Whenever thinking about heart rate training or training by pace, it is important to consider training by perceived exertion and running naked. “Running Naked” — with no equipment — and “streaking” — running at least one mile a day every day for extended periods of time — are terms being used lately as headlines for getting snickers, but there is an actual point.
As runners, we tend to be a little obsessive compulsive and data driven. Using perceived exertion can put us back in touch with ourselves and our workouts without sacrificing the value. In fact, many would argue that it is extremely healthy. After all, when you are in a race, a GPS watch will not dial a win in for you. You have to go with how you feel and the circumstances. Plus, consider what Tim (Lucho) Wagoneer of the excellent Endurance Planet Ask the Coaches and Ask the Ultrarunner Podcasts often says, “the winner of the race isn’t determined by the lowest heart rate.”
There comes a time that it is down to you and the runners next to you. How do you feel, how much further do you have, and can you do it?
This is where perceived exertion in training comes in. This is something that elite runners and Kenyans practice (yes, they seem to be synonymous). Perceived exertion is exercising at a level that feels like a certain intensity measured by the Borg RPE Scale. One easy method to check a run intensity is what as known as the “Talk Test.”
If you are able to have a conversation, for that matter can quote extended passages (in my case babble incessantly) for many paragraphs without any heavy breathing, you are likely in Zone 1, or a recovery zone.
If you are able to speak in full clear sentences and are not experiencing too much strain, you are likely in Zone 2. This is an ideal base building zone where you will likely run the majority of your mileage.
If you are only able to speak in short phrases of a few words at a time, you are likely in Zone 3. This is your marathon or tempo pace. You will be working in this zone a lot more as you get closer to a marathon or maybe a 50K (if that is your goal race, otherwise, you might want to avoid the zone).
If you are only able to get a couple words out at a time and it is stressful, that is Zone 4. This is above your threshold and used for speed work.
If you can’t even imagine talking at all, you are in Zone 5 or VO2 Max. Don’t talk, just run. You have very limited energy. This is interval territory.
A good source to learn a bit more about perceived exertion is in PRS Fit – Train with the Coaches Episode 68: Effort Based Training..The run/walk method put out by Coach Jeff Kline.