QT: Should You Focus on Effort, Not Pace, for Speed Workouts?

When you go into a speed workout, how do you decide how fast to hit the hard intervals?


Maybe you try to get a feel for goal pace for an upcoming race.

Or you aim for your current PR pace plus or minus a few seconds.

Maybe you just try to hit whatever paces your coach puts on your plan.

What about going into a workout with no idea how fast you’re going to go?

Effort vs Pace

As a coach, it’s a rare occurrence that I prescribe a specific pace to my athletes for their workouts.


Instead, I tell them to run hard.

Because, near as I can tell, if you’re going to do a speed workout you should be running hard.

The shorter the distance/duration of the repeat, if we are doing some manner of repeats, the harder the effort.

But the funny thing about hard is that some days hard is a little faster, other days it’s a touch slower.


As long as the effort is appropriate for the workout and the goals of the individual, I don’t worry too much about pace.

For the Type As that I coach? That want to be told exactly what to do and how fast to do it?

This takes some getting used to.

And as a coach that isn’t really into the “my way or the highway” kind of mentality, sometimes I go ahead and give them some type of pace that I think might be about right for them.

But I’ll always try to remind them to just push as hard as they can, given the specifics of the workout, and not worry about the pace.

How This (Ideally) Works in the Real World

I recently prescribed a workout to one of my athletes that is definitely a numbers person.

A week before the workout, she asked for some guidance about what pace she should target for the intervals.

She floated the idea of about a 10-minute pace, and I told her that would definitely be challenging but also very doable.

I reminded her not to worry too much about the pace, just run the intervals hard and see what happens.

She killed it.

She ended up running much closer to an 8-minute pace for the prescribed intervals.


Moral of the Story

Now, I’m not guaranteeing that by focusing on effort instead of pace you’ll somehow knock a couple of minutes per mile off of your workout pace.

But what I’m saying is that there’s a chance that you’re not getting the most out of your workouts if you’re only focused on pace and not effort.

If this particular athlete of mine would have “only” run at a 10-minute pace for this workout? It would have still been a solid workout.

But her willingness to blow past that pace, take what her body was giving her on this particular day, was the difference between a solid workout and a great workout.

And to be clear, this works both ways.

Let’s say, as a hypothetical, this same runner was doing the same workout with the idea that a 10-minute pace was about right.

And let’s say she was pushing as hard as she could but the best she could do on that day was about a 10:45-pace.

Maybe there was a poor night of sleep. Or accumulated fatigue from the training she’d been doing. Or any other number of reasons that would have made it harder for her to hit the 10-minute pace without overreaching.

In that case? 10:45 would be spot on.

Working hard. Pushing the effort. Spiking the HR.

But not pushing beyond what her body was capable of doing on the day.


Probably not a surprise coming from me, Mr. Heartrate Himself, but when it comes to your workouts take what your body will give you.

Somedays that might be a little faster. Other days, maybe a tick slower.

But as long as you’re pushing the effort appropriately, you’re getting the benefits of the hard workout and moving your fitness forward.

And that is the goal, right?

Should you focus on effort, not pace, for your speed workouts? #runchat Share on X

What do You Focus on for Your  Hard Workouts?

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