I promised I would go into some more details about the training I’ve been doing and how I’m faring. so here it is! 🙂
I’m currently doing my very, very best to follow the Maffetone training philosophy. I call it “heart-rate training” when I talk to non-runners about it, but the version I’m doing is actually called the Maffetone Method, or MAF training, which stands for Maximum Aerobic Function. MAF training is designed to make you work more efficiently when you run by having you train in the “aerobic” zone. You can read all about it here. There is also a nutritional component to his plan, which involves cutting sugar out of your diet, but…I have not adopted that part. 😉 I’m sticking with just the fitness aspect of it, because sugar and me, we go way back, and I can’t in good conscience cut it out of my life like that. I know it would be devastated. 😉
With this training, you are given a target maximum heart rate based on your age and your current level of health and fitness. My magic number is 141:
180 (base number)
-44 (my age)
+ 5 (I have been training for 2+ years with improvement and without injury)
So my goal when doing the MAF training is to run at a pace that keeps my heart rate under 141 bpm, staying within about 10bpm (so a range of 131-141). Sounds simple, right? Um, wrong! The first day I tried it, I discovered that it doesn’t take long to get my heart rate into the 140s, and for me to try to keep it below that meant I had to run really, really slow—or outright walk! Granted, the MAF runs are supposed to be easy runs. Before this training, I would have told you that my “easy” run was in the neighborhood of 11- to 12-minute miles. With the MAF running, my easy runs (at the beginning) were in the 18- to 20-minute mile range! :/ (I even had one really bad day when my pace turned out to be 24+-minute miles!)
MAF training has definitely been an exercise in frustration for me most of the time. You can read all about my earlier experiences with MAF here, here and here. And, because I love numbers and charts, here’s a table that gives you a visual representation of my experience!
Bwahaha! I know, lots of data. :p How about a chart?
Still probably not very exciting, but it’s interesting to me! Let me try to recap the insanity:
- The blue line indicates my average pace for that run, with the axis for that data on the left. Lower = better.
- The red columns are my maximum heart rate for that run, with the axis for that data on the right. Lower = better.
- You can see that my first run was March 25, but it’s not a “true” MAF run because I gave up with about half a mile to go and just ran (which explains the high max heart rate). I didn’t fully commit to the training in the first week, so I didn’t put all my runs into the table. I did not put my worst run in there (4/1/16), where I had an average pace of 24:01!! (Can you even be moving at that pace?) It was really skewing the data when I tried to include it, so I removed it.
- Something you can’t see in the table are the external factors that affected my runs. Wind was my biggest issue, but I think lack of sleep was a close second on many days. For the most part, I was improving in my paces, but I had some anomalies on 4/22 and 4/23 that were definitely stress- and sleep-related.
- I had a great long run on 4/30, where I was able to run 5 miles at a sub-15 pace (the 6th mile was hard, and it bumped my average up to 15:07). I felt really good that day and was encouraged that I was finally making progress.
- Three days later, I had my best run on 5/3/16. My average pace was 14:49, and my heart rate was incredibly consistent through all four miles. I felt great for that one! (You’d think that since I was barely jogging the whole time, I should feel great, but for me, just being able to jog the entire run without walking, and still stay below my target HR, was a major success!)
- The following day, I had a terrible run, and then the next two days, my runs were significantly worse than the ones I’d had in the last couple of weeks. I pretty frustrated.
After three bad runs in a row, I was kind of discouraged by the time Saturday night rolled around. Sunday was busy with Jamie’s Confirmation, but in the afternoon, I made sure that JJ got a run in, since he is still training for his 8K next month. I told him to run a mile and a half, and I ran with him, (because at 10 years old, I’m just not ready for him to run down the road by himself yet). He had a decent run, and I felt pretty good just keeping up with his 11:30-ish pace.
I knew it would be impossible for me to get a run in before leaving Monday morning at 4:25am to be on time for the class trip, so after JJ and I finished our 1.5 mile run, I decided to do another 1.5 miles to get me to 3. I figured that would have to be close enough to my Monday 3-miler. Normally, I deviate from the MAF training and allow myself to do speed work on Mondays, which means I maintain a sub-10, shooting for anywhere from a 9:30 to 9:50 pace. Since I’d already done the 11:30 pace with JJ for the first half, I decided to just try to finish out the remaining mile and a half at a sub-10 pace.
I only took a 1-2 minute break after I finished with JJ before I started running again. I decided to run to the west, mostly into the wind on the way out, because I love having the wind at my back for the last part of a run. When I started out, I was feeling pretty good, but I was shocked to see that when I hit the quarter-mile point, I was right around a 9:02-9:04. Now, it’s not unheard of for me to be going that fast at the very beginning, but then fade as I continue on. Still, I was feeling good, and it seemed to require less effort to maintain that pace than I would’ve expected. I started toying with the idea of running one single, fast mile, and then closing out the last half mile at a slower pace.
When I hit the half-mile point, I was still right at a 9:00-minute pace, and that’s when I decided I was going to go all out and try for a sub-9. I’ve only done that a few times since I started running…so few that I couldn’t even remember what my fastest mile actually was. :p I just knew that it had probably been at least 3 years since I ran that fast.
As I did that last quarter-mile before the three-quarter mile turnaround point, the wind was coming at me, but I just pushed through it. When I turned around at .75, I decided to push it as best I could. I was feeling the burn, but I wasn’t dying. As I got closer to the 1 mile point, I checked my watch, and I was stunned to discover I was running around an 8:52! Sweet!!
I was at about .85 by that time, and I turned it on just a bit more. As I hit about .95, I could see that I was right around 8:49 (!), and at that point, I got a little lazy. I knew I was well within my sub-9 goal, and I figured I didn’t have to work THAT hard, so I dialed it back just a bit right there at the end. When my watch beeped, it told me I was at 8:49 (maybe–I really didn’t even look that close, because I was just thrilled to have met my sub-9 goal!).
Normally, at that point, I would’ve immediately slowed to a walk, or even stopped and taken a breath, but I decided to just slow it down to a jog instead, figuring it was probably better for my endurance level to continue to move. I jogged really slowly for about a quarter-mile, but then I saw that I was still close to making the overall 1.5 mile run a sub-10, so in the last quarter mile, I picked it up. I came in at a 9:55 for the overall run, but more importantly, I had a big shock when I saved my workout.
Now don’t get too excited, because that’s only based on the runs I’ve done with my current Garmin. I started using this one in January 2014, so anything before that isn’t reflected in my PR’s. However, that mile on Sunday actually turned out to be my second-fastest mile ever! But you know what really sucks? When I went and looked it up later, I discovered I was only about 2 seconds away from beating my fastest mile ever (8:47)…and I had slowed down at the end!! 😮 Had I known I was so close, I would’ve totally busted it out to the very end. I absolutely had it in me at that moment. I was so mad at myself afterwards. 😉 But not really, because I was super-thrilled to have had my best 1-mile run in more than 3 years!
On the bus ride home from the class trip, I sat next to a mom who, as it turns out, is both a runner and a medical research professional! I had no idea that she’d run in both high school and college. How convenient! We had a great talk, and when I told her about my three bad runs last week, I mentioned that I had given blood that Tuesday morning. She immediately pointed out that when I did that, it removed oxygen from my blood, and my heart rate increased because of it! She said it will take some time to get back to normal. She was an endurance runner in high school and college, and she completely understands the heart-rate training. She even gave me some tips to help me. The biggest trip she gave me was that in order to control my heart rate, I must control my breathing. She approved of the “nose-in, mouth-out” method I’d learned in my half marathon last year, and encouraged me to continue to work on it with each run. I definitely felt better after our conversation!
When I got home after the trip, I did another heart-rate run on Wednesday morning, really focusing on my breathing as my friend Michelle had suggested. She told me that I need to work on breathing in deeply and breathing out deeply, with a nice, even rhythm, throughout my run. She told me that my body needs oxygen when I’m running, and if I’m breathing in short, labored breaths, I’m not getting enough oxygen. That certainly made sense!
I focused on my breathing for that run, and my pace was much better than last week’s bad runs, and I felt good while I was doing it. Don’t get me wrong, doing the deep breathing is pretty challenging, but I’m hopeful that if I continue to work on it, it will get easier.
So overall, although I wouldn’t say it’s been perfect, I do think that I’ve seen progress using the Maffetone Method. I’m not “running” 20-minute miles anymore, so that’s definitely progress, right? 😉
So where does that leave me now? Well, the whole reason I even started this training was because of my half-marathon experience last September. After running (and PR’ing) my second marathon in May, I worked really hard all summer to try to beat my best half-marathon time. I did it, but the feeling I had when I crossed the finish line was pretty awful. You can tell from my finish line picture just how miserable I was…I was working so hard! It was that misery that kept me from signing up for another race since then. I didn’t want to feel that way again!
When Katie told me about this MAF training, which is designed to make you a more efficient runner, I decided to give it a try. My hope was that I’d be able to run another half-marathon and maybe finish at the same pace, but feel much better. Now that I’ve done it about 6 weeks, and seen some improvement, I’m ready to try another “big” race.
I’ve now gone almost 7 months without training for anything, and I’m at the point where I’m getting bored and want to set a new goal. So, I’ve set my sights on a fall half-marathon, specifically, the Romeo to Richmond Half in September. I like those “point to point” races that take you from one city to another, because it feels like it’s running with a purpose. 😉 Plus, I love to see new cities, and I’ll get to see three new cities with this one—and hopefully some great historic architecture! 🙂
When I decided to do this race, I spent a lot of time searching for an “MAF Half-Marathon Training Plan.” Finally, I mentioned it to Katie one day, and she told me there aren’t any MAF training plans—the idea is to take any half-marathon training plan and just run all your runs at MAF pace. She suggested I run 4 days a week at MAF, and then add in one speedwork day, which is pretty much what I’ve been doing for the last 6 weeks. Now, I’ll just be varying my mileage more. I’m a little nervous about upping my mileage at MAF pace, because it will probably be challenging to run 5 miles at a 15-minute pace before work (!!), but I figure I can do my best and hope I’m not too late for work this summer. 😉 I haven’t picked a specific plan yet, but I’ll let you know when I do.
Thanks for reading this very long post!