Running by Feel, Heart Rate, and Pace – 3 Gauges to Stay in the Zone
In podcast 17 we talked about how three gauges you can use to monitor yourself during a run. We especially highlight the importance of monitoring how you feel during a run, the most accurate gauge. Below is a summary of our discussion.
Running by Feel at its Best
A couple summers ago, I completed a couple Tempo runs a week apart from one another. I recently looked back at the data and it is very telling. Specifically, it’s a good example of why you can’t depend solely on pace or even heart rate to keep you in the right zone. You really have to pay attention to the way you feel. Here is the data from those two workouts:
|Week 1||Week 2|
|Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE):||6-7||8|
|Averate Heart Rate:||187||189|
You might notice that I have highlighted the second workout in red. In the second week, I had a higher RPE and higher heart rate, indicating I was working harder. Yet, my pace was about 30 seconds per mile slower. You might also notice that the conditions were a bit different. It was hotter, had more direct sunlight, and higher humidity. The exact same workout in different conditions felt completely different. In fact, here is a short list of variables that can affect how your body reacts:
- Level of direct sunlight
- Hydration status
- Level of pre-run nutrition
- Your stress level
- How recovered you are
- Time of day
- How exhausted you are
So, what if I had just depended on pace? If I had tried to keep an 8:04 in week 2, no doubt the intensity would have been way too high, and I would no longer be in Tempo range, and therefore no longer getting the benefit of that workout. This highlights the need to use pace, heart rate, and how you feel together.
3 Gauges you Should Consider to Monitor your Running
Pace is a big focus for many people. It can be motivating, especially for faster workouts. However, depending on pace as your only gauge can lead to trouble. Here are some pros and cons of using pace as your only gauge:
|Decent if all else equal||Not consistently accurate||GPS watch|
|Easy to measure||Can lead to going faster than you should||Regular watch (timing)|
|Can be motivating|
Monitoring your heart rate takes things a notch up in the right direction. And, with heart rate monitors so prevalent, it can be a very easy method to keep an eye on things. Using heart rate is a little more accurate than using pace alone, but still is not 100% accurate. Here are some pros and cons:
|More accurate than Pace||Not 100% accurate||Heart Rate Monitor|
|Can keep you in the right zone||Manual pulse measurement|
Running by Feel
This is the most accurate way to keep tabs on what zone you are in. No matter what the conditions, if you pay attention to what’s going on with your body, you can determine if you need to take it up a notch or hold back. Unfortunately, this is the hardest of the three to dial in. However, with a little practice it can be done. Here are some pros and cons:
|Most accurate||Most difficult to learn and dial in||All subjective|
|Keeps you in the right zone|
|Don’t need any equipment, just focus|
Below is a table we created to pull all the information about running zones together and how you should probably feel in those zones. Take a look and familiarized. Each zone contains what race you would typically run in that zone, how long it is possible to run in that zone (not suggesting you do this, just theoretical), what workouts usually occur in that zone, and finally how you might feel:
Tips for Learning to Run by Feel
So, how do you start actually learning to run by feel? Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Minimize Distractions – Music, TV, oncoming traffic – there are a lot of things that can take your mind off of what you are doing and how you feel. Try to minimize what’s going on around you so you can focus on you.
- Practice Listening – There are things you can pay attention to using your senses, including your hearing. How fast and heavy are you breathing, how hard is your foot hitting the pavement? Use your ears to help calibrate your run.
- Practice Monitoring How You Feel – How much are you sweating? Does the pace feel to fast? Too slow? Is your mouth wet or dry? Is your heart beating hard? If you monitor things real-time, you can avoid things like dehydration and stay in the right zone.
Really, using all three of these gauges is the best way to go. Give it some practice and dial in your workouts, and reap the biggest benefits.
Level 1 USAT Coach