Thursday, 26 February 2015

MAF and Me

I first heard about Phil Maffetone and his training methods a couple of years ago, from Robin. Robin is one of the very few people I know who has consistently improving race times, year after year, but yet doesn't run super high mileage or crazy speedwork, and I needed to know her secret to success. 

Training with MAF was in the back of my mind for a long time, but it was very difficult to let go of the conventional training plan with hills, tempo and intervals.  Then came 2014, a year of mostly poor racing, culminating with my PB fail at R2H, and endless calf fatigue.  Combine that with the fact that I have always dreaded speedwork, and I knew that the time was right to give MAF a try.

The idea behind MAF is that in endurance events lasting 2 or more hours, 99% of effort comes from the aerobic system, which in many athletes is poorly trained. When building the aerobic base by finding your maximum aerobic heart rate (MHR), determined with the 180 Formula, there is less stress on the nervous system and eventually the athlete is able to go faster, but with a lower heart rate. It takes patience and dedication to stick with the slow running (and a bit of walking) long enough to see results.

Not surprisingly, the first few weeks with MAF were difficult. But by paying close attention to my heart rate, I learned how to lower my heart rate simply by using diaphragmatic breathing and surprisingly, by relaxing while running uphill and periodically unclenching my hands. But as the weeks went by, I started to see results from MAF. The results from my monthly MAF tests are as follows: 
Month 1 - 6:12/km pace
Month 2 - 6:07/km pace
Month 3 - 5:57/km pace
Month 4 - 5:51/km pace!

I think the biggest misconception regarding MAF is that you never run fast.  The point of MAF is to help a runner reach his/her potential and run faster, in a way that's far less taxing on the body!  After the initial base building period, anaerobic workouts can be added back in.  Here are several ways of achieving speed using MAF:


"Hills are speedwork in disguise." - Frank Shorter.  Dr. Maffetone loves himself some trail running, and what's a trail run without hills?  The uphill effort mimics the work done in tempo and track work.

Downhill Running

Lets you practice fast foot turnover without raising your heart rate.  My Mount Nemo route has a significant downhill on Guelph Line.

Aerobic Intervals

I think I am close to the point of being able to give these a try.  The hard intervals are run at MHR and recovery in your 'normal', slower range.

My goal for the Chilly HM on Sunday is to complete my entire pace assignment at MAF, although I will keep my HRM alarm off because my primary job is to run 2:15, not stay at MAF!  Then the last 2 weeks of peak training before ATB, where I will see if MAF training will pay off.  I do acknowledge that while it is difficult to step away from conventional training plans, the success of both professional athletes like Mark Allen and amateurs like Robin speak volumes that it is a solid plan.  

"Other approaches in the past decade give short-term results, but I am after long term race results within a program that does not totally fry athletes. People are always looking for the newest thing, the latest, greatest thing. But if you look behind the scenes, you will find so many people are injured doing it. So is that a good approach?"  - Mark Allen