Running by Feel vs Running by Pace

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What is the difference between running by feel and running by pace? Is one better than the other? Find out why the subtle differences in these training strategies can make a huge difference in your training!

When I surveyed you all for your top training questions, many of you asked me questions about pace. I thought that I would do a little series on the blog over the next few weeks or months that breaks down pacing strategies for training and racing, ranging from determining the correct pace for particular workouts to pacing strategies for the races themselves to how to learn to “feel” a pace while running. Not a runner? I would still encourage you to take a look–these are universal training concepts (remember the concept of periodization from the common training terms post? I rest my case!)

Running by Feel

Insert meme of Ricky Bobby saying he thought he could feel it. And someone saying That’s what she said.

For the purpose of this discussion, when I say “running by feel,” I am discussing running according to how your feel at the time.  There is another kind of running by feel which is running by effort, which is different from running by feel.

So what is Running By Feel?

  • Listening to your body, your mind, you emotions, and being guided by those feelings over what is “appropriate”
  • “Intuitive Running”
  • Example: “I’m feeling good, let’s rip it up!” or “Ugh, legs are like lead, let’s call it in.”

Pros of Running by Feel:

  • By listening to your body, you develop a more developed ability to do so–you will be able to read your body’s signals and listen to what it is telling you.
  • Running by feel makes you highly self reliant and more likely to respect your body’s cues.
  • Wooohoooo you will enjoy your run! You will do what you want, when you want, and each run will be what you “need” each time you go out.

Cons of Running by Feel:

  • Sometimes, our bodies send mixed signals–you might not realize how much you are overdoing it (ie running too fast, too often) until it is too late.
  • Burning out early in a race–WOOOHOOOO LET”S RUN omg I’m dying.
  • On the other hand, you can find that you get stuck in doing what is “comfortable,” and find yourself stuck in a rut. Thus, you run the risk of missing certain milestones.

Running by Pace:

On the other end of the spectrum, we have what I will call Running by Pace. When I refer to Running by Pace, I am describing running by a pre-determined, or set pace. Bring out the Garmin and training plans, people!

What is Running by Pace?

  • Listening to your marathon training plan
  • “Meal Plan Running”
  • Example: “I have 8 miles today at 8:00 min/mile pace, with the last 3 miles at 7:30 min/mile.”

Pros of Running by Pace:

  • Provides structure and guidance during the course of the week. You will know what is expected of you the next morning, the next minute
  • The right plan with the right paces can get you to the start and finish lines happy, healthy, and not burnt out.
  • WOOOHOOO look at me! Running by pace offers concrete proof that you are improving!
  • This type of training will get you more personal best, PR Race “ready” by prescribing workouts BUT…

Cons of Running By Pace:

  • But… you will only be race ready if the proper paces are prescribed, and you know what paces are necessary to hit in order to reach your goals.
  • Higher risk of burn out or injury by pushing yourself too hard, mentally or physically. Worried about runner burn out?
  • Numbers, numbers, numbers. You can get caught up in the numbers and feel discouraged if you aren’t improving the way that you feel that you should.

Important Points to Keep in Mind:

We are dynamic individuals!

Setting paces is akin to setting the hours of time for sleeping, the number of calories that you are eating per day, etc. Thus, there are standards and “optimal” levels, but you must remember that we are dynamic individuals; some days we need more, some days we need less. And, as many runners find out, we may think that we are fitter than we really are!

It is important to focus on listening to your body (even though, as previously noted, they can be a bit misleading). There are going to be days when we are supposed to do speed work and lay it down, and it just. isn’t. there. or, even worse, you feel that you are getting a niggling injury. There will be times when we just need to cut ourselves some slack, or we just have a terrible run. That is OK. Quality is more important than Quantity. I would rather you skip a speed workout than burn out because you just can’t give it your all. That said, sometimes, you need to step up to the plate and work it out. That is where listening to yourself and your body comes in: are you just feeling blah, or are you blah? Will this turn around after 10 minutes, or is this a wash?

Running Strategy: When should you run by pace and when should you run by feel?

Coach Suz advice: In my opinion, the best strategy is the training plan that combines the two. I incorporate both feel and paced runs into my clients programs. I give paces for them to keep in mind for each of their runs, but I also talk about how those paces should feel, because, as I will discuss in later posts about choosing paces, sometimes, pacing is elusive!

I hope that you have a better idea of whether running by feel or running by pace is good for you and your workout! More training discussion to come!

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