I'm training for the Chicago Marathon this October, and I've been known to run circles around my block at the end of a run, furiously monitoring my Garmin, willing it to hit the exact number of miles I set out to do that day. (4.97 miles -- oh no, that will not do. I must get to 5 miles!) While running for distance is certainly important when it comes to marathon training, I've been wondering recently: Are timed runs also part of an efficient training strategy?

If, like me, you've always run for miles rather than minutes, heed these pro tips to know when (and how!) to work them into your training plan. By the same token, if you're a lover of timed runs rather than mileage­-based ones, you might consider expanding your repertoire, too.

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Timed Runs
The perks: "When running with a time goal [e.g., 50 minutes] there is more opportunity to run at an even pace than in distance-­based runs [e.g., five miles]," says Jenny Hadfield, running coach and co-­author of Running for Mortals and Marathoning for Mortal. Why? You won't be tempted to speed up towards the end to "get it over with," because unlike miles, you can't exactly make minutes go by faster. And since that "run fast, done fast” mentality can't exist with a timed-­based run, it’s easier to run by effort level, which is important for building discipline so you can stick to your goal pace on race day (and not risk going out too hard/too fast and bonking).

What you're missing: If you’re not disciplined, you could end up skimping on mileage. “When running for time, one day you might be running 10­-minute miles for a total of five miles in 50 minutes, but later in the week you're tired and stressed and run 11 to 12 minute miles on that 50-­minute run,” says Terra Castro, LUNA sponsored pro triathlete-­turned-­coach. On the other hand, you could run too fast and end up overtraining (and possibly burnt out or injured).

How to maximize them: “The key is to not get greedy with the mileage and overdo it or underdo it, and then not get the most from your run and risk not being prepped for your race,” says Castro. Here’s how to master running by effort level -- and, in doing so, get the most from time-­based runs: “Rate your level of intensity by how you feel on a scale of one to 10,” says Hadfield. “Then, run easy runs at a six to seven (a pace you could go at for a long time easily), moderate runs at seven-­plus (a pace where you can hear your breathing, but not breathing hard), and speed drills at a nine (well outside comfort zone), says Hadfield.

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Distance­-Based Runs
The perks: "Running by distance can help keep you accountable," says Castro. When you run by miles, you're guaranteed to get in the distance, even if it takes you a little longer on some days. And that's important, especially for long marathon training runs: “The long runs are the bread and butter of marathon training and it is key for mental and physical reasons to get in a percentage of the race distance,” says Hadfield.

What you're missing: In some cases, distance-­based runs can compromise quality. "I'd rather have a runner get in a solid 20­-minute run than to try to tackle an eight-­mile run mid­-week that would take them longer than it should [since on some days you’ll just be stronger/faster than on others],” says Hadfield. Since you’re logging more time on your feet, you’re more likely to fatigue and run with bad form -- a recipe for injury. Plus, if you're a newbie and a bit slower, you can easily get into an overtraining situation by logging too much time on your feet in an attempt to get in the miles, which can lead to injury, too, explains Hadfield.

How to maximize them: Keeps tabs on your stats. Since it’s tougher to maintain an even pace on distance-­based runs naturally, use a GPS watch and keep an eye on it—it will show you your average or current pace (you can choose which one you want to see on the screen). “I use a Garmin Forerunner 220 to help me know where I am at on my runs, which is especially important on those frustrating days when your mind tells you, ‘I am exhausted, tired, can't do it,'" says Castro.

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Moral of the Story
There's certainly a time and place for both timed and distance-­based runs. Hadfield says that for her runners, the goal of mid-­week moderate and easy runs is to train by quality rather than quantity, so she advises doing tempo and easy runs by time. Doing so can certainly improve your running form and help you become a better, faster runner in the long run.

But, as mentioned above, it’s important to do your long runs for distance so you’re guaranteed to get in the percentage of the race­-distance miles (about 20 miles if you’re running 26.2) in your training, so you’ll be prepped for the big day.

If you just love running for exercise but aren't training for anything, there’s really no need to ever be doing distance-based runs, says Hadfield. But as with everything fitness ­related, it’s smart to mix things up from time to time and throwing in a distance-­based run (if you usually run for time) is a great way to do just that!

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By Katie Rosenbrock
TheActiveTimes.com

Whether it's your first or your fiftieth, choosing a marathon takes a lot of careful deliberation. You have to consider everything from the location and the weather to the course terrain and participant volume.

If any of these elements don't suit your needs as a runner, it could make or break your race. While all of these aspects need to be carefully considered, Jason Fitzgerald a 2:39 marathoner and the founder of Strength Running, argues that weather is the number one factor that you should focus on when choosing a race.

"You can control how you run a tough course by slowing down or taking walk breaks, but even those strategies don't work well when you're overheated in a hot and humid marathon," he said.

Sandra LaFlamme agrees. LaFlamme has completed a handful of marathons and blogs about running at OrganicRunnerMom.com. “When choosing a first marathon I would definitely choose a race depending on the time of year."

In fact, for your best bet, she specifically recommends running a marathon that takes place in the fall. Why? Well, below LaFlamme offers three smart reasons to support her argument.

3 Reasons to Run a Fall Marathon

1. "First of all training for a fall marathon is considerably more enjoyable than training for a spring marathon because the weather during your training will typically mimic the weather that you will encounter on race day."

2. "You will also enjoy your long training runs more if you do not have to wear eight layers, or run the risk of frostbite or even worse, having to ditch your outdoor long run for a dreaded treadmill 20-miler. Yikes!"

3. "Fall is a gorgeous time to run and finding adequate daylight for training tends not to be as much of an issue."

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While fatigue manifests itself in aching muscles, shorter strides, and decreasing speed, your mind is actually the culprit behind your tiring body. Science has found that your brain is hardwired to slow you down and keep some energy in reserve so you don't run out of fuel. There are simple training tactics you can use to deceive your brain and utilize some of that unused energy, though. Try them during your next workout to run farther and faster than ever before.

Break up your mileage.
Interval workouts feel less unwieldy than a long run. "Breaking any long run into more manageable chunks of distance makes it seem like you’re not running as far," says Jason Fitzgerald, a 2:39 marathoner and founder of Strength Running in Washington, D.C. "When you divide it into a warmup, fast repetitions, recovery intervals, and a cool down, the total mileage seems less daunting." (Here are the 5 best ways to avoid the most-frequent pains, strains, and aches that can occur with running.)

You can go harder during those short intervals than you would when just doing a steady run for the same distance, too. This increases your VO2 max, or how efficiently you take in oxygen to turn calories into energy, so you can push your body farther and faster, according to research from the Mayo Clinic.

DO THIS: Head to a track and warm up with 10 to 20 minutes of easy jogging. Run 6 x 800 meters at your 5K race pace with a 400-meter jog between each. The interval pace should feel difficult, but sustainable for a half mile. During the 400-meter recovery, focus on bringing your heart rate down and mentally preparing for the next interval. By the end of this workout, you’ll have banked 3 miles of hard running and anywhere from 6 to 8 total miles including warmup and cool down.

Boost your strength.
Sprint workouts are already tough. But if you want to take yours to an all-new level, throw some quick body-weight training between your sets. You're changing the stimulus and challenging your body in new ways instead of just thinking about the next sprint, explains Brandon Vallair, a USATF certified coach and owner of Run for Speed in Dallas, Texas. When you attempt your next sprint, your mind will consider it a brand-new workout instead of a continuation of the previous sprint. The result: You'll be able to push your limits and finish more sprints than you could before. (If you're looking to go harder for your next big race, spend more time in the weight room to become a more powerful and injury-free runner.)

DO THIS: Head to a flat field, park, or track. Complete four 50-, 100-, or 200-meter sprints. Between each sprint, perform a strength move--15 situps, 20 pushups, a one-minute plank, or 30 squats--instead of walking. Once you complete all four sprints and all four strength moves, take a short rest. That's 1 round. Do as many rounds as possible.

Speed up your workouts.
Fartlek is Swedish for "speed play," meaning you vary your pace during your run. "Doing this allows you to focus more on effort and running intensity, rather than total distance," explains Tim Bradley, founder of Big River Personal Coaching in St. Louis, Missouri. You'll throw in speed changes that are typically faster than your normal steady-state pace, which will give you a better workout than if you jogged for the same amount of time. Plus, increasing your speed and intensity for short bursts mimicks running a race with hills and turns, says Bradley. This causes your heart rate to remain higher during a fartlek run, ultimately improving your overall fitness and preparing your body for race day. (Getting in peak shape is a tricky dance for endurance athletes. Find out the Surprising Way to Run Faster and Longer.)

DO THIS: Perform a short warmup. Then begin your running route. Somewhere in the middle of your run, pick up your pace for 30 seconds, slow down for 30 seconds, and then repeat 4 more times.

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You know what it feels like to run comfortably -- comfortable! -- and you're likely also familiar with the burn of going all-out. But what about the range of paces that lie in between these two extremes?

Workouts that target that middle ground -- often referred to as "tempo runs" -- should be part of your weekly routine, whether you're running for fitness or looking to set a personal record. They build both slow- and fast-twitch muscle fibers, which leads to gains in speed and endurance, says Samantha Clayton, Olympic sprinter and former women's sprint coach at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. And in-between runs develop capillary beds (which provide oxygen to working muscles) better than easy or hard runs do, says Ryan Warrenburg, head coach for ZAP Fitness-Reebok Coaching and USATF Level 1-certified coach in Blowing Rock, North Carolina.

Middle-ground runs also benefit your brain. These workouts help you understand how different paces feel, putting you more in tune with your abilities (and limits), Clayton says. They also build mental endurance and toughness, an asset whenever you're pushing yourself to go longer or faster than you've gone before. With all these perks, it's wise to spend some time running between easy and all-out.

MORE from Runner’s World: Find Your Tempo

Here are a few ways to do it.

Lactate-Threshold Run

What It Is: A workout at the pace at which your body produces and clears lactate (a metabolic by-product of exercise) at a close-to-equal rate. Many runners erroneously blame lactate, a substance the body clears fairly quickly, for postrun soreness, says Alicia Shay, a Flagstaff, Arizona-based runner for the Nike Elite Trail Team, coach for the Run SMART Project, and coach and nutrition consultant for Hypo2 Sport Performance Center. In fact, your body can use lactate as fuel for muscle cells. You start to slow when it accumulates faster in the blood than your body is able to clear it. (Lactate itself does not cause fatigue, but it builds up in tandem with by-products that do.) When you run at lactate-threshold pace (what most people mean by "tempo-run pace"), you're training your body to hold the fastest speed at which your blood lactate levels stay fairly steady for a longer period of time.

The Workout: Warm up with 15 to 20 minutes of easy running. Run 20 minutes at a pace you could sustain for an hour-long race. (You're doing it right if you can barely talk, Warrenburg says.) Cool down with five to 10 minutes of easy running.

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Race-Pace Run

What It Is: A workout in which you practice the pace you're hoping to hit during a marathon or half-marathon. If you're prepping for one of these races, these workouts are a crucial way to rehearse. "You're teaching your body how to efficiently utilize fats and carbohydrates at your desired pace on race day," says Chris Heuisler, RunWestin Concierge and RRCA-certified coach in Boston. Plus, race-pace training lets you practice fueling at goal pace, which helps you learn what goes down smoothly.

The Workout: Every three weeks, sub out your normal, easy-paced long run for one with a race-pace segment. If you're training for a half-marathon, warm up for two miles, run at race pace for six to eight miles (depending on where you are in your training plan), then cool down for a mile. If you're training for a marathon, work a race-pace block of six to 14 miles (after a two-mile warmup) into your long run.

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Progression Run

What It Is: A run that starts easy but gradually increases in speed. These workouts teach you to be mindful of your pacing, which can help you avoid going out too fast (and burning up precious glycogen stores too early) in a race, Warrenburg says. Whether you're planning to race or not, the occasional progression session can bust everyday-run boredom--stepping up the pace at regular increments keeps your body challenged and your mind engaged.

The Workout: Warm up 15 minutes. Then, start a 30-minute progression run: Speed up by 10 to 15 seconds per mile every six minutes until you're running at about threshold pace by the last six minutes. Cool down five to 10 minutes.

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