Rating of Perceived Exertion

I didn’t know what rating of perceived exertion was when I began running, and I wish I had. Whenever I attempted to try running previously, my biggest struggle about it was that that as soon as I start running, I got out of breath very quickly and was unable to continue for very long. And I immediately felt like it was too hard and got very discouraged. As someone who learned to run later in my life, and actually took the time to build up overtime, I found out that it has nothing to do with being out of shape or not being able to run, it comes down to a very simple problem: I was trying to run too fast!

When most people start running, they don’t think too much about how fast they are going, they just start. And while there is nothing wrong with that approach, for most people that starting pace is unsustainable for a longer periods of time. Think about gym class where we are running after a soccer ball – we are often sprinting. We all have this inherent idea that running automatically means “as fast as I can”. This serves us well if we need to go short distances fast (like missing the streetcar), but doesn’t serve us if we want to run continuously for longer distances.

I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but the key to running is to SLOW DOWN. You would be surprised at the difference it makes. Running shouldn’t feel hard all the time, and most of your running should actually feel quite easy. And that is where the Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale comes into play. We need to get to know our bodies and our limitations. And when we can figure that out, magical things can happen in our ability to run!

The Rating of Perceived Exertion  scale is a scale from 1-10 and it is based on how you are feeling at any point in time while exercising. A 1 on the scale is no effort at all, aka sitting on a couch, and a 10 is absolute maximum effort- think running from a bear. Most of your time running should be at an RPE of no more than a 6-8.

Learn-to-run: RPE scale

An easy trick to see if you are at a 6-8 while you are running is the “talk test”. You should be able to hold a short conversation while you are running with the person beside you. If you are breathing so heavily that you are not able to speak in full sentences, you are exerting too much energy and you need to slow down. The best part about the talk test and the RPE scale is that it scales with you as you get in better shape and can run faster. It is not about the absolute speed that you are running, it is about what % of your current maximum pace you are running at. From beginners to seasoned professionals, the RPE scale and talk test is used to make sure that you are running at the correct pace.

Where should I bet at with my RPE?  You should be at no MORE than a 6-8, but at times you should be under a 6-8. For example, a 8/10 at the beginning of your run when you are fresh and a 8/10 at the end of your run when you are tired are likely going to be very different paces. Therefore, if you are trying to run at a consistent pace for the entire run you are going to have to start running at less than a 8/10. This is a breakdown that would be good to think about when running 5kms.

Km 0 to Km 1: RPE 2-3
Km 1 to Km 2: RPE 3-4
Km 2 to Km 3: RPE 4-5
Km 3 to Km 4: RPE 5-6
Km 4 to Km 5: RPE 6-8

At the beginning of the run, your RPE is low and you should feel like you could sustain it for a long time – it should feel EASY. If you’re running with someone, pick a partner and have a conversation with them for the whole time. It is not until the end of the run when you want to be at RPE 6; holding a hard but maintainable pace for the last kilometers. The problem wit coming out too hot and fast is that it is hard to maintain. It is much easier to speed up at the end if you can, as opposed to expending your gas tank and have nothing left at the end.  The next time you are out for a run, give the RPE scale a try. Leave the watch at home, don’t worry about the pace you are running, and just learn to enjoy the process. Whether you are running for 2km or 20km, use the RPE scale to guide your pace through the run and you will find that it is a much more enjoyable experience, and you may just surprise yourself with how far and how fast you can actually go!

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