Michelangelo once said that, "the greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short but in setting our aim too low and achieving our mark.” In life and in running, he seems to have it down. In training for any event or to become better at the activity, runners must, at some point, decide what goals they have. For some, this means finishing the event running or walking, while others hope to complete the distance in a certain time. Regardless of the goal, runners should learn to define effort level and rise to meet new challenges through that understanding.
Running at too hard an effort can leave a runner in pain, while running at too easy an effort keeps a runner from achieving their best for the given distance. For the first five weeks, runners work on gaining comfort with mileage increases, understanding the drills & workouts, & generally learning about a base zone. At this point in the training, runners should begin to stretch their boundaries, to hone in on effort at any given point, & to develop a sense of pace. It is imperative to know effort levels before deciding upon race pace.
The Perceived Effort Scale is a non-scientific method of determining how hard an athlete runs at a given moment & how long he or she would be able to maintain a given speed. 100% effort is an all-out sprint for 100 meters. The runner runs at the greatest effort possible but can only hold this effort for a short period of time. There really is no 0% effort (other than sleeping), as movement takes some level of energy, but an easy walk equates to an approximate effort of 25%. The range is wide and completely depends upon the individual; perception of effort will change as a runner becomes better trained. Weekly runs should remain in the Easy Running effort zone & the workout day should have a mixture of Easy (warm up & cool down), Steady & Hard Running efforts depending upon the training phase. Effort cannot be specifically quantified, & the untrained body has a tendency to try to deceive the mind into slowing down. As effort rises, the mind communicates that the effort cannot be sustained beyond certain arbitrary points that have nothing to do with what the body can really handle. As a runner’s sense of effort heightens, his or her body begins to move past previous boundaries & into greater fitness.
Perceived effort does vary considerably when training in groups - which can be helpful when gradually adapting to higher training loads.
Activity Perceived Effort Scale Description/Comments
Sleeping 0% No effort whatsoever.
Easy walking 15-25% Very Easy & comfortable: can be maintained for an indefinite period of time.
Power Walking 40-65% Medium to Difficult effort: can be maintained (with training) for over 1 hour but under 3 hours.
Easy Running 30-45% Easy to Medium effort: can be maintained (with training) for over 5 hours.
Steady Running 40-65% Medium to Difficult effort: can be maintained (with training) for under 3 hours.
Hard Running 60-95% Difficult effort: the time that this effort can be maintained is dependent upon the effort exerted.
All Out Sprint 100% Maximum effort: can be maintained for only 1 minute.
Once runners get a firm handle on where their runs & workouts fit into the Percieved Effort Scale, they can begin to relate that effort to pace, the specific time it takes to cover a specific distance.
By mixing up the different types of workouts, runners keeps a fresh attitude toward training & allow the body to adapt to as many stresses as possible. As runners master the elements of effort & pace, they arm themselves with tools for planning & designing personalized workouts upon the completion of a training program. All of this learning amounts to the greater task of setting new and higher goals to conquer.