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Saturday, January 8, 2011

To get faster, run...slower???

Whatchoo talkin' 'bout, Willis???

That just makes no sense whatsoever, now does it?

Not to me, anyway.

That is, until I picked up "The Maffetone Method-The Holistic, Low-Stress, No-Pain Way to Exceptional Fitness" by Dr. Philip Maffetone.


You had me at hello, Dr. Phil (not to be confused with the pop psychologist on tv).

In this book, he explains the benefits of aerobic fitness, stress reduction, proper footwear and nutrition.  At the risk of going off on more tangents than I normally do, I'm only going to outline the finer points he illustrates regarding the first topic:  aerobic fitness.  Maffetone realized that "the human body would progress athletically naturally if it was not overstressed."  He decided to see how successful an average person could be by following a no-pain approach to exercise, as opposed to the "no pain, no gain" philosophy that most of us have been subscribing to for years.

Myself included.  Let's face it, folks.  I'm a fitness professional by trade.  People PAY me to hurt them.

But, I was still intrigued.

As you know, the last four months of my running has been sporadic.  I'd experienced my share of physical challenges that prevented me from running as far and as fast as I would have liked.  I've always thought of myself as a health and fitness "guinea pig", so to speak.  I try different approaches and exercise trends in order to be informed and aware if and when the subject comes up with a client.  So, the idea of immersing myself in another fitness related experiment seems natural enough.

Maffetone claims his "healthy approach to exercise worked not only for the average person but also for competitive athletes, who improved their personal-best performances and finished in first place in local races. Some went on to even higher levels; some even achieved world-class status, winning national and world championship events."

Hey, I like improving.  And I wouldn't mind finishing first place in local races either.

I decided to start with Chapter 6:  Exercise and Heart Rate.  Maffetone says one of the most important aspects of your exercise program is knowing whether you're aerobic or anaerobic.  He says "Aerobic speed-the ability to work faster and harder with the same or less energy-can be developed only when one has a high level of aerobic function".  In other words, the most important part of your fitness regimen is the aerobic base, "the time you'll need to spend to build your aerobic system".

I'd trained with a heart rate monitor off and on over the years.  Since I already owned one, I figured this would be the best place to start.  In the early 1980's, Maffetone developed a new formula for determining the optimal heart rate for anyone who works out.  It's called "the 180-Formula".  You may have heard of the 220-age calculation which, the author states, is inaccurate.  The numbers using 180-age are generally lower than 220-age, which are based on "oxygen-consumption tables and estimated maximum heart rates.  The 180-Formula is based on each individual's general health and fitness level and was derived from clinical trials and from gas-analyzer results."

The 180-Formula is as follows:

1)  Subtract your age from 180.

2)  Modify this number by selecting from the following categories

  • If you are recovering from a major illness (heart disease, any operation, any hospital stay, etc.) or if you are on any regular medication, subtract an additional 10.
  • If you have not exercised before, have exercised irregularly, have been exercising with injury, have regressed in training or competition, get more than two colds or cases of flu per year, or have allergies or asthma, subtract an additional 5.
  • If you have been exercising regularly (at least four times weekly) for up to two years without any of the above-mentioned problems, use the (180-age) number.
  • If you are a competitive athlete and have been training for more than two years without any of the above-mentioned problems and have made progress in competition without injury, add 5.
The heart rate obtained by using this formula is referred to as the maximum aerobic heart rate. (Page 62)

Sounds easy enough, right?

I subtracted my age, 39, from 180 and decided to add 5 (since I have done six marathons and have had long stretches of injury-free training), making my maximum aerobic heart rate 146.  Maffetone suggests using a range from that number to 10 beats below that number, which would make my training zone 136-146 bpm.  Those numbers seem REALLY low, I know.

In time, as the aerobic system improves, I'll have to work harder to maintain the same heart rate.  In other words, I'm going to adapt to this intensity.  My exercise pace is going to change and I'll have to go faster.  

I decided to train with my heart rate monitor during all my aerobic runs (which is the majority of them-I'll plan on one day of anaerobic/fartlek/speed work) beginning this week.  Since I'm in the process of ramping back up in preparation for Boston and everything feels good, it seemed like the best time to start.  So far, here's what I have:

Tuesday, January 4, 2011
6.20 miles
Avg Pace 10:25/mi
Avg Speed 5.8 mph
Max Speed 7.0 mph
Avg Heart Rate 147 bpm
Max Heart Rate 156 bpm

Wednesday, January 5, 2011
6.26 miles
Avg Pace 9:35/mi
Avg Speed 6.3 mph
Max Speed 9.3 mph
**Did not use HRM since this was a fartlek run, preceded by 15 minutes easy running and followed by 10 minutes of slow running to cool-down**

Thursday, January 6, 2011
6.20 miles
Avg Pace 9:58/mi
Avg Speed 6.0 mph
Max Speed 7.6 mph
Avg Heart Rate 147 bpm
Max Heart Rate 157 bpm

Saturday, January 8, 2011
5.50 miles
Avg Pace 10:12/mi
Avg Speed 5.9 mph
Max Speed 7.8 mph
Avg Heart Rate 145 bpm
Max Heart Rate 154 bpm

It's only been a week, so to say that it's made a profound difference already...well, that's a bit premature.  However, as you can see, I'm starting to get myself into the 136-146 bpm training range by adjusting my pace.  That's been the toughest thing for me so far, as I like to see my average pace between an 8:40-9:40/mile.  Running over 10 minutes per mile always seemed slow to me.  I like "feeling like" I can be faster than that.  But, for the purpose of this experiment, pace and distance are irrelevant, really.

So, I'm shelving the ego and submitting myself to the process.

Stay tuned, folks.

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