Rate of Perceived Effort

What does the Rate of Perceived Effort mean?

Rate of Perceived Effort (RPE), have you ever heard your coaches talk about this during a training session but thought that you don’t fully understand what it means?

Here is the definition from The American College of Sports Medicine:

“The RPE scale is a psycho-physiological scale, meaning it calls on the mind and body to rate one’s perception of effort…The RPE scale measures feelings of effort, strain discomfort, and/or fatigue experienced during both aerobic and resistance training.”

Gunnar Borg’s original RPE scale uses 15 points from 6 to 20, with 6 equal to rest and 20 equal to exhaustion. Borg subsequently devised a 10-point scale. Point 10 equates to maximal intensity — being chased by a big hungry dog for instance.

Borg’s 10-point scale:

Training at specific paces is fine if your runs are flat, the weather conditions good, the terrain is firm. However, this is not always the case as we have the pleasure of fairly hilly terrain! So if you are running up hill, off road or in poor weather conditions your RPE will be greater.

5k Race Pace – RPE 8

For many road runners, 5k is the shortest race. It is a very hard pace to sustain, it is the fastest speed you can maintain for 5k or 3.1 miles. The body is producing lactate faster than it can use it or clear it. Running at this speed is uncomfortable, and talking is virtually impossible.

10k Race Pace – RPE 7

Not quite as fast as 5k, but a little quicker than half marathon pace. It is slightly faster than lactate turnpoint pace and is still very uncomfortable, especially after running for 6 miles or 10k.

Threshold Pace – RPE 6

For many new runners (and even those with some experience), threshold pace is the hardest to understand; not least because it is also often called tempo pace. We know what it feels like to race a 10k or half marathon, but we don’t have those associations to relate to threshold pace. Threshold — more specifically anaerobic threshold — is so-called because it describes the intensity at which the physiological changes occur at lactate turnpoint, whereas tempo is a name for a running pace (and not necessarily the same one). Lactate turnpoint is only really determined in the lab. It is the point at which lactate accumulates in the muscles faster than it can be cleared from the blood. It is however a crucial pace, because if we can increase the speed at which it occurs we will be able to run faster. Indeed, training at and around threshold pace develops the body’s ability to do just that Threshold pace is often described as the maximum pace you can sustain for an hour. For many runners it will be slower than 10k but faster than half marathon pace. Elite runners will run a half marathon near threshold, whereas a 60-minute 10k runner will be running their 10k at around threshold pace.

Marathon pace – RPE 4

In a marathon, the perceived effort in the first few miles will feel very different to the last few miles when that same pace can seem impossible; and sometimes proves to be. So, our RPE relates to how that running intensity feels whilst running per se, and not during the latter stages of a marathon.

Long runs and recovery runs – RPE 2

Long runs should be about building your endurance. If you run them too fast, your training will suffer because you will not be fresh enough to carry out the other important training sessions. The training effect from long runs occurs at surprisingly low effort levels. Use your long run pace as a pace not to exceed during your long runs. There are exceptions here because it is often useful to start a long run very easy and then pick the pace up to run the last few miles faster, perhaps at marathon pace to get used to running at marathon pace when highly fatigued. Recovery runs are an important component of training. For a recovery run to be effective, it must be easy. A recovery run should be run no faster than your marathon pace, and usually much slower.

There are plenty of training pace calculators available online if you are still unsure as to what pace you should be aiming for.