Have you ever left the front door not sure about what pace to to run? You may have chosen to run one of your favourite routes through the park, over the fields or past certain landmarks and views but how hard should you run and what should the effort feel like?
I coach beginners, improvers and elites and can assure you that you all face the same dilemma in any given week. The magazine schedule says Tuesday should be hard, the web schedule says Thursday should be steady and you have heard that most of your long runs should be at an easy effort. Yet you find yourself asking as you jog along the road, ‘what is hard and how should this feel?’ Equally, how can a long run ever be easy! Or to be honest, ‘however slow I run it NEVER feels easy!’
So we need to look at effort levels and what this should feel like.
For those of you who are very new to running we promise that this sport doesn’t have to be exhausting and each run shouldn’t leave you tired for days. The early runs where we are learning to cover distance and time should be completed at the speed of chat. That’s right, you should be able to still talk to the person next to you whilst running. We call this the ‘talk test’ and it is great to use to gauge effort level. For those who are more experienced, running at ‘the speed of chat’ is how your easy runs should feel in a training week. You should feel totally in control, relaxed and able to talk whilst running. Easier to check whilst running with a friend but if on your own, you may find you are running along the street talking to yourself; no bad thing as long as it helps you test the effort level! If you wanted to give this type of running a score as an effort level 1-10 (1 being the easiest) it could be 6/10.
For those of you combining walking & running as you build fitness, this effort level remains the same. It is our most visited area in a training week and you need to make sure you can still hold a conversation on both the walking and running segments.
The next level… this is steady running and the backbone of training for the more experienced. It isn’t complicated but does require honesty. You can push this area too hard and run junk miles that leave you too tired for clever sessions that we will talk about next. This area is perhaps a 7/10 on your scorecard and is still conversational, although the chat is slightly strained.
Threshold running… you can all train like Paula; even if new to the sport, and this is how you do it. We call this ‘uncomfortable running’ or ‘controlled discomfort.’ The real key though is that you can still talk between each breath but its only 3-4 word answer effort. If you can utter a couple of distressed words you are working too hard and conversely if you can say most of a sentence you are not working hard enough. This is running uncomfortably but with control… just! It is certainly not sprinting or running to exhaustion. You might only be ready to include a few 3-minute blocks of this in a run each week but it can grow and you can build the volume over the months. We will also talk more about this key component to training in the months ahead, but for now we just need to know what it feels like. Its 8 -9/10 and 3-4 word answer effort.
So the next time you leave the front door have a planned route and know what you want from your training. Have a purpose and listen to your body as you run.
Remember these 3 key levels:
- Easy run – fully conversational at the speed of chat and about 6/10
- Steady run – conversational, controlled but slightly strained and about 7/10
- Threshold running – controlled discomfort and 3-4 word answer pace 8-9/10
Make every run count…