Following a proper training plan is the best way to guarantee you achieve your running goals. The problem is, your plan can only ever tell you how hard a run should feel – it’s down to you to put that into practice.
If you’re not pushing yourself hard enough – or, equally, if you’re pushing too hard – you’re not getting the most from your training plan. Here’s a breakdown of the effort levels you’ll find on your plan, and how to ensure you’re hitting them just right.
Many runners find it hard to run easy. There is a widespread belief that if a run doesn’t feel like it’s really pushing you to your limits, then it can’t be having any benefit. This is absolutely false, and learning to accept this is one of the greatest leaps you’ll make in terms of improving the effectiveness of your training.
A run doesn’t have to be exhausting and leave you aching for days afterwards. An easy run should be completed at the speed of chat, meaning you should be able to talk to the person next to you while running. We call this the ‘talk test’, and it is a great way to gauge effort level. You should feel totally in control, relaxed and able to comfortably converse while running.
EFFORT LEVEL: 6/10 or 65% max heart rate
This is the backbone of training for more experienced runners. It isn’t complicated, but it does require honesty. Pushing this level too hard won’t benefit you, it will simply leave you too tired for the more challenging sessions in your plan.
You should still be able to hold a conversation, but not as comfortably as you could with ‘easy running’.
EFFORT LEVEL: 7/10 or 70-75% max heart rate
Everyone wants to train like Mo, don’t they? Well this is how to do it.
Threshold running can also be called ‘uncomfortable running’ or ‘controlled discomfort’. You should no longer be able to hold a proper conversation. Rather, your pearls of wisdom should be limited to three or fours words before you’re forced to take a breath. It could be known as ‘Stacey Solomon pace’. You’re not aiming to force out three to four words between every breath (you’re not on Loose Women), it’s just a guide to how hard you’re pushing yourself. If you can say more than three to four words, you need to push a bit harder. If you can’t even manage three words, ease off a bit.
This is running uncomfortably but just about in control. It is certainly not sprinting or running to exhaustion. An experienced runner using a heart rate monitor might run near to 85 per cent of their maximum heart rate to remain in this key zone. To know exactly how high your own heart rate should be, grab a lactate and VO2 max test from your local Sports Science department or university.
Initially, you might only be ready to include a few three-minute blocks of threshold running in a run each week, but it can grow and you can build the volume over the months. This type of running is the bedrock to becoming a better runner, so it is imperative that you get it right.
EFFORT LEVEL: 8-9/10 or 80-85% max heart rate
INTERVAL TRAINING & 5K-10K RACE PACES
These sessions follow on from threshold running as being the next level of pain, although this very much depends on your running experience and fitness level.
If you’re new to running, for example, a 5K or 10K pace might be the same as your easy running pace. As you improve as a runner, you will be able to maintain a higher level of effort over a longer distance.
However fast and hard you are able to push for 5 or 10K, consistency is key in this zone. It is meant to hurt, but there’s no point setting off at lightning pace and then having to walk after one half a mile.
These sessions will boost your VO2 max and make that engine of yours a few cylinders stronger. You can’t visit this zone too often; maybe once a week or so, once you’re experienced and used to training regularly.
Top tip: Join a running group, club or friends to complete these sessions. Completing weekly interval sessions with others adds competition, company and disguises the true pain and mental strength required to nail the moment.
EFFORT LEVEL: 9-10/10 or 85-90% max heart rate
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