Can You Feel It?
Runner's World SA|February 2019
Can You Feel It?

As you get older, free your self from the tyranny of time and distance – run by feel, to stay motivated and avoid injury.

Jonathan Beverly

BREAKING FREE from the shackles of always running to a set pace or strict time limit can help veteran runners train smart, avoid injury and stay motivated as their capabilities change over time. Here’s how to make running by feel work for you.

As runners, we tend to crave details on how to maximise our running time and efforts: how many kilometres should we run, how many repeats, what pace on which runs on which days? Charts and numbers fill training books and magazine articles. We download training apps that tell us exactly what we should be doing each day and how to do it. The market is saturated with devices that allow us to track every number, every step, even the quality of our sleep. But what if a key to achieving your best is to stop planning and tracking? What if, instead, you just listened to your body and ran how you felt?


The mental benefits of training by feel are enormous. But so are the physical benefits. Most experienced runners have a story about getting injured in their 40s as a result of trying to match their training from earlier years in distance, pace or both. Training by effort addresses these difficulties in one swoop. If you’re tuned in to what a tempo run feels like – or a long run, or a session at 5K effort – your pace will naturally follow as your ability changes. In contrast, if you try to match arbitrary paces, either what you have always done or to follow an age-based formula that doesn’t account for your unique experience, you’ll have to increase your effort when perhaps you shouldn’t.

If you listen to your body, running hard when you feel good and backing off when you don’t, you’ll also automatically add the increased recovery time you need as you age without having to modify your schedule and lament that you can’t do what you used to. If you throw out the plan and run as far as your body lets you, being careful to listen when it tells you to rest, you’ll land on the volume that you need, avoiding either extreme: cutting back too little and getting hurt, or cutting back too much and losing fitness.

Some will hear all this and still prefer to follow a schedule. That’s fine, but tuning in to effort is still part of the process. Even with a schedule, you must be willing to adapt to what you are capable of doing each day. To do that, you need to pay attention to how you feel; you’ll need to know yourself.

Walter Bortz, a professor of medicine and marathon runner, wrote in his book The Roadmap to 100: “If there were a first rule of longevity, it would be the command ‘Know Thyself’, handed down by the ancient Greeks some 3 000 years ago. Our bodies constantly give us feedback on our internal workings.” The ability to run by feel is the result of knowing yourself.


Training by effort frees you from the tyranny of the training schedule and the watch; protects you from overtraining; helps you discover your strengths, your limits and the type of training that works best for you; and removes much of the stress – whatever your age.

To learn how to train by effort requires changes in habits and tools. You have to leave your GPS watch behind (or learn to ignore it). If you do look at a watch, discipline yourself to treat the numbers simply as information – ‘this is what pace this effort level feels like today’ – not as a judgment or a guide to how hard you should run.


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February 2019