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360 YOU: Learn to Run by Effort

You've heard about running based on effort, here's how you actually implement it.

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I used to be totally dependent on my watch and paces. Every run, every race, was judged successful or not based on the numbers my watch spit out. This ended up backfiring for me. I would either totally sabotage workouts in tougher conditions because I was fighting against my body to hold paces. Or I would be completely dependent on my watch and the number it said and I wouldn’t trust myself.

Learning to run by effort is a more advanced way of running. And it’s the most accurate, efficient way to run. Our bodies are always right. They always know what effort to put into every run. It is so important to learn your body and not be so dependent on your watch. Otherwise, when you get into a race and your watch dies or the GPS signal is wonky, you’ll be learning the hard
way why depending on the data isn’t always your best bet.

How Can Running By Effort Benefit You?

Training by effort maximizes your training and helps to protect you.

Every day is a bit different. How you feel and the load you carry all varies depending on so many factors–sleep, stress, fueling, hydration, recent training, etc. The way all of these factors work together is so complex and you won’t always be able to pinpoint exactly what’s going on and how well you’ll perform on any given day. So going off of effort ensures that you run the right
effort for that day, regardless of what the pace looks like. You will unlock bigger progress as you learn to start trusting your body.

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Training is intended to stress the body. After that stress your body needs to recover in time for the next hard session. What you don’t want to do is go so hard in training that you’re over-stressing your body and doing too much—and then not recovering before the next session. You’ll end up feeling rundown instead of bouncing back up.

So what does running by effort do?

  • Running by effort makes sure that you’re giving the appropriate amount of effort while accounting for whatever else is going on in your life—whether your own internal stressors (stress, lack of sleep, delayed recovery from another workout) or external stressors (heat, humidity, extreme cold, hills, wind).
  • It helps you be in tune with your body and learn to trust it.
  • When you trust your body, your pacing will become more precise—something I would never have believed when I was married to my watch. With enough practice you’ll be able to feel a pace as well as any watch could measure it.

Sometimes running by effort means your pace will need to be slower than you want, like if it’s very hot. Other times running by effort will help you realize your true fitness and surprise you with a faster pace. In training, you aren’t always able to predict what your breakthrough race will look like. We can unintentionally limit ourselves by being so focused on paces and ultimately scared of faster paces.

When you know your body and the right effort for any workout or distance, you can truly run to your potential, because you’re able to run your max for every situation. It’s a way of protecting your body and also reaching your potential.

How Do You Learn to Run By Effort?

The goal of running by effort is to focus more on how you feel, on what effort you can expend, and on being present as you are running. Start by taking the pace off of your watch face during easy runs and really feel the easy effort. An easy run pace is–unsurprisingly–the easiest of all efforts and paces to feel, so it’s a great place to start.

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Only look at data after workouts. Run tempo runs and interval workouts without looking at paces or splits as you go along. Focus on a “comfortably hard” effort during tempo runs. Tune in to what you perceive to be the right effort for various interval distances and intensities. Wait until after the workout to look at the splits and note whether you were speeding up or slowing down toward the end. This will tell you if the effort you perceived to be right was actually too hard or too easy and you can make adjustments for your next workout.

How do you do this in a race?

What you do in practice, you can do in a race. Don’t police the pace with your watch. In the race day environment, paces feel different than they do in training and you may end up seriously limiting yourself by constantly monitoring your watch.

The first part of the race should be all about finding a groove and trusting your training. And since your training consisted of finding race pace with the right effort, that’s what you need to trust. The end of the race should be about giving it all you’ve got! Sometimes if our pace starts too slow, toward the end of a race, motivation goes down. You start to feel less strong or maybe
you’re discouraged that it doesn’t look like you’ll meet your goal. At this point in the race it’s easy to give in to those thoughts and give in to the fatigue. Without all that data you’ll maintain a desire to fight to the finish.

For longer races like half and full marathons, knowing the right feel throughout the middle portion of the race is crucial. It’s important to not go too fast too soon. That can be especially tricky on even slight inclines and declines on the course. Knowing the right effort will help keep you running steady and consistent whether you’re running uphill, downhill, or on a flat stretch.

Overall, training by effort helps you to work with your body to see maximum fitness gains, and racing by effort will help you capitalize on those gains on race day!

Start trying to run by effort on your next workout. I promise if you give it a shot, it will set you up to have a total breakthrough in your running. Stop letting numbers limit your huge potential!

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