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Runners! Should we rethink weekly kilometres as our measure for success?

While distance is an important variable to measure with running, not all kilometres are created equal. A recent viewpoint published in JOSPT (1) highlighted the need for analysis of more than just how far you run and highlights the value of rate of perceived exertion (RPE) to track your efforts. Let’s consider a 10km run and the different parameters that can be measured…

Firstly, I’ll answer the question as simply as I can. No. Distance alone is not a good enough measure of training for us to use as it doesn’t capture all the different variables that a single run can have. Let’s talk about what else is important.

Duration and pace

(circled in red in the table below)

The time we spend on our feet out is the first thing we want to know once we’ve finished a run. It’s how we compare ourselves to our mates and to compare to our previous results. The same distance travelled at a faster speed is going to be a higher stress on your body. No surprises here.

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(table from: Paquette, Napier, Willy & Stellingwerff, 2020)

So, the next question is what happens with two runs of 10km, both run at the same pace/duration are they always equal? Is time and distance all we need to know?

Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE):

(circled in blue in the table below)

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      (table from: Paquette, Napier, Willy & Stellingwerff, 2020)

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Measuring RPE gives a really good sense of what you have felt on the day of the run and can encompass a lot by simply using an ‘out of 10’ rating (0 being nil effort and 10 being the hardest) for the effort involved.

For example, when we are feeling “fresh” (RPE = 2/10) is very different to when we feel “tired” (RPE = 5/10) the same 10km feels a different stress on our bodies and RPE can captures this.

A word of caution

From the table referenced we can see in the table that there are numerous things to measure and to account for that we haven’t discussed today and this highlights how complex things can get. Looking at factors beyond just distance is important and highlights how we all cope with the stress of training differently. The goal of any tool like this is not to burden you with more worry but might give you a moment to reflect on why today’s 10km was different to the previous one. Happy running!

Tom West (APA Sports and Exercise Physiotherapist)

  • Paquette, M., Napier, C., Willy, R. & Stellingwerff, T. (2020). Moving Beyond Weekly ‘Distance’: Optimizing Quantification of Training Load in Runners. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. 1, 1-20.