The biggest mistake most new runners make is that they start out too fast and burn out quickly. One of the biggest mistakes intermediate runners make is that they run too fast, too often and don't allow for proper recovery. You see a trend here? Whether we are impressing our Instagram friends with speedy paces or we are trying to achieve a pace that is outside of our current fitness level, most of us can learn a lot by putting the GPS away and running by feel.
If we set aside the runner ego that tells us we have to run fast all the time, then we can run by feel on our slow runs and our fast runs to perform better, recover better and reduce chance of injury. So throw away that GPS watch and let's get started. (Ok, that thing is expensive, maybe don't throw it away, just set it aside for now.)
The best way to run by feel is using the Rate of Perceived Exertion chart and the talk test.
Every runner is different. A nine minute mile pace may feel like a RPE 4-6 for one runner and a RPE 9 for another. It's important in your training to work at your own fitness level and not according to arbitrary paces (especially when following workouts on the internet). If you always run according to your personal effort level, you will be able to choose the appropriate paces for your interval runs, long runs and recovery runs and progress accordingly.
RPE 1 NO EFFORT
You are probably participating in marathon of the NetFlix variety at this effort level. Sitting. No effort at all.
RPE 2-3 LIGHT EFFORT
A light effort may be a moderate to brisk walk. It feels easy and you could likely go an extremely long distance before getting tired.
RPE 4-6 MODERATE EFFORT
This effort is a usually a running pace often referred to as conversational pace. It is exactly what it sounds like, you should be able to hold a full conversation with your running partner without taking gasps of breath between words or sentences. My running partner doesn't talk back, but that doesn't stop me. (Note to new runners, it may take 3-6 months before any runs are conversational, this is normal. Just be sure to take plenty of rest days and walk breaks as needed until you get there.)
Easy short runs for recovery and most long runs should be done at conversational pace. Conversational-paced runs should be done the day or two after hard efforts runs or long runs to allow your body to recover.
RPE 7-8 HARD EFFORT
Hard effort pace is sometimes called tempo pace or comfortably-hard pace. You can usually speak a sentence or two but will need to take gasps of breath. You feel like you are working hard, but you still can maintain the pace over a few miles or long intervals. This is usually the top end of your aerobic threshold.
RPE 9 EXTREMELY HARD EFFORT
At a RPE 9 you can only speak a word or two at a time (and that word just might be a cuss word.) You would not be able to hold this pace for a long time or distance. You usually perform at a RPE 9 pace during sprint intervals.
RPE 10 MAXIMUM EFFORT
RPE 10 is the top end of the effort chart. You are completely out of breath and unable to talk at all. You would not be able to hold this level of effort for long. It would most likely be appropriate for short sprint intervals.
Instead of becoming a slave to your GPS watch, let it work for you. Experiment a little bit with pace on your next run. What pace are you running when you are at conversational pace? What is your hard effort pace? What is your max effort pace? Give it a try and let me know how it goes in the comments, on Instagram or on Twitter. The beautiful thing with RPE is that as you adapt and grow faster/stronger the chart adapts with you.
If you always run your long intervals at RPE 7-8, you will find over time that the pace increases while your effort is the same. Our body adapts to the stresses we place upon it, which means if you run the same pace all the time, it will get easier and your workouts won't be as effective. If you run according to effort and the talk test you will always keep improving.
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