A majority of my clients use GPS watches to track their distance and pace. But whether they do or not, most runners also eventually also learn to guess by the feeling in their bodies how fast they’re running. You may or may not be able to say exactly what sensations you pay attention to judge your speed, but together they add up to a general measure of your feeling of effort. How hard your muscles are working, how hard you’re breathing, how fast your heart is beating, how long your strides are, how fast the world is going by… over time you get used to how different speeds feel in your body.
The problem with this is that the assumption that higher effort = faster running is not always true. You can run faster two ways: by putting out more effort or by improving the efficiency of your movement. If you do the latter you’ll feel your effort stay the same or even go down as your speed increases.
If you’re trying to run fast and you have an idea of what that speed feels like in terms of effort, then you end up aiming for that level of effort. That keeps you from using the other, more desirable way of speeding up. And if you’re recently made changes in your running form that have made you more efficient, you may drop them and return to running your old way so you can feel the level of effort that tells you you’re running fast.
After having 6 or 8 sessions with us, it’s fairly common for runners to go out for an easy run at a comfortable pace, then look at their watches afterwards in shock at how fast they were going. Improving your efficiency speeds you up if you let it.
So when you’re working on your running form, listen to your body and try to make your running feel easier. As I’ve said a million times, better running form always feels easier – not harder – than bad running form. And when you need to judge your speed, use a clock or a watch.
When you’re used to your new running form you’ll recover your ability to judge your speed according to the new sensations in your body, so don’t worry about that. When you want to evaluate your efficiency, the clock plus your level of effort will tell you the truth. And whatever you do, make sure you don’t confuse running hard with running fast.
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Jae Gruenke, GCFP, is a running technique expert and Feldenkrais Practitioner. Known as a “running form guru,” she is the Founder and CEO of The Balanced Runner™ in New York City and The Balanced Runner UK. She has helped runners from beginner to Olympian improve their form to become pain-free, economical, and fast.