Updated: Mar 15, 2021
Effort as a Feedback System
It's fun to train at fast paces or for long distances. Another great way to train is based on effort. What I mean by this is making sure that you’re running at the same effort level for the duration of the run.
This isn’t easy to track because there isn’t a simple way to monitor your effort level. They’re starting to develop run tech like power meters to track this, but an easier and more accurate way to assess your effort level is by listening to your breathing.
Effort to Modify Your Run
I talked about the different types of breathing in the last post and how your breath is a great way to understand where your body is at today. You may not realize it, but you already use your breath to modify your exercise.
Imagine you’re running up a flight of stairs. The faster you go or the more weight you’re carrying the harder you are going to breathe. If speed is your target, it's ok to go harder for a short period of time and exhaust yourself. However, if you know that you have 6 more stories to climb, you’ll instinctively slow down. You moderate your pace till your breath is at a sustainable rate for the remainder of exercise. Or at least we try to, this is a skill and the more you exercise the better you’ll be at moderating effort for the rest of your exercise.
For sprinting, you may hit the same level of panting you would in climbing stairs. But for most of us who are jogging for longer than 60 seconds, you have to develop the skill of correlating your breath to your effort level.
This comes back to the three basic skills I talked about in the first blog in this series: Listening to your body, Understanding the message and then Adjusting. For effort, you listen to your breathing, understand the effort level that you’re exerting and then adjust by slowing down or speeding up to match your intention.
Other Impacts on Your Effort Level
Remember that your effort isn’t going to be the same each day or each run, which I previously talked about in the blog on Run Impacts. There are also factors that change throughout the run that impact your effort level:
Talking - the more you talk the harder it is to keep a fast pace.
Hills - the higher the gradient the more effort is required and the harder your breathing will be.
Warmed up - When your body is loose or tight it will change the efficiency of the effort you exert. How long does it take you to warm up on a run?
Acceleration - If you’re speeding up, similar to a car, you consume more energy. Can you feel that?
Duration Fatigue - How much effort does your body require when you’re at the end of your run? Are you as efficient as you were at the start of your run? Does how relaxed you are impact the effort required to move at the same pace?
You don’t need to understand all of these, listen to your body, understand that effort has changed and adjust to keep the effort consistent. If your breathing or effort has changed, something has changed to impact your running, change your pace and then you can inquire about what it is once your effort level has realigned.
Understanding the Impact of Increasing Effort
Once you find the breath rate you want to run at, you can deepen your understanding of your body and effort by paying attention to what happens when you increase (your body will need more oxygen) or decrease (your body will need less oxygen) your effort level.
What you may notice in your body when you increase your effort on a run is:
Tension in your muscles increase - For me it's my shoulders and arms. Where do you notice this tension rising?
Your Heart Rate (HR) will increase - When your cells need more oxygen, your heart pumps faster to get the oxygen in your red blood cells to the muscles quicker. So as your effort increases, so does your HR.
Exhaustion/Mental Negativity increases - Experiment with this, start to take note of the frequency of negative thoughts that occur the more effort/more exhausted you feel.
Another great way to gauge effort level is the Smile Test - How easy is it for you to smile? Start to smile at different exhaustion levels and see what you notice.
There are many things that impact a run,
When speed or pace is constant, the more impacts (like weather or hills), the harder your body will have to work / the more effort will be required,
The harder you have to work, the harder you will breathe,
By listening to your breathing, you can gauge that effort and assess the energy you are exerting and protect yourself from exhaustion.
Running by effort allows you to adjust your pace to reflect the effort level (or breathing) you want to run at today.
Understand the impact increasing your effort will have. You will go faster and increase your tension, heart rate and mental fatigue.
Learning to run by effort allows you to maintain a constant energy output through your run. On top of managing your energy exertion and preventing exhaustion, running by effort has more benefits, which is covered in the next blog.