Pace or Effort-based: What Is the Right Strategy for Running?
It is common for new runners to wonder whether they are going too fast or too slow in the beginning. Knowing how to pace yourself is an acquired skill, and it depends on many variables. By logging your training runs and monitoring different metrics — such as pace, effort level, and heart rate — you can easily evaluate your training in terms of improvement or otherwise.
Often, new runners are given a target pace so that they can stay consistent and avoid overtraining. Your training workouts are an opportunity to practice at a variety of paces, depending on the type of run. Today, training is simplified with GPS watches and heart rate monitors. However, can you ascertain the effectiveness of these devices in pacing your runs?
Also read: How to Monitor Your Performance in Training
Effective training pace for running takes into account all external and internal factors that help you determine how fast or slow you should go. However, which is a more appropriate strategy for running — pace-based training or effort-based training? Let’s find out.
Runners often use pace to measure and monitor their performance. It is a useful and easy parameter to monitor your run, as this information is readily available if you use fitness bands or devices while running. Training based on a target pace is particularly beneficial while trying to accomplish a specific time-based goal for an upcoming race.
For example, if your goal is to complete a half-marathon in less than two hours, you will need to run the race at a minimum pace of 5:40 minutes per km, and your training will focus on helping your body sustain the average pace during the race. The training program may not entail you to do every training-related run at your target pace. However, target-pace running will need to be included in your training routine, and the frequency of such training runs will vary as your training progresses.
Many training schedules have speed workouts such as tempo, interval, or repetition runs. These runs are designed and executed at a precise pace based on your current fitness level.
However, training by pace has some disadvantages, as many variables affect it. This approach does not consider factors such as terrain, weather, stress, recovery, and lack of adequate sleep. These aspects can significantly influence or affect your pace.
So, if your training paces are drawn up for your specific location and based on the climate conditions that you had raced earlier, the weather may change during your training weeks, and the pace designed may not reflect the metabolic conditions necessary for a good training effect. For instance, if your tempo pace was designed based on a race that you ran in cool weather, and if the weather on the day you train is warm and humid, you may be running too hard. This will result in early exhaustion before your workout ends.
When you train using effort level, you need to listen to your body and run accordingly. This is because your effort level is the outcome of how you feel from within while training. Although a schedule that is designed based on effort level is a subjective scale, it will not make you go wrong.
You can use a scale called Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) or heart rate as a guide to track how each effort feels during the run, and modulate intensity accordingly to define where you are on the scale. It takes time to learn how to pace by effort, but the more training you do with RPE, the more accurate you will become in determining the effort you are putting in for a particular run.
Here is a tabular representation:
|RPE||Percentage of maximum heart rate||How to understand the effort level|
|1-2||60%-65% of HR max||In this zone, you will be able to carry on a conversation|
|3-5||70%-80% of HR max||In this zone, you will be able to speak short sentences|
|6-8||85%-88% of HR max||This zone will be more demanding, but you will be able to speak single words|
|9-10||90% of HR max||This zone can be very challenging, and you will not be able to speak with ease|
The plus point of this method is that you are always able to run at the correct effort level, irrespective of the weather or terrain. By the same measure, its flip side is that it takes time getting used to, in order to accurately match your effort to the categories shown.
How do you train using pace or effort?
Your training schedule will follow the same scientific basis or method that we mentioned above. It is just that to tackle different physiological systems, you will need to either input the precise pace in the schedule or the effort level. Here is an example:
Which method is better?
When you register for a race, you need to take various facets such as inclines, declines, and altitude into consideration. You also need to consider training surfaces such as pavement, grass, trail, or asphalt and weather conditions like cold, rain, snow, and heat. Apart from these, your state of well-being, which includes factors like sleep deprivation, digestive discomfort, and stress level will dictate your performance on race day.
When you consider that one or more of these variables will decide the outcome of your race execution, it is highly recommended to run by effort to ensure that you are within the limits defined for your race execution. In such a scenario, you may decide that you want to stay at light intensity for the first one-third period of your race and then speed up slowly to an effort that is close to moderate. So, it is clear that effort-based running equips you to take care of many unknown variables in a race and is perhaps the best method.
The body knows the effort and not pace, and when you only stick to numbers, you can end up undertraining or overtraining. GPS watches and apps provide you with information, which can help you in evaluating your performance after you finish your run.