Are You Humble Enough for MAF?

As a runner I have a big ego. I love comparing myself to others on Strava and I love getting kudos and giving kudos. I enjoy seeing the paces my peers produce on their runs and comparing their paces and heart rates to mine. It’s a lot of fun and I’m so pleased I can do this with like-minded people who care about fitness and tracking data and performance. Strava is awesome for this. Also, being a data geek from the analytics software world I love tracking numbers and watching the metrics evolve over time.

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Notice I got 8 kudos on this run

Over the last year I transformed my body from sugar burning to fat burning as a source of fuel for endurance running. I lost nearly twenty pounds or close to 10kg in the process and have body fat somewhere between 7-9%. This was mostly achieved by reducing sugars from my diet. You can read more about my transition to reducing sugars in this post.

In the last few months I’ve gone through another transition based on Dr. Phil Maffetone’s MAF technique. His program is based on his 180-formula where you subtract your age from 180 and use that as your target heart rate zone for training. You can add or subtract 5 beats per minute depending on years of athletic experience, injury, or medical condition. Being in my mid forties and a long time runner/athlete my MAF rate is 140. I also used the MAF beta iPhone application to answer MAF’s surveys that recommended a target heart rate of 140bpm.

I started the MAF process in earnest in October 2015 after a few weeks of no running due to an injury. Before the MAF training approach a normal 5km or 10km run would be at a 4:25m/km to 4:40m/km pace or around 7:10m/mile to 7:30m/pace averaging a heart rate somewhere around 160-165bpm. I would also do longer training runs at a heart rate of 150-160bpm for 90 to 120 minutes.

The MAF philosophy focuses on building efficiency and increasing your aerobic capacity in a heart rate zone that burns fat instead of quickly depleting your sugar or glycogen stores. In my transition to fat burning efficiency I found more and more runs could be tackled on an empty stomach. I’m now able to do a two-hour run without taking any food or water with me. And more importantly these two-hour runs don’t leave me depleted and relegated to the couch the rest of the day. Although, they never really did even when I ate and drank during the runs. As long as I eat a nourishing meal high in fats complemented with lots of vegetables after the longer runs I feel great the rest of the day.

Reviewing my numbers, my paces, and my average heart rates I’m starting to see the benefits of running at the lower heart rate. A few days ago I did a really easy 11.1km (6.9 miles) treadmill run where I averaged around a 5:51m/km pace at a heart rate of 124bpm. It felt really easy but I was surprised my pace was still faster than a 6m/km pace. I purposely tried to keep my heart rate low.

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11.1km run at 5:51m/km pace with an average heart rate of 124bpm

This morning I did a 17.3km (10.75mile) run in 1h38m at an average pace of 5:41m/km or 9:09m/mile pace. My heart rate averaged 140bpm. I did a fast half kilometre near the end at a 4:30m/km pace just to rub my ego a little. This run was outside on a route that has two inclines so you’ll see every other kilometre is a little slower due to running slower to maintain my heart rate at or near 140bpm.

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17.3km run at 5:41m/km pace with an average heart rate of 140bpm

The challenge with the MAF pace running is that I need to leave my ego at home. I see lots of people running faster than me. My instinct is to increase my pace and get on their heels or get immediately in front of them to gradually increase the pace until they fall back. But having changed my running watch to have only one measure on the screen, my heart rate, I keep my pace in check and let them go.

I plan to run the Paris marathon in early April and I hope to increase my aerobic efficiency to sustain a 5m/km pace over 3 hours and 30 minutes, which is my marathon goal time. I will continue doing most of my running at the MAF pace, especially the long runs. I’m going to do at least one shorter run per week at a fast pace with intervals or fartleks to ensure my body doesn’t forget what it is like to run at a faster pace, but to also push my heart rate close to it’s maximum.

I recommend you check out the Phil Maffetone web site and also read this article in Runners World/Running Times on the 80/20 Rule to learn more about the approach. For now, I’ll continue with this approach, track my paces and heart rate averages over the coming weeks and months to see how I progress.

I was really happy with today’s run and only stopped as I told my wife I’d be back in 90 minutes. Instead I ran for 98 minutes. I was pushing it a little on the time! I didn’t eat or drink anything on the run and neither did I feel hungry or thirsty. Fortunately, it’s only 3C in Paris today so the cold doesn’t make me thirsty but on warmer days I’ll need to drink water on these longer runs.

One response

  1. I do group rides with cyclists that range in age from 18 to 70. I quickly learned how meaningless Strava suffer scores really are and that you can’t try and compare your heart rate with an 18 year girl. I’ve started reading about MAF thanks to your posts Gene. I think I’ve generally been following a similar strategy although the MAF calculation for target heart rate gives me a HR that seems a little on the low side.

    Liked by 1 person

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