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.


Bacchus Half Marathon - Training Update

Half Marathon Training - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

It’s a month to go until Bacchus Half marathon and time for a training update. Being totally honest, my training plan has gone to shit. Running has defiantly been pushed down my list of priorities recently and I’ve sucked when it’s come to thinking laterally about how to work training into my life (thanks to my PT buddy Jessica for helping me work through this one!), so often it’s just not happened.

I’m not going to say that’s ok. If you want to do something challenging you have to put in the work, but I am going to acknowledge it’s not always easy and that it’s ok to reflect on what you’ve done and revise your plan. Which is exactly what I’ve done.

I am all for working with and listening to your body, but some times I think I do a little too much of that. One niggle, one tired day and I have an excuse not to do at least something. I’ve convinced myself I have no time or no energy, when if I took a step back and a breath I’d probably be up to a short session or be able to fit in 30 minutes - and you can do a lot in 30 minutes, both for your mind and your body. So that’s what I’ve been doing - designing short sessions I can fit in during a spare half hour to 45 minutes here and there, complemented by a long run and a fartlek or interval session - and it’s made all the difference. I’m training more frequently, but it feels more manageable.

For the rest of my half marathon training I’ll be using a plan from Runner’s World (you can find it here). It’s probably not the best plan if you’ve not run a half marathon before, or if you’re coming back after a long time away from movement, but for me it is great because it is flexible. The plan suggests 2-3 easy runs per week but it doesn’t prescribe how long these runs should be in terms of time/distance, so I’m planning to aim for 30-45 minutes because I know that’s what works for me. There is suggested milage for the long runs, but it is banded so that you can work out what feels best for you and adapt the plan, and the fartlek/interval sessions are all short and manageable which means they feel achievable. In addition I’m also planning three 30minute strength sessions a week (legs, core and arms, back and chest). Training plans and good intentions are great, but if you can’t make it work with your life them there’s no point, and this one feels like it will work with my life. Hopefully these will be the last changes I need to make before race day in September!

Have you found you’ve needed to revise your training plans? Why did you have to change things up? Let me know in the comments below!

image: Anna Rachel Photography



My Half Marathon Training Plan

Half Marathon Training Plan - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

Since I shared that I’m putting together my own training plan for Bacchus Half Marathon in September a few people have asked if I would share my plans. Normally I’m reluctant to share training plans I’ve put together myself, I’m not a coach and I don’t want anyone to hurt themselves following something I’ve put together myself. However, I’ve hacked this one together from some very reliable sources - Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s return to running programme, and Robin Arzon’s book Shut Up And Run (you can read my review here) - so I feel a bit more comfortable putting my plans out there.

This plan is designed for me, and where I’m at as a runner might be different to where you’re at. If you're new to running this might not be the best plan for you, and if you’re coming back from injury please chat to the team you’re working about what approach they think would be best for you. Robin says it best really:

If it doesn’t feel right, then don’t do it!

Blindly following any training plan is stupid. Yes, you will be uncomfortable and probably sore. No, you shouldn’t run with the flue or a bone sticking out of your leg. Training plans are not static. If your best day to rest is different than prescribed, then change your training to make it work. The training you make time for is infinitely better than the training that falls off because the plan doesn’t fit with your schedule. Remember, it’s ok to take additional rest days, but take the rest you need, not the rest you want. There’s a difference.

Right, let’s get into it!

XT = cross training (i like to take a spin class or strength train), RP = race pace

Half Marathon Training Plan - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

The first three weeks of this plan are all about walk/run intervals. Because I’ve been injured I want to take things slowly and make sure I don’t over do things before I’m even really started. I’ve also kept most of my long runs as run/walk, something Charlie inspired me to do after she shared she was walking for a minute for each mile of her long runs, which should keep my pace down and mean I’m a bit kinder to my body.

The easy runs I’ve put in this plan are exactly that - EASY. I like how Robin explains what it means to run easy:

when you can pass the talk test. Can you sing a verse of your favourite song or talk to a friend during the run? Good. Maintain that conversational pace throughout the entire run. You don’t want to burn out early.

Intervals/hills were some of my very favourite sessions when I was training for The Speed Project, and I’m excited to incorporate them into training for Bacchus, once I am a bit fitter and stronger! I’m still thinking about exactly what these workouts will look like, but I will share them once I’ve got it nailed. Prepare to sweat and feel awesome!

Finally, recovery. I am all about yin yoga at the moment. I find it calms my nervous system and opens up my body in a way no other yoga practice does, so I’m planning to incorporate at least one session a week.

So there you go, my plan to get back up and running in 12 weeks! Let me know what you think!

* images: Anna Rachel Photography

* my trainers were GIFTED by 361 Europe.