I’m undecided once I first heard of coronary heart fee coaching, however I really feel prefer it’s just like once I first heard of a 401k- I used to be youthful, didn’t know what it meant, nor did I care, however I knew I ought to in all probability get into it. Fortunately, I discovered my 401k lesson with sufficient time to leverage compound curiosity and– wow– when you’re nonetheless studying, I promise it will get higher.
When you’ve by no means heard of coronary heart fee coaching, let me provide you with a fast rundown (and I’m in no way an skilled, so forgive me if this isn’t fully correct).
Coronary heart fee coaching is concentrated round the concept that for a runner to optimize his/her efficiency, they should first be aerobically match. That’s, bettering your cardio system by executing a majority of your coaching at a decrease coronary heart fee with the intention to burn extra fats than carbs. (It is a very surface-level generalization, by the best way). The tip result’s a healthier cardio system, which interprets to sooner paces at a decrease coronary heart fee. Though there are various strategies of attaining this, one of many extra common ones is MAF coaching, as popularized by Dr. Phil Maffetone (MAF truly stands for max cardio operate and has nothing to do with the dude’s title).
In quite simple phrases, to enhance your cardio system, MAF coaching dictates that you just run nearly all of your runs beneath a sure coronary heart fee, and by doing so, you construct cardio health. How do you calculate that coronary heart fee? Totally different coronary heart fee coaching plans have totally different formulation, however utilizing the MAF technique, it’s calculated with a generalized system that works for many runners, which is 180 minus your age. For me, that is 143.
In keeping with MAF, by operating solely along with your coronary heart fee (BPM) beneath this quantity, your coronary heart fee ought to finally come down whereas your tempo stays the identical, permitting you to then go sooner whereas staying at that very same coronary heart fee restrict.
Right here’s the factor although– it takes time. A lengthy time.
For the plan I did/am nonetheless doing (Extramilest by Floris Gierman), it was a full three months of base constructing. Primarily stripping down all of my operating and beginning over, holding each run under that MAF coronary heart fee quantity. Now, one of these plan was preferrred for me on the time, as a result of 1) I used to be simply popping out of a yr and a half lengthy damage that I’m nonetheless coping with to some extent (as documented on this article), and a pair of) COVID-19 was simply across the nook, so there have been no race plans and no one to run with for the foreseeable future.
Let’s dial it again actual fast. In fall of 2018, I ran a marathon in 3:27– not earth-shattering, however a significant PR for me. Nonetheless, I used to be in unhealthy form afterward. I peaked at a mere 45 miles every week in coaching and was cranking out 8-mile arduous pace exercises. I used to be truly solely operating 4 days every week (give me some slack, I had a new child and a 3-year-old). The consequence? I ran the final 4 weeks of that marathon coaching on a torn higher hamstring that finally was a power tendonitis.
Like many runners, my two prime operating objectives are to qualify for Boston and run a sub-3-hour marathon. After that marathon PR in 2018, I felt like Boston can be not possible, and that dream fell even additional away as I struggled by means of operating and life (the damage was a relentless low ache) over the subsequent yr.
Finally, I discovered a superb bodily therapist (shout-out to my neighbor Joe) who received me heading in the right direction to restoration. On the similar time, I discovered Floris Gierman’s Extramilest podcast, Fb group, and coaching program.
In Extramilest, day after day I’d learn testimonials of runners who went from 4-hour marathons to sub-3 and even 2:45. Was it simple for them? No. Did it take a number of persistence? Sure. However I assumed, if it labored for all these folks, then I believe I ought to give it a shot. I spotted it could be a problem, however the thought of operating slower to get sooner appealed to me, particularly since I used to be coming off an damage, and since I needed to be a runner for all times, not burn out once I was (semi) younger.
So I slowly constructed up my miles from basically zero to 25 miles and began my MAF coaching in mid-February. (Facet word: to precisely observe my coronary heart fee, I exploit a Polar H10 or H9 chest strap monitor, each of which I’ve been utilizing each day for a yr with flawless efficiency. I additionally use the Polar Grit X watch. NOTE: Though the Polar Grit X wrist-based coronary heart fee monitoring is stable, the one really correct measurement of coronary heart fee is from a chest strap.) Anyway, as I began MAF coaching, I assumed my cardio health can be a bit slower than my earlier “simple” tempo (round 8:45-9:00 miles), however boy, was I in for a impolite awakening.
One of many key elements of MAF coaching is a MAF check. Primarily, each month you attempt to replicate a run of 5 miles or 8 kilometers and see when you’re making progress. Ideally, that is performed on a observe on the similar time of day and comparable climate circumstances as earlier assessments. With MAF coaching, actually the very first thing you do is a MAF check to see the place your cardio health is at.
My first MAF check? A f***ing 10:45 tempo, for a whopping 4.2 miles in 45 minutes. I imply, I knew my mileage was simply build up and that I hadn’t been very match within the final yr, however rattling– that was humbling.
It went that means for about one other month, most of my runs painstakingly sluggish, any elevation past sea degree rendering me to a strolling tempo. (As I discussed above, the plan I’m doing requires 3 months of base-building– basically each run at or under your MAF restrict). However then my coronary heart fee began to return down; slowly for positive, however decrease it fell. I began seeing some early miles in my runs dipping into the excessive 9-minute vary whereas nonetheless sustaining a 143 (or under) coronary heart fee. Notice that the 143 quantity shouldn’t be the common coronary heart fee. It’s the quantity I needed to keep beneath for the entirety of ever run. And as anybody is aware of, the longer you run in a exercise, the upper your coronary heart fee goes (known as cardiac drift), and the slower your miles change into. So whereas mile 1 could also be within the excessive 9-minute vary, I’d be ending runs within the excessive 10-minute vary.
Granted, I’m not good and would typically go over my goal coronary heart fee, hills particularly. However for probably the most half, I caught with the plan.
I ought to in all probability be trustworthy right here– whereas I used to be doing properly with power conditioning and okay with my weight loss plan to start with of my MAF journey, coronavirus completely wrecked every little thing. The Extramilest plan incorporates cross-training or power conditioning, in addition to wholesome consuming habits. Throughout the starting of coronavirus, I didn’t actually plan on it, however I simply began ingesting quite a bit extra. I used to have a beer possibly each different day, and now it was no less than one, possibly two a day, and extra on weekends. Moreover, our cupboards appeared like they’d been personally curated by an Oompa Loompa, full of sufficient sugar to gas Buddy the Elf till subsequent Christmas. It was all very bizarre.
Stress consuming, mixed with the precise stress of COVID-19 in March induced me to actually plateau with my coronary heart fee progress, and even begin backtracking a bit of bit. Nonetheless, Floris of Extramilest warned the coaching group this could occur, principally because of stress and shitty sleep, and he wasn’t flawed.
I positively gained a pair kilos and spent means an excessive amount of time on Twitter throughout this era, however after a pair weeks, I began seeing extra progress once more. I used to be additionally beginning to constantly run 25-35 miles every week, which additionally helped. My nagging damage was solely flaring up a few times a month, and I used to be getting stronger in my operating.
In mid-Could I did my third MAF check. I replicated the identical circumstances as February (a freak chilly snap gave me high-30s temperature on a Saturday morning), and in 45 minutes, I ran 4.9 miles, for a 9:15 common tempo, an entire minute and a half sooner than my MAF check in February.
Now, I can’t say this was completely sudden. I had began to see my on a regular basis runs trending decrease. I used to be additionally operating extra miles and feeling fitter. However boy, what a distinction. It’s fairly unimaginable to return over my coaching logs and see the tempo constantly coming down whereas sustaining the identical coronary heart fee.
I’m at the moment at 4 months in (and have one other MAF check arising), and whereas the start of summer time with rising temperatures and Maryland humidity noticed a few of my progress momentarily slip away, I’ve since change into warmth acclimated, my coronary heart fee has come again down once more, and I’ve seen some loopy enhancements. My first mile or two is nearly all the time within the high-8-minute vary, even on scorching and humid summer time mornings. (For reference, my coronary heart fee used to spike instantly to 143 in 40-degree climate at a mid-9-minute tempo, the place now it takes a pair miles to get there at a sooner tempo). Afternoon or night runs are all the time about 5 bpm increased, so I attempt to get nearly all of mileage performed within the mornings, though I do love me some double days.
I’ve been doing these double days about 3-4 instances every week whereas rising my mileage steadily, particularly throughout GRIT, Consider within the Run’s summer time distance challenge (I’m at the moment round 40-50 miles every week). Moreover, after the preliminary MAF base-building of three months, it’s really helpful to include some pace work, however by no means going above the 80/20 rule (80% of runs beneath MAF coronary heart fee). So now I’ll do a bunch path run or a quick 5K/mile as soon as every week), and that appears to jumpstart the system a bit too.
To essentially check the place I used to be at, I did a 10-mile “near race tempo” run of the Baltimore 10 Miler course on the day it was speculated to occur this yr, Saturday, June sixth. It was about 80 levels with 90% humidity after we began. And because it was the start of June, I wasn’t completely warmth acclimated. Nonetheless, I felt nice virtually your complete time, even in the direction of the later miles when my coronary heart fee received into the 180s. I completed 25 seconds per mile off my Baltimore 10 Miler PB, so not an unimaginable achievement, however because of my prior damage, this was additionally solely my third double-digit run in a yr. Bear in mind I had performed zero pace work within the final 18 months as properly.
All that to say, after 4 months of doing MAF, I’m 100% in. I’ve seen that it really works, I’ve felt that it really works, and I’m having extra enjoyable than ever with operating. I’m not burned out on a regular basis, I’m not coping with accidents each few weeks, and I’m getting sooner.
Belief me, it took awhile to recover from the stigma that everybody on Strava was seeing me run 10:30 miles, particularly as somebody who manages a operating overview web site. However I’m dedicated to the method for a yr, as a result of 1) it’s working, 2) I really like bizarre experiments, and three) severely what else do I’ve happening?
For anybody enthusiastic about doing MAF, I’ll say this– when you’re fascinated by making an attempt it, now could be the time. Everyone knows your race schedule is simply as empty as mine, so why not give it three months? When you do commit, don’t half-ass it, or it actually gained’t work. And when you do commit, know this– you’ll do psychological gymnastics with your self making an attempt to persuade your self that you just’re aerobically match (you’re not) so you possibly can pad your MAF coronary heart fee. You’ll run so sluggish to start with that you just’ll assume your coronary heart fee monitor is damaged (it’s not, so long as you employ a chest strap). You’ll assume folks care about your tempo per mile like they care about their Instagram feed (they don’t).
Like I mentioned, I used the Extramilest plan, and Floris is tremendous participating and accessible and prepares you for all of the doubts you’ll have early on, which I discovered to be supremely useful. That mentioned, there are different plans on the market as properly. Whichever one you select, comply with it completely, and have persistence. In any other case, you’re simply dishonest your self.
Additionally, in case you have any questions, be happy to succeed in out to me as properly, or remark under. Thanks for studying, and I’ll be again with a 6-month progress report in August.
Polar sponsors some content material on Consider within the Run. Extramilest shouldn’t be a sponsor of Consider within the Run, however the plan was given to me in alternate for my coaching documentation.
Robbe is the Senior Editor/Assessment Supervisor for BITR. He lives in Baltimore together with his spouse and two sons and runs with the Quicker Bastards. When he’s not operating in bizarre locations or getting injured in odd methods, he could be discovered mountaineering, tenting, bikepacking, or hanging with mates.