How Running by Perceived Effort Improved My Marathon Training

How Running By Perceived Effort Improved by My Marathon Training

The difference between following the Hansons Marathon Method for my first marathon and using my own plan (heavily inspired by Brad Hudson’s philosophy) for my second marathon.

I feel more energized and stronger, able to push myself harder in my training, and more confident about my race. What has really made the difference?

Running by perceived effort rather than running by pace.

No matter what you think about their methodology, the Hansons Marathon Method is a pace-based approach to marathon training. Every run has a goal pace that is based off of your goal marathon time: tempo runs at goal marathon pace, long runs at 45 seconds slower than goal marathon pace, and easy runs 1-2 minutes slower than goal marathon pace.

But this time, I didn’t begin with a goal marathon pace. I began with an idea of my training paces based on a recent race and went by the effort of how I knew certain runs should feel  – including marathon pace runs. 

So just how did running by perceived effort improve my marathon training?

How Running By Perceived Effort Improved by My Marathon Training

I Stopped Obsessing Over My Garmin

I would stare at the tiny screen on my Garmin during most of my run during Hansons training. I was a runner obsessed with mile splits. Quite contrary to their purpose, I became out of touch with how the effort felt on my goal pace tempo runs because I was so focused on hitting the right pace each time.

Now, I cover my Garmin up on most easy runs (I still wear it to have data afterwards). I don’t freak out if I hit a pace at 8:30 or 10:15 on an easy run – as long as the effort is truly easy. I pace my marathon goal pace runs by what feels like a very mild aerobic strain – and some days that’s a 7:55, some days that’s an 8:15.

I Enjoyed the Experience of Marathon Training

I felt sort of burnt out near the end of using the Hansons method. I likely bite off more than I could chew in terms of mileage, but the cumulative fatigue affect rendered me a little too fatigued. I was so, so ready for training to be done by race day.

This time? I understand why runners love marathon training so much! 

Don’t get me wrong: I was soooooo excited to finally hit the taper, mostly because I am experiencing that feeling of peak week: one or two more weeks too hard and I’d be overtrained, having pushed my body just enough.

But overall, I enjoyed marathon training so much! Even (especially?) those 20 mile long runs. I haven’t felt physically worn down or mentally burnt out, but each week gets me more and more excited for race day.

California International Marathon Training Week 12

I Varied My Workouts More

In some areas of my life, I love routine – but not when it comes to my running workouts. Hansons created a Groundhog Day-like experience for me, where each workout felt the same. Every single Wednesday, for 16 out of 18 weeks of training, I ran 6-10 miles at a goal marathon pace – a pace which I felt the urge to hit precisely each time.

But this time around, I focused more on running by perceived effort and varying that effort. By focusing on effort, I benefit more from each specific physiological purpose of each workout, rather than pushing too hard or not pushing myself hard enough. I’ve run mile repeats at 5K effort and surprised myself with my fastest miles yet; I’ve had tempo runs where I’ve struggled to get near half marathon pace because of weather or fatigue.

I don’t plan out my training too far in advance and have even waited until the morning of to decide my hard workout of the week. This has allowed me to train to my strengths, avoid overtraining if my body just doesn’t feel up to a 10 mile tempo run, and kept marathon training fun and interesting – which I believe is important for running well.

I’m Putting Less Pressure on Myself

In part because of Hansons’ focus on pace and in part because of my own overachiever tendencies, I developed a single-minded focus on qualifying for Boston during my first marathon training cycle. The precise future of every workout had me thinking goal pace, goal pace, goal pace.

I would be ecstatic if I qualified for Boston at CIM, especially because I’m sort of on a brink where I could qualify or I could not – I feel like I’m right at that 8:10-8:15/mile range. But I what matters more to me is a strong race and a fun race – a race in which I push myself, make smart decisions, finish strong, and give everything I have on that course.

Overall, I’m hoping that this shift in my training makes for a better race experience. I’m hoping I can race by perceived effort with some pacing guidelines (so I start out easy enough). Training for a marathon based on perceived effort has drastically improved my running, and I hope that racing by effort benefits me just as well. 

[Tweet “How #running by effort instead of pace improved @thisrunrecipes #marathon training #teamrunkeeper”]

Have you ever changed the way you train and seen a difference?
Do you race by pace or perceived effort?

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15 Responses

  1. I think Philly was the first marathon I trained for based on effort. I really enjoyed that training cycle but looking back I think I overtrained just a little. While I had a huge PR in that race, I was training at a faster pace than I probably should have been (too many hard miles and not enough really easy miles). I think effort based training is a really great tool, especially when you are learning to just feel marathon pace without a watch, and also being able to truly make the easy runs easy. Im glad you had such a positive experience this training cycle!

  2. ALL about RPE training! I tend to mix it up with clients–we do some runs with pace and some with RPE, some with time and some with mileage. I find that if I do that, people tend to learn a bit more about themselves and their actual running zones (comfort, effort, etc) and stop fixating on pace quite so much!

    1. I think mixing it up keeps it interesting! I have done some runs by pace but effort still trumps – so like if the pace doesn’t feel right, I go by effort instead. It’s hard to break away from pace but it is so rewarding!

  3. I did my last training by heart rate training, which is very similar to perceived effort training. I did really like not worrying about my exact times. This time around I’m actually going the reverse with my new coach. I guess I’ll see at the end which one I liked better and which one got me the results.

  4. I am just starting my training for my 3rd marathon. I follow the Hal Higdon’s marathon training guide, but that too, is pretty much pace based running. During this last “off” period, I have tried to run more without being obsessed with pace and more in tune with how I feel. But, it is often hard to do, for me at least. I would love to hear any tips! 🙂
    Oh, when is your marathon…. I’ve lost track. Is it this coming weekend?
    Thanks for always keeping me inspired!! 🙂

    1. I found that hiding my watch under my shirt sleeve or setting it to show the clock screened kept me from checking it obsessively (but then I could have the data aftewards). For getting into the right effort, I monitor my breathing and do the talk test instead. So easy runs are very light breathing and able to talk, marathon pace is able to talk but breathing is noticeable and in a 3 counts inhale, 2 counts exhale pattern, tempo is short sentences and 2 counts inhale, 2 counts exhale, and speed work is 1-2 counts in, 1 count and barely able to speak.
      Thank you so much! My marathon is on December 4, so just about 2.5 weeks to go. It both feels like I’ve been training for a long time and like time is flying!

  5. I love this post and a lot of what you mention is why I quit Hansons. I feel like the workouts were effective but monotonous. The 7 mile HMP tempo pretty much did me in and I didn’t recover for the rest of the week. I don’t think my goal pace was too aggressive but that was basically running a 10K (well, longer than a 10K) race DURING TRAINING with the other 5 runs that week. I still like a lot of their methodology, where the long run isn’t the majority of your training week and you run 6x a week, because those things work for me. Also, fixating on a pace is tough if your race includes hills, bridges, etc. Running a mile downhill is a different pace than one uphill into a headwind… when you race you HAVE to run the weather and course conditions and not just a pace.

    1. I do also question the sustainability of Hansons – even if you change the paces, doing the same workouts each training cycle will likely lead to a plateau. I think you should definitely check out Hudson’s Run Faster – his plans include running 6 days (since they’re adaptable, he has plans for running 3-7 days per week) – or Jack Daniels – who does the 25% of mileage long run.

  6. Cool post. I had to think about this one for a bit. Okay so I never owned a Garmin until a year ago, and I didn’t do any speed work or tempo runs or any type of workout where I had to know my pace until I started dabbling with Hanson’s. I ran a 3:10 in Vancouver in 2012, without doing a single tempo run. I ran a 3:06 in Skagit in 2015 with mayyyyybe a couple of speed workouts under my belt, but not much. All I pretty much did was run when I felt like it and I’d run hard if I needed to and I’d take it easy if I needed to. There’s no real right or wrong way to do it, I don’t think.

    1. Thank you! I think different methods of pace vs. effort. vs heart rate work well depending on the individual or if you need to change up your training methods. Most of all it’s important to be in touch with your body to know when you can go hard and know when you need to take it easy!

  7. I have been running by effort for a couple of years now, both in training and in racing. Often, I don’t wear a Garmin – I find that at times, it becomes a stress, particularly in races. So I prefer ‘running naked’. It makes a big difference, I think. It gives me a sense of freedom. I use the color coding strategy developed by Jenny Hadfield from Runner’s World – works really well for me.

    I’m curious, Laura: What’s your experience with overtraining? Have you ever been overtrained? I have struggled with it several times – both mental and physical burnout from doing too much. Currently, I’m running 5 days/week, mostly very easy running with an occasional fartlek run. I try to remind myself not to push through fatigue (unlike what they’re saying in the Hansons’ book). I often think of something Phil Maffetone has repeated several times on the Endurance Planet podcast: ‘The best schedule has nothing written down’ and ‘The best thing an athlete can do is to take a day off’. It’s so hard to find that balance though when you have that deep desire to progress.

    1. I’m glad that you’ve found what works for you! I personally have not experienced overtraining syndrome (irritability, plateau in performance, fatigue, loss of appetite, etc.) but I do believe I slightly overtrained in terms of doing too much and not recovering well for my race when I followed Hansons. I think what Maffetone is right – it’s important to take days off if you’re feeling overly fatigued or just not all there. It’s something I recommend to my athletes and practice myself – for example, recently I took a day off/5 miles off my week during marathon training when I just felt too tired from hiking.

      1. Sounds like you’re on the right track then. Thanks for doing all this great blogging – it’s really interesting to follow your journey as a runner!

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