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Rating of Exertion

Coach Kyle here and today you are going to learn about one of the primary practices that I use for not only my own run training but for my clients as well.

This is the ability to run by feel or perceived exertion. When you are aware of how easy or hard a run feels you are capable of better controlling and modulating a run on a specific day based on your fatigue level, the weather, the run duration, and other factors.

When I have a new client come to me for coaching I always share with them a chart and description of ratings of perceived exertion. This is a 1 through 10 scale which starts with runs at a very easy conversational effort. I very often have my mouth closed for my easy runs and this allows me to keep them truly easy. A great rule of thumb is if you can have a fairly normal conversation while running you are at a good easy exertion. As the numbers increase so does the effort level and it goes to moderate and hard to best effort.

Why Should You Run by Perceived Exertion?

You will realize a number of benefits once you become comfortable running by how you feel and not a heart rate or pace number.

First and most importantly, you’ll become a more mindful and tuned in running about your current run. This will allow you to run each section of a run, a workout, or a race at the appropriate level so you can feel strong and sustainable for the entire run duration.

Another benefit is that you’ll rely less on your watch for dictating your run. Gone are the days of looking at your heart rate or speed every two minutes, heck you may even ditch the watch once in a while all together! Some of my favorite runs are when I go out for 5-ish miles at a very easy effort. Nothing tracking my every step or each beat of my heart, no electronics on me at all. Just me and the miles – the ultimate form of active meditation.

Third is that you’ll find your workouts simply fall into place. On a personal level if I was my own coach I would prescribe me to run 5 x 1k @ 4:00-4:10 / KM but if I was to run them by effort it would be 5 x 1k at a moderate to moderately hard effort level…and you know what? Both workouts would be exactly the same. Your body and brain starts to understand what moderately hard for 4:00 feels like as it does what moderately hard for 4 miles at once feels like for a tempo run. This connects to the first benefit where you develop improved pacing and mindfulness abilities when it comes to running the run and mile you’re currently in.

When should you ignore the speed and run by exertion?

While I do most often use perceived exertion for myself and my clients there are times when it is more appropriate than others.

The first to come to mind is early on in a training cycle, perhaps after a period of rest. During this time that I refer to as an introductory time period, we are just starting to implement quick running speeds into our training with anything from 30 seconds strides to longer hill repeats and upwards of two or three minute surges.

For these short quick bouts of running early on in a training campaign the goal is to use them to prepare for the longer workouts to come and for these short strides and repeats they’re meant to be more casual where you simply run them at a brisk but sustainable and controlled exertion. It’s like chasing a ball going out into the street, not like chasing a child.

I tell my clients that there’s no need to hit the lap button and try to hit a goal pace and you can do them on uphills or downhills or flat sections. You may not be as fast for these as you feel you should as you are coming off a low point in training so one benefit of running by feel is that you’re not going to be bummed out by seeing what your speeds are compared to what you think they should be.

Even a little bit later in a training campaign after we’ve gone through this little introductory time frame and we’re going on to slightly longer 1K or 5 minute or 1 mi or maybe 10 minute or even longer moderate to moderately hard repeats we still might do them by perceived exertion. These help the runners develop the skill to be mindful of how hard they are running and to better modulate and control their effort and pace for longer segments and for future races. This is hopefully going to prevent you from running too hard on your workout days or even on your easy days and your races.

Recently I was talking with a client of mine and I told her that if I’m having an off day on how I feel or the weather is extra windy or warm I might modify a workout that was originally supposed to be a set distance at a set speed and change it to a workout where I ignore the actual speed and run by perceived exertion for repeats of however long they would have normally taken me.

So let’s say the original workout was 1 km repeats at 4 minute kilometer pace, however it’s super hot outside and I know that I won’t be able to hit the goal speed. One option is to just do the workout slower but another option that I like to do to kind of spice things up a bit and change it up is to simply take that workout and do 4-minute repeats at a moderately hard effort. The body doesn’t care that I ran slower, it only cares about training load and recovery! If I don’t feel like running on the track or flat pavement or keeping accurate split times I might even move such a workout to a rolling route so I would do 4-minute repeats with some good uphills and downhills.

When you run a repeat workout by perceived exertion you should do them at a fairly sustainable effort. This is true for all types of workouts but you should cover each repeat a feeling strong and end the workout feeling like you could have done one or two more repeats well.

How Not to Run by Perceived Exertion

So now that we’ve talked about why you should learn to run by perceived exertion and some ways to do it let’s talk about what running by perceived exertion is not.

You should never have to check your watch if you are running by effort. We are ignoring the actual speed and as long as an easy run feels truly easy you are running at the proper exertion level. Your speed can and will fluctuate based on the terrain or the weather or your sleep the night before and running by an easy effort keeps the run truly easy and if it’s extra hot out you will slow down to keep the pace easy.

For many of my clients they do eventually run workouts with specific distances and speeds suggested to them ahead of time.

What is important to realize is that if you and your coach are aware of your abilities you can go run mile repeats at a moderate to moderately hard effort and you’ll end up running them at the same speed you would have if you simply would have plugged in a goal time for the workout repeats. If you are able to do this it likely means you have appropriately developed the skill to not only run by perceived exertion but to plan and pace a workout appropriately.

“I thought all runs needed to be hard for way too long. It’s really only been this year where I stopped feeling guilty about running a true easy run.”

Emalie M