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.


Runderwear - Chafe Free in the Desert

This post is in collaboration with Runderwear.

Runderwear - Chafe Free Running Underwear - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

Where do you start telling the story of 60 hours running in the desert? To be honest I’m still processing The Speed Project, it was singly one of the most surreal and epic adventures I’ve ever had and it’s going to take me some time to get my head around it all (and sift through the metric tonne of footage and hundreds of still images we generated). For now I’m sharing the tidbits I can process, and where better to start than my favourite topic, Chafing!

Sometimes I wonder if I should stop saying this is a running blog and rebrand as a chafing hotspot. I seem to be obsessed with clammy nether regions and painful rubbing, so I’m pretty sure I could turn it into a thing, but then maybe it would be awkward to explain at parties…I digress. Even if you’re not weirdly obsessed with chafing (prevention and management) going for a 340 mile jog through Death Valley will put it on your radar as all that sweat can wreak havoc on parts of your body that touch.

Runderwear - Chafe Free Running Underwear - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

One of the areas I chafe the most is my butt. Yep, it’s true, after Royal Parks Half Marathon a couple of years ago I looked like a tiger had mauled my arse and sitting down was really not an option for a few weeks. Broken skin is a regular occurrence for me, whether it’s my butt, thighs, arms, lower back, some part of me is going to come back from a run chapped and rubbed raw. Not Fun. Really not fun if you have a few hundred miles left to run. However, at The National Running Show this year I was lucky enough to run into the guys from Runderwear and they sorted me out with some lovely soft pants that they promised would see me through the race chafe free!

I’d always been a bit curious about Runderwear. Were they a massive gimmick? Were they worth the money (women’s pants retail from £16-20 a pair)? Would they solve all my problems? Well the answers are No. Yes. Yes.

Runderwear - Chafe Free Running Underwear - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

I took two pairs of Runderwear with me to the States and wore each pair for 24 hours (because I am feral like that). Each pair were worn through multiple legs and rest periods, which would be gross in any other scenario but proved to be the perfect test as I could really see if they did wick sweat away and prevent that nasty clamminess that leads to rashes and sore skin. It was a big ask, but Runderwear was up to the job, two days wallowing in my own sweat and I emerged in Vegas tired, sore and hungry but without a single blemish on my skin from rubbing. Win.

The pants I tried during The Speed Project were the Women’s Brief and the Low Rise Hipster. Both were actually pretty high rise - Baby One More Time Britney would have issues - but I liked that because it meant my pants hit the waistline of my shorts, which is really comfy and avoids weird bumps and bulges. What was more awkward for me was that both pairs had pretty high cut legs, which I am really not used to. I found that it meant the pants dug in a little and left me with some pretty pronounced VPL, maybe not an issue in the desert but sometimes you don’t want to draw attention to your undies. Since I’ve come home Runderwear has sent me some Hot Pants and the No VLP Hipster which I am really excited about (and will report back on soon!).

Runderwear - Chafe Free Running Underwear - A Pretty Place to  Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

High cut legs aside I found these pants extremely comfortable and crucially they helped me get through Death Valley in relative comfort and without any chafing to deal with otherwise. Which is just as well given all the other injuries I sustained! I’ll defiantly be keeping them in rotation and packing them for all my running adventures this summer (dodgy leg notwithstanding!).

Have you tried Runderwear? What are your thoughts?

*Runderwear sent me various products to try but all opinions are my own.

** images: Kaye Ford.

Why Does Topical Magnesium Sting!

Why Does Topical Magnesium Sting? - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

Magnesium is one of the most important minerals when it comes to sport performance. It plays a fundamental role in optimal muscle contraction, skeletal strength and energy production, as well as helping to sustain the high oxygen consumption that we need to perform. A growing number of studies suggest that magnesium is most effectively absorbed when applied to the skin (something called transdermal absorption) in comparison to taking it in pill or capsule form orally. That sounds really nerdy doesn’t it! Well let’s put it this way, applying a magnesium oil or gel to your legs will help you recover more quickly that popping a magnesium supplement each day. But there is one major drawback…IT STINGS LIKE HELL.

Why Does Topical Magnesium Sting? - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

For ages I thought that it was just me who felt like their legs were on fire after applying magnesium, but chatting with other runners (which is pretty much all I do these days) I discovered that a lot of people have had the same experience, and it’s really putting them off doing something that’ll really benefit their bodies. Being someone whose job is essentially to ask ‘why’ a lot I really wanted to understand why topical magnesium stings so much, and whether there was anything I could do to stop the stinging, so I reached out to the team at BetterYou to ask some questions.

Why Does Topical Magnesium Sting? - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

According to NPD Executive and Nutritional Expert, Keeley Berry, high dose magnesium can sting because it’s highly concentrated salt and it’s absorbed super quickly. While this has huge benefits when it comes to helping you recover, it can also mean that you’re left with a bit of residue on your skin which can cause some itching, especially if you’ve got sensitive skin (hands up!). Stinging or burning could also be a sign of magnesium deficiency, and when the skin is exposed to topical magnesium it can cause the blood vessels underneath the skin to dilate very quickly. This is because magnesium is a natural vasodilator and can cause the capillaries to increase in blood flow, also causing a tingling warming effect.

So that’s the science explaining why topical magnesium can sting, but what can you do about it? Here’s a few suggestions:

  • it’s always better to apply little and often to a larger surface area, especially if you’re just starting out with a magnesium oil.

  • the best way to avoid itchy residue to to apply gel or oil onto wet skin straight out of the shower. Warm water (not too hot!) helps open up the pores and allows the product to be absorbed more efficiently, especially when massaged into the skin. After a few minutes towel off any residual oil, which should help minimise any itching.

  • Noushii (the bad ass manager at City Athletic) suggests starting with the sensitive oil from BetterYou, it’s just a bit kinder if you have sensitive skin.

  • Try adding magnesium flakes to your bath, I’ve never experienced stinging, and who doesn’t like a good soak?! I like to add a couple of drops of essential oils too, just to make things a bit more lux.


Do you use topical magnesium? Do you find it stings? Any tips I’ve missed to stop the sting?!

* I reached out to BetterYou for comment, I have not received payment and the products features I purchased myself. My shoes were a gift from 361 Europe.

** images: Anna Rachel Photography