Effort Based Running- Don’t let your watch rule your run

Have you ever had a run that felt great, but you looked down mid-run to see your pace/heart rate then your perspective completely changed for the worse?

It was not too long ago pace tracking devices did not exist. When I first started running as a broke college student, all I could afford as a 10 dollar timex stop watch. The only way to know how far or how fast I ran was to mapping out a route and divide the time by distance. No mile splits. No heart rate. Just overall pace.


DID YOU KNOW: 👉 Your body has no idea what a “minute per mile pace” is❓Your body only knows what effort is❗️

👉SO many factors affect your pace: ✅Heat, ✅hills, ✅wind, ✅menstrual cycle, ✅sleep, etc. If you go out for a run thinking, “I am going to run this tempo run at 7:30 min/mile pace”, your body may have other plans because of the multitude of variables that can affect how 7:30 min/mile pace FEELS. This is why it is important to focus on effort and making sure you are meeting the intended demands of the workout/run instead of overreaching and trying to hit a pace that is not in the cards that day


1: Rest
2-3: Very easy
4-5: Easy
6-7: Moderate to hard
8-9: Very hard
10: Max effort

✅An easy run should feel like a 3-5/10 effort level. This might feel like a walk if you are not used to easy running
✅A tempo/steady state/threshold workout should feel like a 6-7/10 effort level. This effort level is comfortably hard but you could continue running at that effort if you had to
✅A track interval workout should feel like an 8-9/10 effort level. You need recovery in between bouts at that effort
✅An endurance race could feel like a 10 effort level towards the end because you are going for such a long time at race effort. A 100m sprint race would feel like a 10 on the effort scale because it is your fastest possible speed

⭐️It takes time away from depending on your watch to fully grasp these effort levels, but you will get a feel for it with time!⭐️


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Believe it or not, there are many athletes who still train using a simple stop watch which seems crazy when all sorts of gadgets that measure pace, heart rate, cadence, vertical oscillation are at our finger tips.

Why would someone not want to take advantage of that data?

When we tune into our paces and/or heart rate, we are tuning OUT how we feel. This is very bad for the sport of running. Running requires your mind and body to be in sync with each other. Your body is constantly sending you signals. Listen to it instead of listening to your watch.

Coach Ben Jacobs (1:08 half marathoner) rarely uses his garmin. He prefers to run using a stop watch. Coach Jason Phillippi (2:46 marathoner) did not start wearing a garmin until he was running his 3rd marathon!

“Just like to go off feel. It is important to learn your body so that you can regulate your runs within yourself. I wear Garmin on longer days and workout days so that I can be sure of the pace and can learn to feel that pace” – Coach Ben Jacobs 1:08 Half Marathoner without a garmin

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Ben with Timex watch & teammate Chase without a watch

” Before I had a garmin, it was cool because it made you do math in your head and didn’t feel the vibration each Mile, so you could get lost in the race and not have to pay attention to your splits.” – Coach Jason Phillippi 2:46 marathoner without a Garmin

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Jason After his 2:46 Marathon with only a stop watch

Tips for Running off Effort while using a tracking device:

  • Turn off auto-lap. Don’t get the pace alerts at every mile. Get out of the habit of looking down at your pace.
  • Flip the watch to the inside of your wrist. Don’t look at it. Cover it.
  • Run with friends! Talking to someone will help distract you from looking down at your watch. A true conversational pace will help you get lost in conversation and forget the pacing
  • Know what Effort different runs should be! Easy runs: 4-5 on a 10 scale. Tempo Runs: 7-8 on a 10 scale. Speed Work: 8-9 on a 10 scale. Race: 9-10 on a 10 scale

Tips for going off effort without a pace tracking device

  • Run a Route you know! This will be very uncomfortable to run without a pace tracker the first time. Running a route you know by heart will help you feel more normal. You have ran it several times, and you know the route! The only thing different will be not knowing the pace 🙂
  • Start with an easy short run. Next time you have an easy 3-5 miler on the schedule go watchless. It is better to start with shorter runs and ease into long runs without it
  • Focus on form and breathing. If you start to get worried about your pace/effort, focus on how you are feeling and breathing. This will help you get back into tune with your body. It might feel weird at first, but it will make you stronger.

Going off of effort is a great way to run because you are teaching your mind and body to work together independent of any outside gadgets. You will realize how strong you are. You don’t need anything or anyone else to pace you when you are in tune with your body! Be patient it takes time 🙂

Be in the moment. Enjoy the run. Don’t let a watch get in the way.

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