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Running by Effort aka Perceived Exertion Training


Last week, I talked about Running by Feel vs Running by Pace, and this week, I am going to discuss Running by Effort, known in some circles as running by feel and in others as perceived effort. I discussed my definition of running by feel last week (don’t worry, I will refresh you in a moment), but this week we are going to fully concentrate on effort based training, one of the most valuable tools in your endurance training toolbox.

Running by Effort aka Perceived Exertion Training

Perceived Exertion Training aka Running by Effort. What is this method of training, and how can it improve your half or full marathon training plans? Find out at @suzlyfe

What is Perceived Exertion Training or Running by Effort?

Perceived Exertion Training or Running by Effort takes into account the intensity of your activity to define your workout level, rather than pace or emotion. This is truly listening to your body: heart rate, respiration rate, sweat rate, muscle fatigue. 

How do you Measure Effort and Exertion?

Many of us know of the Borg scale of Rate of Perceived Exertion. If you haven’t, no big deal: it is a 6-20 scale (the classic model) or the more commonly known 1-10 scale of perceived exertion where the lower the number, the lower the level of exertion. 

The Suz version of the Borg Scale:

  • 1-2 Little Exertion: Very Easy/Recovery Run
  • 3-4 Light Exertion: Conversational Pace–you could go for years
  • 5-6 Moderate Exertion: This is true work.
  • 7 Moderate-Hard Exertion: Challenging, but sustainable for an amount of time
  • 8-9 Hard Exertion: You are working HARD, think hard intervals
  • 10 Max Exertion: You have nothing left to give

Why I do not call Running by Effort “Running by Feel”

There are many coaches and articles that will refer to what I call Running By Effort as “Running by Feel.” In my mind, Running by Feel has an greater intuitive emotional component, whereas Running by Effort is as business-like as Running by pace, but simply uses a different scale and goal. For example:

  • Running by Feel: I FEEL AWESOME LET’S RUN ALL THE MILES or I am just not feeling it today, guys.
  • Running by Effort: I feel awesome, but I know that I had a hard week and a I have a long run tomorrow, so I am going to enjoy the ease of this run and save myself for tomorrow or I am just not feeling it today, guys, but I am going to go out there and adjust my pace to fit my tired legs. I may not run as far as I would with fresh legs, but I will still get the training in properly.
  • Running by Pace: 1 mi warm up at very easy pace x:xx followed by x miles at x:xx pace with a fast finish of x miles at x:xx pace. Cool down at very easy pace x:xx.
This Ricky Bobby Meme perfectly explains running by feel. He thought he could feel it!

aka running by feel

See the difference?

How Effective is Running by Effort?

In a word: very. Rating your running by effort provides for a great deal of rationality to enter into the equation by assessing where your body is that day, taking into account the breadth of your training (past and future), and taking the emotional component out. Runners who train by perceived effort can see tremendous gains during training because they are truly listening to their body but also incorporating tried and true methods for improvement. 

Do you stay active on vacation? My favorite way to vacation involves staying active and fit |

Who Would Benefit from RPE Running?

Running by Effort aka Perceived Effort Running is a great way for so many runners, including those who

  • may not have run (or raced) much before, or simply don’t know much about paces and pacing.
  • are coming off of a hiatus and thus don’t have good benchmarks.
  • tend to get very caught up in numbers and data.
  • tend to be emotional runners.
  • ain’t got time for malfunctioning technology. Do I smell a second round of ain’t got time for that?

What are the Drawbacks of Running by Effort?

The way I see it, there are not that many, but there are, of course, drawbacks to running based on perceived exertion. As much as we would like to say that we can take emotion out of the equation, how often can we really and truly? When you are sprinting with everything that you have, rationality is rarely your strong suit! 

Another shortcoming of running by effort is simple human error: be honest with yourself and ask how well you can truly monitor your body. That said, running by effort is an excellent way to learn to listen to and assess your body. 

Sometimes, we need to be emotional: if you are not emotionally able to invest your attention in the run, you increase your likelihood of getting hurt due to poor posture or technique, or tripping, or taking a branch to the face. There are days when you really need to listen to your emotions, otherwise you will still run the risk of mental burnout. Remember, marathon training is as much a mental marathon as a physical one! 

Come race time, you will need to have some idea of pacing so that, as those pace groups line up and get started, you have some idea as to where to line up yourself. Many of us runners joke that the first mile often lies, and this is particularly true during races, so it is great to have a framework that will set you up for success, not burnout.

Check out a part of my library of running books! As a running coach, I am dedicated to staying educated and on top of the best training methods for my athletes. Come check out what I am reading! @suzlyfe

Feel, Pace, Effort: What Do I Use in My Race Training Plans?

A mixture of all! I wholeheartedly believe that the best training plans–for any race distance–incorporate a blend of all of the above. I generally give my clients paces to work off of, but I also want them to understand the importance of listening to their bodies in order to get the best results and have the greatest success and happiness in what they are doing. Need that day off for whatever reason? Let’s move that day so that you can get the rest you need (mental, physical, emotional) and get the best from your run on another day. When they do run, I have paces for each type of run that I give them, but I also have additional instructions that instruct them how the run should feel. 


Get it girl! @raeisadarlin is kicking ass at @runvermont #vermontcitymarathon training! #proudmama #whyicoach #runchat

A photo posted by Susie @ Suzlyfe (@the_suzlyfe) on Feb 7, 2016 at 6:37am PST

The best feedback? Perfect races are great, but I get the best feeling from responses like this from Rae this weekend, saying that she felt strong during her entire run (which she did according to plan) and that she finished feeling like she was solid, and not depleted. That is what I am looking for. That means that the plan is working, that she is listening to her body, and that it all came together. Pat on the back for Rae, for myself, and for the universe!

Beyond Running: Training by Effort

Of course, more than just runners can benefit from training by effort rather than feel or prescription if they want to improve. Train according to your body, hit your own goals, define your own success. Take the days off when you need them, and gain enough technical knowledge about yourself that you can “swim” when placed in foreign waters (aka, if presented with someone lifting x amount, know if you can actually hang with them!). Not only will you be able to consistently get an excellent return on your investment (time and effort), but you can save yourself time of switching out weights, embarrassment (you know that it happens), and injury!

Have you tried #Running by Effort? It might be the right fit for you! #runchat #marathontraining #fitness Click To Tweet

Where are my effort based runners or fitness people at? What about it works well for you?

If you don’t incorporate effort-based training, why not? What works for you instead?

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