Speed Does Not Equal Effort

Now before im chased out of the village with pitchforks ablaze, hear me out…

I am a local club coach and like most clubs we have runners of all abilities. We have marathon winners all the way down to those completing their first 5k.

Now here is the thing that sets me apart from most coaches i meet and people either look at me like i’m a crazy man when they first come for a session or they ‘get it’.

                             I don’t prescribe times in training sessions!!!

Am I right or not? who knows but i can explain my actions,

I’m a fan of RPE or Rate of Perceived Exertion


I prefer RPE for the simple reason that pace is very subjective and can vary massively from session to session.If its slightly too hot, too windy, you have had a hard day at work or you simply just cant be arsed then your normal cruising pace can feel like you are going for the 5k world record!

This doesn’t help anyone

So much of running is mental,your mind will turn against you much quicker than your body will and what is the first thing we ALL do when we cant hit a pace we did last week? we doubt ourselves and our training without taking into consideration the outside variables.

This is why perceived effort is a much better gauge for most…..

If we use for example 300m repeats,instead of asking my squad to hit them in for example 60 seconds each i ask for about a 7/8 effort because whatever the weather or how you feel an 8 out of 10 run will always feel hard regardless of pace!

Which brings me back to my title Speed does not equal effort. If you hooked up a sub 18 min 5k runner to a heart rate monitor and a 40 min 5k runner to a heart rate monitor and asked them at the end what effort they had put in ,I bet % of max HR and rate of RPE of both runners will be about the same! (i’m not talking exact but close enough).

There are several reasons why some people can run faster than others

  • AGE

Myself for example, im lucky as i finish work at 4pm everyday and i have no Children plus a very understanding Wife. This means i can pretty much train whenever i want. Others however may have two jobs, work 60 hours a week and may have kids to take care of therefore they may only have half the training budget i have.

Other may not simply have the correct biomechanics to run efficiently (don’t worry this can be fixed) and therefore they will not cover the ground as smoothly as someone with more experience.

What it does not mean however is just because you run faster that you are a ‘better’ runner.  A couple of weeks ago my wife and i ran a 5k. I hit a PB of 17.28 and Debs a PB of 27.14 both taking around 40 seconds from our previous bests. So who was the better runner? Me because i was faster or did we both work as hard as we could to achieve our goal?

In my eyes that makes us equal.

The clue is in the name PERSONAL best (or PR if you live across the pond). Your priority should be in becoming the best you can be and not comparing yourself to what someone else is doing.

That being said there is nothing wrong with wanting to be the best in the club/county/country at what you do but not at the cost of looking down at someone that may not be as ‘fast’ as you are as speed is a poor judge of effort.

This also works the other way,the fast boys and girls in your club are not born that way,they work hard too and suffer from the same doubts and fears as someone who has just started out (trust me i have worn both hats).

They are also not mystical unicorns and most will be more than happy to help you in any way they can (Trust me most runners LOVE talking about running). I have learnt loads from talented international runners and coaches just by being cheeky and sending an email! (you can’t do that in football!).

Embrace all runners,not just the ones around your own level.Spend a little time getting to know people in the groups above and below your own,you never know they be alright after all 😉



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