I drive the runners I coach crazy at times. Why? Well, I’m sure there are many reasons but one of the big reasons is because I assign workouts by effort. I don’t make it easy for them, saying something like mile repeats at 7:00 or half mile repeats at 2:50. Instead, I say mile repeats at 10K effort or even something more vague like slightly faster/harder than half marathon effort.
Why do I do this? Believe it or not, I’m not just trying to be difficult.
There are multiple reasons I do this and not a single one of them has to do with my being mean or trying to make people’s lives difficult. I’ll explain the primary reasons one by one:
I don’t know the conditions you will face: Sure, I could check the weather forecast but I live in Wisconsin. I know how forecasts can change. I could be writing you on Saturday and laying out a plan for a workout on Wednesday. Do you want to rely on the forecast? I wouldn’t even fully rely on the forecast for tomorrow.
I don’t know the stresses you are dealing with: Having a bad day at work? Your workout probably should be a little slower than normal. Is everything smooth sailing relative to normal? Maybe your workout should be faster. These are things it can be impossible to predict moments before the workout starts, much less days in advance.
I don’t always know your precise fitness level: I probably have a general idea. However, well enough to know whether you should be running 7:00 or 7:02 or 7:05 miles? Sorry. If you find a coach who says they know that at all times, you’ve found either the smartest coach in history or someone who is just saying what you want to hear.
I’m trying to teach you a skill: The fact is that you race better when you run by feel than when you’re being guided by pace or related measures such as heart rate. How are you going to learn to race by feel, though, if you don’t train by feel?
The good news is that the first three factors will be automatically accounted for if you run by effort. Tough conditions? Your pace will slow but you can still nail the effort. Tough day at work? Your pace will again slow but your effort level will still be right. Are you a little more fit than I figured? Then your pace will reflect that if you’re running by effort.
Finally, the biggest benefit is that last factor. What do you do if those factors occur in a race? If you’re focused on pace, you might be thrown off your game plan. If you’ve practiced running by effort, these factors don’t even phase you because you know you will adjust on the fly.