Why RPE is Important for Runners
RPE, rate of perceived exertion, is a way to measure the level of intensity of any physical activity we’re doing. Since it corresponds to perceived exertion, it relies upon how hard you feel your body is working at any given time during your workout. RPE is a great tool to use when it comes to running. It is primarily based on the physical sensations you experiences during physical activity, running, lifting and everything in between. These 'physical sensations' include increased heart rate, increased breathing rate, increased muscle fatigue and increased sweating. It helps you become more in tune with your body and know when it’s time to push harder and when it’s time to take it back a notch.
Learning how to run by effort is a game changer to prevent injury, improve running economy and efficiency, increase enjoyment and improve race day PR’s (personal records / personal bests). Running is a sport that requires you to find the fine line between pushing yourself and not overdoing it. One of the ways we do this is by avoiding the grey zone in training through using RPE.
Regardless of how good your GPS running watch is, it can’t take into account how you’re truly feeling on any given day, and our effort WILL look different from time to time, and day to day. Your watch can't take into account how fatigued your muscles feel on a certain day, how well you've slept, your level of motivation, or life stress affecting your body. So if you're going by "pace" on your watch, it will hinger your progress in the long run (no pun intended!).
For runners, this means understanding that your body might be a better guide to a good workout than your watch. RPE is not a specific pace, it is going to change daily based on sleep, stress, previous workouts and nutrition. It takes into account changes in your physical environment, such as weather and terrain, and their effect on your body. And most importantly, RPE is also a tool to help you train better.
For example, when I was in Italy, the terrain was vastly different than was I was used to, the hills were massive, the terrain was gravel, so naturally my workload was increased. Likewise, hot and humid running is going to immediately increase your HR, which is going to increase the workload, as well as, not sleeping well, being dehydrated, etc. So learning to use effort means you can still get a good workout, without over taxing your body and setting back progress.
The modified RPE Scale, also known as the Borg Category-Ratio, uses simple numbering ranging from 0-10 to help determine your level of exertion. Below is a visual of a 1-10 RPE in running scale that you can start using to evaluate your runs. These are the numbers I use because it helps runners fully embrace easy running to get the maximum aerobic base building (run most of your runs easy, 80%, run 20% hard, to get better and faster overall). What matters most is you CORRECTLY listen to your body and give an honest assessment of how hard you are working during a given session.
Defining a hard RPE and defining ane asy RPE so you don't remain in the grey zone. If you cannot complete sentences during your run, your RPE is hard and likely 6-8. If you are grasping for air, unable to speak, giving maximum effort unable to go longer than 30-60 seconds at a time without breaking, your likely RPE is a 9 or 10.
Now you’ve got hard and you want your easy runs to feel like the opposite. Can you sing a song without gasping? If you were running with a friend, could you hold up your end of the conversation? Remember this is not a specific pace as it can and will change due to a lot of factors. You should generally assume your easy pace is 60 seconds to 2 minutes slower than your marathon pace. Which is GOOD, we want to build a MASSIVE aerobic base.
Why is this scale so useful and how can you put it in to practice? Studies have shown that we want to spend 80% of our running going easy / comfortable conversational pace, and 20% going hard (speed work). Unfortunately, many runners spend about 70%-80% of their time in the grey zone (hard), and 10% going truly hard and therefore injured, burnt out, or not progressing with their pace overtime.
Grey zone running is when you’re using pace as your guide, rather than effort. It usually means you are running slightly too hard on your easy days, a constant moderate intensity. You aren’t going hard enough to get the training response of a speed workout and not easy enough to get the aerobic benefit of an easy run. I usually equate this to the 5-6 RPE zone. Therefore, the nervous system is constantly being taxed and not getting the recovery that comes from a true easy run.
Easy runs =. endurance gains (roughly 80%)
Hard runs = power gains (roughly 20%)
Grey zone runs = dead zone, plateau zone, possible injury zone
Remember, easy is not a pace. Easy runs build our aerobic capacity to run farther with less energy (be more efficient), which is ultimately what we want.
Benefits of using RPE in your training: increased race day performance, improve speed and distance overtime, improve recovery progress, prevents injury and overtraining, and be more in-tune with your body.
Benefits of using RPE in your training: increased race day performance, improve speed and distance overtime, improve recovery progress, prevents injury and overtraining, and be more in-tune with your body. Especially as beginner runners (to advance) we NEED to understand our body and efforts. This is why with all my clients, athletes and run workouts on the EvolveYou app use RPE.
Are you a beginner runner looking to improve your endurance? I have a new running challenge for complete beginners on the EvolveYou app: Zero to Thirty Run Challenge. This is a 30-day running challenge that will get you started with running, it is for beginners who do not run regularly, but have some level of fitness. It embraces the walk / run method and goes off RPE, keeping all efforts easy as you build up your endurance, aerobic base and running economy. The goal by the end of the 30 days is to help you build a consistent habit and strong cardio base, with enough stamina to handle running 20-30 minutes at an easy-pace, without stopping. There are 3 walk / run workouts a week and you'll need to dedicate roughly 30 minutes to them. If you follow the plan properly doing the walk / run method as I have planned out for you, you WILL be able to do this. Essentially, the short walking breaks give you a chance to catch your breath, slow your heart rate, and build up your running economy & efficiency. As the plan progresses, the running intervals get longer and the walking intervals get shorter until the final day.
Join me and let's run together!