PRE – What is it and why is it so beneficial?

Blog images 16_9 (2)

Training someone on how to run seems like an odd thing to do. Lets face it, we instinctively know how to run the second we’re old enough to stand and walk without falling over. In our hunter-gatherer years we ran for two reasons: to chase down food, or run away from things that thought we were food. This was the birth of the fight or flight response.

But this type of running is generally in short bursts and at high speed (with the addition of a heightened level of adrenaline coursing through the body).

The running I refer to when I train my clients is for endurance, such as a 10km, 21km or 42km running event.

Learning how to run for a distance event can seem daunting if you’ve never really run more than 2kms. So what I would like to share with you is the key to building cardio endurance, whether it’s swimming, rowing, cycling or running. It’s called P.R.E.

PRE (or perceived rate of exertion) also known as RPE is exactly how it sounds. It is your own perception of how exerted or exhausted you are. It’s rated on a scale of 1 – 10.

A rating of 1 suggests there’s more oxygen than you need to perform the activity you’re doing (e.g. me sitting here typing this blog).

A rating of 10 suggests not enough oxygen available to do anything other than catch your breath. This means you just can’t talk (e.g. right at the end of a flat out sprint up a hill).

A rating of 5 means enough oxygen to allow you to provide one word answers (e.g. if you’re running up a slight incline and you start to breathe shorter and heavier).

So how does this PRE scale help me build cardio endurance?

Most first-timers training for a distance event make a fatal mistake the very first time they go for a run. I know this because I was one of those first-timers!

When you’ve made the decision to go for your first training run, you walk outside with the wind in your hair, your earphones in, your favourite song playing… you’re ready to conquer the world. Unfortunately, you’re also full of energy! As you don’t yet have a guide to measure pace, invariably, you go too fast too early. You may make 500m, maybe even 1km before you come to a complete stop. You’re now bent over trying to catch your breath, wondering where that feeling of global domination went. You second guess yourself and your ability to ever be ‘fit’ enough to run 5km. You start questioning who came up with the term ‘fun run’.

When I train my clients wishing to take part in a running event, I get them to take me for a run. You’d be surprised but more often than not, I can’t maintain the pace they set. The only reason I let them continue at this pace, is that I’m pretty sure (at least I hope) they’ll run out of steam quickly. When they do eventually stop, sometimes after 200 meters, sometimes 800 meters (and once they’ve caught their breath) they generally say… “see, I told you I can’t run. I’m not fit enough!”.

Then I take them for a run. This is very quickly met with shock and disappointment as they feel they will not be able to keep up with me. It’s only when we start running that they see how slow I’m going.

Remembering why we are running at this pace is crucial to building cardio endurance. It’s a distance event, not a sprint.

So how do I know if I’m running at the right pace to build cardio endurance?

When you begin your cardio endurance training, it’s all about learning what you’re capable of. But whatever your current level of fitness, you should ensure that you stay between 2 – 3 on the PRE scale. That means you need to run slow enough to be able to have a conversation during the run. If you can’t talk and run at the same time, then you are running too fast. You may think this new pace that you’re keeping is slower than walking. To that I say two things. Firstly, it’s not. Secondly, if you stick to this pace, you will blow past your best previous attempt at running a distance and before you know it, you’ll be running three, four, five kilometres, as your ability to maintain pace over distance increases.

This rule of keeping between 2-3 on the PRE scale when training to increase cardio endurance, holds true whether you’re running for the first time or you’re running in your fifth half marathon. As your running improves over time, your cardio endurance will increase, which means you’ll be able to run a little faster and for longer, all while keeping your PRE between 2-3. Your lung capacity will increase. Your heart health improves. Before you know it, you will have forgotten about that day you couldn’t run further than a kilometre without running out of breath.

For more information about PRE scales and how you can improve yours, contact me at


To your continued health and fitness,

John Field

no replies

Leave your comment