October 17, 2011

Training. An Act of Patience.

For those of you who follow this blog, you know I'm a believer in training principles espoused by Phil Maffetone.  The key objective to this type of training is to teach your body to burn fat for fuel. The method to achieve this is built around training at a lower heart rate (180 minus your age +/- your own history). The biggest challenge to this approach is having patience. Patience NOT to go fast when you feel like hammering, patience NOT to sprint up a hill when you know you can and, yes, patience during training runs to let go of the hunger to push your body to the brink.

Of course this approach to training has its critics. The famous British runner Sabastian Coe once said that "...long slow distance produces long slow runners." Emil Zatopek, winner of three gold medals in the 5k, 10k and marathon in the 1952 Olympics was quoted saying "why should I practice running slow...I already know how to run slow. I want to learn to run fast". Zatopek is considered to be one of if not "the" pioneer of interval training.
Maffetone's principles are very similar to the training principles taught by the legendary running coach Arthur Lydiard who coached many Olympic champions. The difference being Maffetone (who coached mostly triathletes vs runners) stresses the use of a heart rate monitor. Both approach training with a mindset that the athlete has to build his/her aerobic conditioning before they begin to introduce anaerobic conditioning to the training regimen. The point here is that both the Maffetone and Lydiard methods incorporate anaerobic work. It's just that they don't drool over it like so many of today's athletes do.
A friend of mine once said that you can't shoot a cannon from a canoe. What he meant was just that. You can't shoot a cannon (high intensity workouts designed to develop speed) from a canoe (a runner with no base). I know from my own experience that when I start working out on the track doing intervals, several things usually happen. First, I get faster. My turnover becomes quicker, and my cruising speed increases. Second, my body starts to crave sweet things. Sugary, starchy foods. The stuff that it burns when my heart rate gets way up there. Third, I start to notice aches and pains a lot more. Annoying twinges remind me I'm walking on the razors edge between great fitness and the brink of a serious injury.

Mark Allen, the six time Hawaii Ironman champion and student Maffetone, trained up to 38 hours per week during the "push" stages of his season. Allen used intervals to fine tune his training, but not to define his training. When asked about speed training under Maffetone, Allen said...“He looks at the whole picture while most coaches and trainers look at isolated elements even with, for example, speed work. You need it and he prescribed it for me but it is not the only thing you need, just to use one simple example. Certainly there have been many schools of thought about the best method to train...I look at all of them and I still do not think any of them are as good as the basis {Maffetone} uses to determine optimal aerobic heart rate training.”

This year I did zero interval training. Whether that helped or hurt me is a difficult question. I know I could have developed a little more speed if I spent time on the track. But at what cost? I also know that my aerobic training paid some pretty good dividends. I finished six ultras in six months this year, including three 50 mile, one 100k and two 100 mile races, placing top ten in half of these (at 48 years young, mind you).  Many of these races were only three weeks apart so I didn't have a lot of time to recover. I didn't sustain any debilitating injuries (knock on wood). In some of these races I felt stronger in the second half of the race than the first half, passing many other runners in the process.

If you are interested in getting more information on these training concepts, I suggest you read this interview with Mark Allen,  this article on Lydiard's training methods, and this article on the definition of aerobic training by Phil Maffetone.

Like my grandfather used to say.......patience jackass..........patience.


Joe said...

As a soon to be ultra runner, i always came across this predicament in my training. I only got into serious running last year. I always asked myself whether or not i should do internal training, or just get to the distances laid out on my training schedule, as slow as i may be moving. Its food for thought and as i am still young, i dont think it would hurt to incorporate some speedwork into my next training session.

Great post!

Will Cooper said...

Joe, you should read Lydiard and Maffetone. Intervals are ok as long as you incorporate at the right time in your training...good luck out there!

Anonymous said...

Make peace with pain. Let pain be your friend .Every run should hurt in some capacity. Be it physical , emotioal or even spirital . NO PAIN NO GAIN !!! (who's the clown in the print shirt ?)

Mark Cucuzzella said...

Will is correct...it is "No Pain...Thank You" if your goal is sustainability. I am a huge fan of Phil and the late Arthur Lydiard. See the post we did after a 3 day Lydiard seminar on some of the prinicples. http://naturalrunningcenter.com/2011/09/15/lydiard-invitational-coaching-seminar-featured/
You get fast by developing "aerobic speed" as Phil defines it. As a 45 yo runner this is keeping the aerobic efficiency and adding low stress drills to keep the quickness and range on motion. Nothing is "hard". it works...just ran a 2:38 to win the Air Force Marathon and felt well enough to do an hour recovery barefoot run the following day.

So follow Will's advice or pay later.
Dr. Mark Cucuzzella

Will Cooper said...

Thanks for the comments Mark. I think the 2:38 marathon at 45 yo says it all. Another great example of the training philosophy at work.

Richard S said...

Great posting Will.

I have now made this switch myself although i run based on time instead of mileage. Building strength endurance is the priority for 50+ mile races so the focus should be on lots of aerobic running. Its probably a no brainer as well to incorporate rolling hills and some basic speed drills if desired.

Sharpening and specific training doesn't really need to happen until 8 weeks out from the race because there is no point putting the icing on a very small cake!

Will Cooper said...

richard, speed drills are a big plus...100 to 150 meter surges is what I use. keeps the turn over speed but doesn't push you into a prolonged anaerobic zone.

Karl Mohan said...

Will, this is a great post. I am training using Maffetone now, but progress seems so slow... I know I have to have patience, but I am currently clocking 8min/km! What was your experience? Will my speed get faster?

Will Cooper said...

Karl, yes, it does take time! How much time depends on your background and training history. It also depends on how healthy you are etc. I would recommend doing strides 4 to 5 times a week...find a soccer field or other flat surface where you can run at an increasing speed for 100 meters until you hit 80 to 90% of your fastest pace then coast back down. start with 5 and build to 10 of these per session and really focus on staying loose...like you are floating across the ground. Over time you turnover speed and base pace should increase. What is good about strides is they focus exclusively on speed without the anaerobic strain, because you are slowing down by the time your heart rate starts approaching anaerobic levels. Good luck!

Slava said...

Will, great blog!
I have a question: Can I still do some strides (15-20 sec quick bursts) at the end of my run in the Maffetone Method? I noticed that doing strides raises my HR above my MAF rate a little, so I am wondering if I am compromising it.
I can't find the answer to this question anywhere. Thank you in advance!
- Slava

wcooperjr said...

Slava, I would suggest spreading these out during the run, not just doing them at the end of the run. If you only do them only at the end, your legs aren't as fresh, and your heart rate will be drifting higher. I don't think its a big deal if you heart rate creeps over your target rate for a few seconds, assuming it doesn't stay there for more than a few seconds. That said, if you notice your rate spiking up more than usual, back off, as your body is talking to you.

Anonymous said...

OK. Thanks, Will. That makes sense. I guess that is what Mark Cucuzzella referred to as 'low stress drills' in an earlier post.

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Runnerclick said...

Old post but useful to read

Roy H said...

I know this is an old article and hoping questions are still being answered. I have a question about training at MAF pace and then race pace.

I am planning to consistently train at MAF pace for the foreseeable future because my cardio sucks! I ran 7 trail ultras from January - May of this year and all my training has been in the "gray zone", but I am a back of the pack runner and usually chasing cutoffs. I took up MAF Method a few weeks ago and my MAF pace is about 14:30 - 15:00 min/mile while staying below 132 bpm - that's usually afternoon runs at 90F in humid Augusta, GA.