more holistic measure that accounts for not just the distance covered or the duration of exercise, but also the intensity. By quantifying the physiological stress exerted during workouts, training load provides a highly individualized roadmap for athletes and coaches.

Coach’s Perspective:

While Training Load metrics like TRIMP, TSS, and others may not be new, their mainstream adoption in smartwatches and training software has made them indispensable in contemporary coaching. As a coach, Training Load allows for nuanced adjustments in three key variables: Duration, Intensity, and Frequency. Proper manipulation of these parameters enables a finely-tuned training plan that meets athletes where they are and guides them toward their goals—all while adhering to safety margins and best practices.

Weekly, Monthly, and Yearly Analysis

Studying training load across different timeframes—weekly, monthly, and annually—can help in two significant ways:

  1. Risk Minimization: Allows for gradual increments in training load, reducing the risk of injuries.
  2. Performance Optimization: Helps find the athlete’s sweet spot for maximal load, balancing the needs for performance gains and recovery.

Why Training Load Enhances Mindful Runner’s Approach

Our most crucial objective is to maintain consistency in our athletes’ training regimens. One of the best ways to ensure that consistency is to prevent injury, which we achieve by staying within safe exercise prescription margins. Training Load metrics enable us to be more precise in the “dose” of exercise we prescribe, thereby mitigating risks and setting the stage for sustainable improvement.

Training load offers a lens that not only refines but elevates the traditional paradigms of distance and duration. It promises smarter, more informed decisions, enabling both athletes and coaches to optimize performance without compromising on safety or individual needs. As the future of running coaching evolves, expect to see metrics like TRIMP, TSS, and others featuring more prominently in training discussions, including on our podcast, ‘The Mindful Runner.’

So, whether you’re a seasoned athlete or a newcomer to the running scene, it’s time to look beyond distance and duration. Focus on your training load and unlock a new dimension of performance and well-being.

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