Because I always go hard and fast in races, most runners I encounter assume I go fast in my workouts as well. It’s hard for me not to buy into this assumption, too, so in the past I’ve put needless pressure on myself to run hard and finish my training runs in a certain amount of time.
running with friends helps me put on the brakes
Yesterday, I felt like I’d had enough of the hard revving and high heart rate I’d been working at, but I wasn’t feeling unwell, just in need of something easier. I didn’t want to skip my long run, so I settled on a compromise. I’ve been reading and hearing about Dr. Phil Maffetone’s work on heart rate training for athletes, and he has some session on the MaccaX app. Dr. Maffetone recommends athletes train for endurance within their own maximum aerobic training heart rate range (called MAF training). The 180 Formula is as follows:
- Subtract your age from 180.
- If you have or are recovering from a major illness (heart disease, any operation or hospital stay, etc.) or are on any regular medication, subtract an additional 10.
- If you are injured, have regressed in training or competition, get more than two colds or bouts of flu per year, have allergies or asthma, or if you have been inconsistent or are just getting back into training, subtract an additional 5.
- If you have been training consistently (at least four times weekly) for up to two years without any of the problems just mentioned, keep the number (180–age) the same.
- If you have been training for more than two years without any of the problems listed above, and have made progress in competition without injury, add 5.
So I am 30 years old and have been training for more than two years and have made progress without injury. My MAF is 180 – 30 + 5 = 155 bpm. This should be my highest heart rate for aerobic training, and I should be training in the range of 145-155 bpm. When I go above this heart rate, I will start going anaerobic, burning more sugar and less fat for fuel.
A long run is meant to train the aerobic system, strengthen slow-twitch muscle fibers, encourage increase of mitochondria (muscle powerhouse) and capillaries (provide blood and hence oxygen to muscle fibers), and put time on the feet. I’ve been tracking my past few Sunday long runs on the same route with a heart rate monitor. I find my HR spiking to above 170 beats per minute and even if I don’t feel like I’m working hard during the run, I’m often wasted when I get home. Doing long runs at too hard an effort is a common training mistake and delays recovery, derails planned training, and increases chances of overtraining and injury. Yikes!
Yesterday I laced up my shoes, strapped on my HR monitor, and started on my way with an easy jog to warm things up. My route has some hills, but I’ve always tried to run up those hills because it seems more macho and more hardcore. I put my ego aside and walked up the hills when my heart rate started hitting that 155bpm ceiling. I found that it takes a lot more discipline to hold back especially when I don’t feel like I’m pushing myself — but my heart was telling a different story. I tried not to attach any guilt or shame to walking, even if other runners around me were going faster; I was going slow with a purpose. And you know what? It felt liberating and good!
my long run on Strava
When I got home, instead of feeling tired and run down I felt energized, despite taking longer to complete the same course. I think I might be onto something — but it’s not anything new. “Slow” is a relative term, because what might be slow to me could be race pace for someone else. But when you run at your easy pace (for me it was the pace my aerobic HR made me maintain, which was 1:30 slower than my previous long run paces), you build aerobic fitness, endurance, and fat-burning capacity.
Now, proper MAF training requires several months of dedicated training at that aerobic heart rate regardless of pace. Many practitioners find that after a period of time like this, their pace at the aerobic heart rate increases. I’ll probably lock into this sort of training after Challenge Philippines, when I have more time to spend training at MAF.
Meanwhile, you’ll probably find me out smelling the flowers and sampling more pandesal on my next long runs. ;)