The modern runner has no shortage of gear, accessories and gadgets. From high-tech electrolyte replacement powders and synthetic-fiber apparel to compression sleeves and tiny iPods, the sport has become significantly more complex over the years.
One of the most popular gadgets is the GPS watch, which can track pace, distance, elevation and many other metrics. Many runners use a GPS watch to track their mileage and pace.
The downside of relying on a GPS watch is that runners are failing to learn how to run by feel—gauging effort, learning subtle nuances of what different paces and efforts feel like, and adjusting to changing terrain such as trails.
Running by feel is a valuable skill to have for many reasons, not the least of which is that it will prevent you from starting races too fast. It also helps you monitor your training more closely and more in tune with your body's reactions to training stress.
The Benefits of Running by Feel
Leaving your GPS watch at home can deliver some powerful benefits. Instead of relying on the pace your watch indicates, you have to guess. And this estimate is just what you need because the best workout for you today is the workout your body is ready to complete. So if you need to run slower, it's best to settle into that rhythm naturally without trying to match the pace you "think" you should be running.
This is the most significant benefit to running by feel—you usually run slower, which is a good thing since most recreational runners train too fast on their easy days. Listen to your body and your internal data—respiration, muscle fatigue and how fast you think you're going.
By slowing down most of your easy runs, you'll recover faster afterward because the run remains purely aerobic. You'll also be less fatigued for your higher-quality workouts, like intervals on the track. You'll be to push those workouts more effectively and in turn race faster with a sound race-pace strategy.
Which Workouts Are Best Run by Feel?
There are two times you should run by feel—base runs and recovery runs.
A base run is a medium-distance run at an easy pace. The goals of a base run are to develop general endurance, continue improving aerobic fitness, and to help support more challenging workouts, like track intervals or long runs.
So, what exactly does running "easy" feel like? It should follow what I call the 3 Cs of easy running: comfortable, controlled and conversational. Your breathing should be controlled and not overly labored. At no point should you feel like you are "pushing" the pace. And if you were running with a friend, it should be possible to converse in short sentences.