How to Run Hard

How to Run Hard - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

I am a total wuss when it comes to running hard. I worry about it hurting or getting hurt. I worry that I can’t hack it. I worry about not being fast enough, and because I worry I tend to skip the whole thing. I’d rather plod along at an easy pace for every run, safely in my comfort zone, content in the knowledge I’m not doing to experience too much discomfort. On the odd occasion when I do push it a little bit of me always holds back a bit, just in case.

This never used to be the case. I used to love pushing myself, but the ups and downs of the last few years took their toll and I started to doubt myself, deciding it was easier to stay in my comfort zone rather than go all out. Fear is a powerful emotion.

Effective training calls for a mix of efforts - easy runs, tempo runs and hard runs - which work together to help improve endurance and pace. If you’re skipping out on one of these elements (because you are a massive wuss) then you’re not going to get the most out of your training cycle. That’s ok, it’s ok to do what’s right for you, but if you’re not doing something because you are a massive wuss, well then you’re holding yourself back.

It’s time to stop with the excuses and do the work.

How to Run Hard - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

But how do you do that? For me it was an incremental treadmill test. Part of the L3 PT course is learning how to carry out fitness tests, and to learn you’ve got to do. I was terrified going into class last night knowing I’d be spending the evening pushing myself through max effort tests, especially in front of my very fit peers! But if you want something you sometimes have to boss up and do hard things, and that is exactly what I did. And you know what, it was exactly what I needed. It showed me how much I’d been cheating myself, and reminded me just how good pushing yourself to the limit feels!

It’s only once you know your limits that you can know how to push them, and a fitness test can be just the right sort of kick up the butt to get you motivated. The incremental treadmill test is a good one because it’s easy to do and it’s suitable for someone who runs fairly often.

How to Run Hard - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

What You’ll Need

It’s best to carry out this test on a treadmill because it allows you to increase the speed in a controlled way. You’ll also need a HR monitor, and maybe a friend to note down your stats (if you feel like you want to) and to give you some encouragement when things get hard.

What You’re Testing

The test is all about finding your ventilatory threshold, or the intensity above which your breathing becomes laboured, although if you’re using it to test how hard you can run (like I did), that aspect doesn’t matter so much. VT 1 is the point at which you achieve a rate of perceived exertion (RPE) of around 13 (moderately hard) and VT2 is RPE 15 (hard) on the Borg Scale. MAX VT is the point where you can’t run another step.

How To Do It

Start out slow and work up gradually, increasing the pace ever 90s until you reach VT1. If a PT is carrying out the test they would record your heart rate with every increment, but if your doing the test yourself you can just record your heart rate when you reach RPE 13 (moderately hard). You should be keeping an eye on it throughout the test because it gives you a good indicator of whether your increments are on point.

Once you’ve hit VT1 keep upping the pace gradually every 90s until you reach VT2, or RPE 15 (hard). You don’t want to up your pace too quickly, so you’re only really looking to increase your heart rate by around 5bpm for ever increase, tricky to do but it’s worth taking your time. As before, record your heart rate when you hit VT2.

Now for the push to your max - you’re looking to hit RPE 20 - your maximal exertion. Keep going with the same gradual increase every 90s until you get to the point you can’t do any more. How far you can push will surprise you, and for me this was the point where I realised I could go much harder than I ever thought I could. It was the kick in the butt I needed.

How to Run Hard - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

There are lots of cool things you can do with the data you produce from this test around estimating your VO2 Max, but I’m not going to go into that here. For me this test is more about helping you realise how much you can push, rather than applying a metric to your fitness. I found that the structured environment, the monitoring and the encouragement from my classmates really helped me get over my fear of running hard, and sometimes that’s just what you need. A little kick in the butt.

Are you a wuss when it comes to pushing yourself? Are you going to try this test? Let me know in the comments below.

Want some inspiration on running faster? Check out this post.

images; Fordtography , shot during The Speed Project

Safety always comes first. If you are new to exercise ensure you seek advice from your GP. Make sure you drink plenty of fluids, wear appropriate clothing and make sure any equipment you use is in good working order. Technique is paramount, and nothing should hurt. Should you experience pain, discomfort, nausea, dizziness, chest pain, shortness of breath etc, STOP and consult your GP.


L2 Gym Instructor Training with TrainFitness

Becoming a gym instructor with TrainFitness - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

Never one for a quiet life, as soon as I completed the first year of my PhD it was on to my next project - spending my summer training to become a PT with TrainFitness. There’s a couple of reasons I wanted to take on this challenge; you already know I’m passionate about movement, but I want to really understand how to train effectively and safely, I love working with people to help them recognise and reach their potential and becoming a personal trainer offers me the opportunity to do this and work flexibly around my research.

I’m studying part-time, which comprises home study plus a part-time clinic where I get face to face input from a tutor. There are tonnes of different courses out there - online, part-time, full-time - but I went for this option with this provider because I felt it was important to have face to face interaction as I want to make sure I’m doing everything safely and with the best technique, and also because the TrainFitness gym where clinics are held is really convenient for me. I did do a lot of research about providers before I signed up with TrainFitness, but honestly they all seemed much of a muchness and essentially they all follow the same curriculum, so it’s all down to what works for you.

The first step in training to become a personal trainer is to complete L2 gym instructor training. Over the last five weeks Monday and Tuesday evenings, plus a huge number of hours of my own time, have been given over to developing the skills and knowledge to plan and prepare gym-based programmes for apparently healthy adults, to conduct consultations and to work with clients to motivate and support them. It’s been intense, interesting and frustrating all at once, and I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on the last five weeks.

  • It’s not always made clear, but you are expected to have worked through the online course BEFORE you start attending clinic. I didn’t know about this, and even when I found out I was busy finishing first year of my PhD so didn’t have time to get through the work. This made the course more stressful than it should’ve been.

  • I, perhaps naively, thought clinic would be more like a lecture. While you do spend time running through the concepts covered by the course it is revision, not teaching.

  • Don’t underestimate the time commitment. The format of the course demands a lot of hours - seven hours a week in clinic and several hours work on each of the online units. It can be a slog, it will be worth it.

  • The course jumps around quite a lot, moving from anatomy and physiology to client care with each lesson. This can make it tricky to assimilate and build concepts so I found it helpful to consolidate everything together in one document once I’d finished the online modules. I’ll do a post about how I did this soon.

  • Because of the structure of the course it can feel like there’s a lot more depth to the material than there actually is. I found this overwhelming, but again it helped to consolidate the information so you can get a better feel for everything.

  • If you want feedback you need to ask your tutor, especially around your form in the gym (which you will need to nail for your practical exams).

  • Practice, practice, practice - practice delivering workouts, practice your lifting technique, practice answering multiple choice questions - the more practice you get in, the more confident you’ll be on test day. It is just like training for a marathon, you practice over time and then you deliver the performance.

Training to become a fitness professional is a lot of work, and it should be because you are dealing with people’s bodies, but it’s totally worth the commitment knowing that in a few months time I’ll be in a place to help people live their best lives through movement.


Gendered Resistance (in Indoor Cycling)

Should Instructors Give Different Levels of Resistance to Men and Women in Indoor Cycling Sessions - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

Since I got injured I’ve become obsessed with indoor cycling. Right now nothing comes close the sweaty endorphin boost I get from pounding it out on a bike, plus it’s a really good way to keep my fitness up when running is off the cards.

Because I’m a woman on a budget, and I don’t always want to go an workout at work, I decided to start hitting the spin classes at my local gym - Brockwell Lido. For just over forty quid a month I can take as many classes as I want, and if I stick to my goal of three bike sessions a week I’ll definitely be getting my moneys worth considering how much classes as boutique studios like Psycle are (although I do love them so!). So last Monday I toddled off to the Lido to check out my first class(s - obviously I decided to hit a double).

Being totally straight I wasn’t expected classes even close to those I’ve taken part in at Psycle, Boom or Heartcore, after all the Lido is essentially a local leisure centre not a trendy studio, and the offering reminded me a lot of the Spinning classes I used to go to occasionally as a teenager. The instructor shouts out a resistance and an RPM and you do your best to keep up, no fancy choreography and no faffing about with upper body, it is all about the bike. What I wasn’t expecting was the instructor to should out one level of resistance for ‘the ladies’ and another for ‘the men’, calling out those who weren’t on track as he wandered around the studio.

Maybe I’ve been training alone for too long, or maybe I spend too much time in high end studios, but I honestly thought that this approach had died a death. While I’ve heard stories of ‘ladies weights’ I figured that type of thing was a one off, and that I wouldn’t experience sexism around performance in any gym I went to.

Now this isn’t about my capabilities or ego - if anything my current injury means I need less resistance rather than more - but it is about the messages we share with men and women about their capabilities as athletes (and in this context I’m using athlete to refer to anyone who moves, because Chevy Rough raised me right). It’s also as much an issue about men and masculinity as it is about women - reinforcing notions that as a man you should be able to achieve a particular level of athleticism based on your chromosomes, something we are gradually realising is deeply damaging. Similarly, it reinforces notions that women are inherently weaker than men, and therefore need to tone down their exertion, which again promotes damaging stereotypes. Yes, men and women do have physiological differences that can impact performance, but at the level of a sports centre cycling class this isn’t an element I think is particularly relevant.

Should Instructors Give Different Levels of Resistance to Men and Women in Indoor Cycling Sessions - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

Leaving class the instructor’s directions played on my mind, and I decided to ask some of my friends who teach indoor cycling for their thoughts. Was this actually a relatively normal approach that I’d simply missed by riding in fancy studios? Was there a good reason for gendered resistence?

Honestly most people I spoke to (including other staff at the Lido) were really surprised that anyone still took this approach, although (and much to her credit!) Mollie did fess up and tell me that she thinks that she’s probably done similar when training people on Keiser bikes (where there’s a visual display of resistance, so similar to what I was riding during this class). Mollie commented that as an instructor it can be hard to know where everyone is at in terms of strength, and while you could give guidance based on the idea of beginner and advanced riders it is easy to cheat, and some people might identify more with directions based on gender. I can see where Mollie is coming from, but I’d argue that we need to take care around reproducing narratives - it’s like your Mum always says, just because so-and-so does something it doesn’t mean you have to as well. When it comes to gender ideology (and this scenario is a prime example) we need to be alive to challenging rhetoric and language if we want to promote change.

I was curious to know how this all worked from a training perspective, and Carly chatted me through the various approaches to coaching in a class setting. Reflecting on my experience she explained how the instructor I encountered may have slipped into assumptions around gender and performance - when teaching indoor cycling you can work on watts (power) and give an indication on what athletes should be aiming for, and her thesis is that the instructor may have interpreted this as related to the factual biological capacity of each gender. Which does make sense, although as I mentioned earlier in this post I don’t think is necessarily relevant when considering performance in the context of a leisure centre fitness class. But then maybe I’m underestimating my fellow Lido goers and my analysis is actually based on bias?

Carly told me that the approach used in my class wasn’t one she’d use herself as she’d worry about alienating women and making men feel ashamed if they weren’t able to reach the prescribed resistance, as well as bringing negative segregating language into an environment where she’s trying to make people feel good (God I love that woman). She also highlighted that performance is affected by a myriad of different issues, some of which can vary almost by day - take my leg injury for example - and really prescriptive instructions about things like power and resistance aren’t helpful if you take this into account. While the intention might be to encourage people to push themselves, this could really backfire. It’s a tricky balance.

Should Instructors Give Different Levels of Resistance to Men and Women in Indoor Cycling Sessions - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

I can’t begin to imagine the challenges of teaching a group fitness class, but I do think community environments have a responsibility to be conscious of the impact of words and actions and that it’s important we reframe athletic efforts if we want to break down gender barriers in sport. Hell, we need to do this if we want to break down barriers that suggest you can only participate if you’re already fit or athletic.

What are your thoughts on this? Do we have a responsibility to be mindful of the effect of our approach on gender, or am I being a bit extra?

*images: Anna Rachel Photography for The Altitude Centre.