Is your running stuck in a plateau? Are you feeling a bit mentally burnt out? Do you want to improve your times and PR, or just run the for the sake of running?
If you answered yes to any of those questions – or even if you answered no – you can benefit from running by feel for your workouts and ditching the GPS.
Now, I’m not telling you to leave your GPS behind completely unless you so wish. I still wear mine to have the data after the run and to keep track of distance and elapsed time.
If you do run with your GPS watch, switch the screen to elapsed time, hide it under your shirt sleeve, or even leave it with the clock screen showing as your run. Save the data for after you run, not during your run.
And remember that, based on the weather, wind, cloud cover, and where you run (trees, skyscrapers, mountains, etc.), your GPS watch can be inaccurate. That’s why sometimes in a race your watch may read 26.3 or 25.9 miles instead of 26.2 (that and how well you ran the tangents). If it’s a USATF certified course, you know the distance is accurate – which means your watch has a discrepancy in its measurement for that particular run.
So don’t let your GPS watch be the determinant of your confidence as a runner or in how you pace a workout. You can use it as an external metric after your run, and you can use it to see how consistently you paced yourself. Ultimately, though, you want to master the art of running by feel – running by perceived effort – rather than running by pace.
What can you gain by running by feel and ditching the GPS?
How can not knowing your instant pace on a training run actually help you run faster? Because by relying upon perceived effort for your runs, you avoid training at the wrong paces.
Take, for example, if you set the goal of running a sub-1:45 half marathon and base your plan off of that pace, your end goal pace, you’re not training for your current fitness. Let’s say for the sake of this example you are currently in shape for a 1:50 half marathon. While hard work and an individualized training plan can help you prepare for that goal, if you start doing all of your tempo runs at the pace appropriate for a 1:45 half versus a 1:50 half, you are training at too fast of a pace – closer your 10K pace than your half marathon pace.
As a result, you build up too much fatigue but are unable to elicit the appropriate physiological adaptations necessary to run a fast half marathon. You may even overtrain or get injured from doing too much, too soon.
However, if you run your tempo runs and long runs based on perceived effort, you train at the appropriate efforts because your body knows effort, not pace (think of how pace changes as you get faster but you still run each particular workout at the same effort), avoid overtraining, and cross the finish line injury free AND faster.
How do you monitor intensity if not by pace?
By rate of perceived exertion, which is actually quite easy to follow. By using perceived exertion, you also learn how to tune into your body’s signals while running. Exertion doesn’t lie: an easy effort is an easy effort. Yes, fatigue can alter your perception of effort, but if you often find yourself at slower paces that you feel your running, that may be a sign of too high of a goal, overtraining, or pushing yourself too hard on your easy days.
Ten Point Scale of Rate of Perceived Exertion:
- 1 (Extremely Easy): You feel like you could run forever, feels almost too slow – easy run.
- 2 (Very Easy): Holding back the pace quite a bit – easy run.
- 3 (Easy): Easy pace, holding back just a bit – easy run.
- 4 (Comfortable/Moderate): Pace feels natural, not holding back but not pushing too hard – moderate run/steady state.
- 5 (Fairly Comfortable/Moderate): You are pushing ever so slightly but it’s sustainable – steady state/tempo run.
- 6 (Slightly Hard/Still Moderate): You could run this pace for 30-40 minutes only – tempo run.
- 7 (Moderately Hard): You could run this pace for 15-20 minutes only – VO2max/5K pace workout.
- 8 (Hard): You could do only a mile or so at this pace – VO2max/3K pace workout.
- 9 (Very Hard): You could sustain this pace for only 2-3 minutes – very short sprint intervals.
- 10 (Hard): Maximum sprint, could only do for one minute – ouch.
(Adapted from Matt Fitzgerald’s 80/20 Running.)
4 Running By Feel Workouts to Ditch the GPS and Run Faster
Tempo by Feel Run
I hear a lot of runners say that tempo runs intimidate them – they are unsure if they will be able to sustain the appropriate pace for the duration. However, tempo runs are not intended to be some impossible workout beyond your ability. If you cannot sustain a certain pace for 20-40 minutes, then it’s not your tempo pace.
Running by feel for your tempo workouts will provide an accurate assessment of where current lactate threshold is approximately – and thus give you an honest idea of your fitness.
How to run it: Warm up with 1-2 miles of easy running, followed by some drills and dynamic stretching. Run for 20-30 minutes, depending on your level of fitness, at a hard but controlled pace (5-6 out of 10 on RPE scale) and with your breathing at approximately a two counts inhale, two counts exhale rhythm. You should be able to speak in phrases but not hold a full conversation. Aim for a consistent effort and don’t check your watch until the run is done – set a time or view only elapsed time on your GPS watch.
Fast Finish Run
Your pace changes as your accumulate fatigue on a run. More accurately, it’s that your perceived exertion increases near the end of a run, so any given pace will feel harder than it would without fatigue in your legs and lungs.
A fast finish long run (or progression run, depending on which coaching philosophy and corresponding semantics you follow) teaches you to increase your effort and run harder over the last mile or a run. Your pace may change or stay the same, depending on the day or route.
How to run it: Run easy for your normal duration of a run, but then add a final mile at a hard but controlled effort (5-7 on RPE scale).
Regular readers aren’t surprised at all by this. I employ fartlek workouts in my own personal training and in my athletes’ plans to reduce the risk of injury, build speed without the mental intimidation of pace, and tune runners into their effort levels rather than a possibly unreliable instant pace on this watch.
Fartlek runs are as varied as the selection of shoes at your local running store, so the options are endless. While multi-pace fartlek runs (such as one of these fartlek countdown runs) are valuable for teaching your body to shift gears and change paces, fartlek intervals at the same effort will train you to sustain an even effort and push through fatigue later in a race.
How to run it: After a 10-20 minute warm up of easy running, run 10 repetitions of 2 minutes hard (7 RPE) and 2 minutes easy. Don’t look at your pace on your GPS; instead, focus on running each intervals at the same effort without noticeably slowing down in the later intervals. Cool down with 10-20 minutes of easy running.
Running by Feel Workout: Easy Run
Yes, an easy run is an ideal running by feel workout. Why? Many runners need to learn how it feels to run truly easy. Even more so, your easy pace can vary by day, especially during high volume and/or high intensity training periods when you accumulate fatigue in your legs after a hard run.
Ultimately, easy run pace doesn’t matter as long as you are running truly easy. Easy is a relative measure of feel and effort, after all – one runner’s easy pace is another runner’s 5K pace. If you run a pace which you deem slow, you may speed yourself up so much that the physiological stress of the workout alters – and then you’re not really getting an easy run, just extra unnecessary fatigue.
How to run it: Run a measured route or plan to run by time. Don’t look at your GPS at all during run, but aim to run at a 1-3 on the RPE scale – you should feel as if you are holding yourself back a bit. In terms of the talk test and breathing, you should be able to speak in full sentences and your breathing should be only slightly relative. If you notice your breathing become more noticeable or your effort creeping up to moderate (slightly pushing yourself), rein in the pace.
Running by feel is the method I strive to use when training runners. Interested in starting to train by perceived effort? Learn more about my individualized virtual coaching services here!
What metrics do you use for monitoring intensity on run? Feel/RPE? Pace? Heart rate monitor?
What’s your run today?