Effort Based Training

One of the biggest running game changers for me postpartum has been effort based running. 

I’ve read about it all over the place over the years, but I always went back to my paced-obsessed, sometimes stressed out way of training. Don’t get me wrong – there is a time and place for paces in running but sometimes we take them too far.

Have you ever been guilty of these?

  • Checking your Garmin obsessively every couple minutes
  • Feeling frustrated when you don’t see your times improving even by the slightest bit
  • Feel stressed about having to do tempo runs or speed workouts to hit certain paces
  • Not giving yourself a break with your pace when it comes to weather, sleep, or other life occurrences
  • Feeling like you always need to go just a little bit faster
  • Starting to stare at your paces during easy days

Running is supposed to be simple. That is what makes it so much fun! It’s obvious you have to work hard to improve, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be obsessively checking your Garmin for your pace.


After I began running again postpartum I was finding myself even more obsessed with pace because I could (obviously) see that I had slowed down. Of course, I just had a baby! I was feeling discouraged and after Boston I started to feel like running was becoming a struggle.

I spoke with one of my best running friends, Meridith who was training using only effort based running. We talked a lot about it and she really encouraged me to give it a try especially since I was doing so much of my running with a stroller. It seemed simple enough, but the biggest challenge for me was letting go of the mindset that every run has to be paced based.

I vowed to myself to give it a try and guess what? I LOVED IT!


What has effort based running done for me in my training?

  • Reduced stress. Running with a running stroller isn’t always easy and trying to hit certain paces with it is often just not practical. Instead, I focused on making sure I am giving the correct effort and still find I get just as good of a workout!
  • I found the JOY in running again. Obsessing over pace was taking a lot of the joy away from running. I wanted to just be able to go out, run, and not worry about what my watch was telling me. I found running to be FUN again and I looked forward to putting on my shoes and getting out the door reach day.
  • I’ve gotten FASTER! Believe it or not, effort based running has made me faster. You see – we often get so obsessed with pace that when we see a certain pace we are supposed to hit sometimes our brain automatically thinks there is no way we can do that. Most of the time – we are wrong! Instead of going out and saying “I”m going to run a 7:45 pace for 2 miles” I go out and say “I’m going to run a moderate effort for 2 miles.” A lot of times I surprise myself with what paces I end up going because I don’t look at my watch I just go off what truly feels right to my body.
  • I don’t worry about having to run with the stroller. Running with a stroller is a great workout! Even though some days it feels like climbing a mountain when running with the stroller I know that I can still go out and do any workout on my schedule. All I have to do is give the effort prescribed and even though it may not end up being as fast as I could run without it, it makes it that much easier when I do get a solo run!

Stroller Running

I have hands down seen more improvement with effort based running then I have seen obsessing over my paces. I don’t stress about hitting a certain time, and even more important I have become even more in tune with my body.

You see, with effort based running it is all up to you! You can either give your best or cheat yourself. Whether your workout calls for an easy, moderate, moderately-hard, or hard day it is still up to you to execute.

I really love this article from Runner’s Connect which talks about how to teach yourself to race faster, but I particularly love this quote:

“Most runners love numbers. We like to see the Garmin data with the exact pace, the heart rate, and the miles we accumulate. We get so fixated on the technical, physiological processes of training – lactate threshold, VO2max, heart rate, etc. – that we easily forget that racing is often a simple application of a specific skill; learning to push harder and run faster when you’re already tired.

Running AND racing in the end is very simple, we are the ones who make it more complicated. We have to teach our bodies what certain efforts feel like and when racing we have to teach ourselves to keep pushing even when we are tired.

Going along with learning to push our bodies running off effort is also great for easy days. While I’ve gotten faster using effort based running I’ve also found that I truly take my easy days EASY. Not every day will be the same pace even when we go out to run easy, so when I just go out and run whatever my body feels is easy that day it helps me then turn around and give it my all for the days when I can run harder.

Stroller Effort Based Training

Most runners claim they run easy but then stare at their Garmin and speed up when they think they are going too slow. I am a firm believer, even when marathon training, in not having a set pace for easy days. There are too many outside factors that play into running that makes it impossible to have a set prescribed “easy pace.” Turn your watch face to the time, go out and just RUN. Easy, slow, and steady.

Running always goes back to the basics. Back before we had Garmins or even simple timing watches, people still ran. They still ran FAST and still PR’d. While our Garmin is a great tool to help us evaluate our running it can also be an obsessive tool that can sometimes make parts of running harder.

My biggest advice?

  • Turn the auto-lap off on your Garmin
  • Turn your watch face on and press start so you can’t see time or pace
  • Go RUN whatever effort is for that day

That’s it. It’s simple, it sometimes seems too simple, and I know it’s scary to let go of all the data and paces from time to time but it has been so rewarding for not only my running performance but for my mental well being too!

Don’t worry if you love pace running – it can still play a role in your training. Tuesday I went out and tried out marathon pace for what I’m hoping to run in December. I still work for paces from time to time, but it’s more rare than it used to be.

If running has lost some of it’s joy. If paces, miles, and always getting faster have become an obsession – step back, breathe, and try effort based running. I guarantee it’ll help in more ways than one!

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