Photo from Mount Royal, Frisco, Colorado.

"That is happiness; to be disolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep." - Willa Cather

Wednesday 5 November 2014

How to best improve your aerobic fitness- a project with Phil Maffetone

Just a quick prologue to the post: I want to thank everyone for their comments and questions on my last post. I learn so much by writing this blog. I hope I come off as someone who is seeking answers and not someone who thinks they have all the answers.

Perhaps the most unexpected person to contact me after my last post about the Maffetone Method and LCHF diets was Phil Maffetone. When I saw his name in my inbox, I thought perhaps it was a hoax but, as I read his email, I realized it was not. After a number of lengthy email exchanges, I asked him if he had any of his data published in a peer-reviewed journal. I could not find his name on PubMed. He didnn't. It didn't take long before we agreed to work on an article together. I feel like this is perfect timing with my PhD finishing and the Ultra Eye Study being accepted for publication.

Two nights ago, we spent an hour and a half on Skype and divised a plan which I am very excited about (plus we laughed a lot and covered everything from Descartes to urine sodium... science and freindships are fun). I promise to let you all know about the article (the publishing process isn't always fast!) and if you don't feel like checking the blog, you can follow me on Twitter or Facebook.

The art of staying aerobic (and not going anaerobic)

It seems like there has never been such widespread misunderstanding about how to best achieve aerobic fitness (and I was one of the people who had sorely misunderstood). I didn't realize that going "all out" on my intervals and tempos was in fact working against me: it was too anaerobic and caused an accumulation of stress (more details in the publication!). I talked about my plantar fasciitis, but not as much the depression and fatigue I had over the summer.

In coach Ole's defence, he told me to run my intervals and tempos slower. I didn't understand why. I still believed in the "no pain, no gain" mentality.

Over the last year, one athlete after another was referred to me for overtraining (this is so prevalent in ultra-running, especially, it seems, among females). One explanation could certainly be that athletes spend too much time at a heart rate above their max aerobic threshold - and it builds up- and suddenly it is way too much. Diet is certainly involved as well: too much reliance on carbohydrates as a fuel seems to be detrimental (and favors anaerobic processes in the body, not to mention insulin resistance). Phil Maffetone says the reason the Kenyans have gone under 2 hours in the marathon is their high reliance on carbs. On the flip side low carb intake which is not accompanied by a very high fat intake will leave an athlete without enough energy.

An aside: Here is a fascinating self-experiment done by a keto-adapted physician athlete showing maintainance of blood sugar during exercise (I'm glad he did this experiment because I'm not about to down a bottle of oil before my swims!).

The data

They are coming (I think). It is actually amazing that after years of working with American and world record holders that Dr. Maffetone's data have not been published in a peer-reviewed journal, but I have a lot of respect for him for being willing to go through the process now-- and he seems motivated by the fact that anyone can use his principles to train with. I should mention, he has published multiple books, but I also think it will be great that (soon?) the medical and scientific world will also be exposed to this method and, perhaps, give it the credit at least I think it deserves.

A couple confusing points from my last post, which I would just like to clear up:

My diet: I am not trying to achieve less than 10% carbs, but am happy with 30-40% carbs (as percentage of calorie intake). My aim right now is to eliminate added sugar and all refined carbs.

Max pulse vs. aerobic max pluse: So max pulse is the fastest your heart can beat regularly (220-age approximately) and Max aerobic pulse is the highest pulse you can obtain before your exercise becomes anaerobic (180-age approximately). So my race last week was at "max pulse"

Quick question about VO2 max

So, my Garmin watch nearly daily tells me it detects a new VO2 max. I just imagine it is set for a 70kg male (that is usually the default). Does anyone know how I adjust for my age and weight? And does one adjust for sex? (yes, the correct term is "sex" and not "gender"!)... I was reading on a "private" forum yesterday the conversation of some stay at home wives, who happened to be making fun of my blog. One of the things they said, besides the fact that I was "pear shaped" (???), was that I had such a strange way of writing (and ergo could not be American)-- whatevs. Should I take it as an insult I don't write like an American ;o)??

My boy, the runner, pre and just finishing 3.6 km. There are no words in any language to describe how much I love him.

... he just told me tonight he is reconsidering his love for his current girlfriend because she laughs to much at his jokes.(it is fun to get a boy's perspective on girls!)

The same song, different versions (one for running, one for alpha waves)


Olga said...

Congrats on a project, very interested to see results, though it'll take forever...:)

Anonymous said...

Conflation of "sex" and "gender" is without a doubt one of my greatest pet peeves! I find myself biting my tongue when my pregnant friends host "gender reveal" parties, usually involving a cake or balloon that communicates (via the "proper" colors of blue and pink, of course) the sex of the fetus. I suppose "sex reveal" party is perhaps not the term they are looking for, but it is a misnomer nonetheless!

Alicia Hudelson said...

Whatever your Garmin thinks it is telling you about VO2 max is surely worthless--for one thing, there's a huge variability in how much anyone's V02 max improves from a given training program, not to mention that genetics (of which your Garmin hopefully has no knowledge!) plays some role in that variability.

As far as the optimal heart rate for training issue, it seems like what Dr. Maffetone is doing is providing more of a summarization/restatement of what most training methods have been advocating over the past 40 years. If runners have been training at paces that are too fast, it's because the runners failed to research already-available information, not because they didn't know about Dr. Maffetone's information. For example, if I were to follow the training dictates of Pfitzinger, Daniels, Lydiard, or ---(I'm blanking here, but whoever the New Zealand olympic marathon coach was when they were having a lot of success in the marathon) OR the Maffetone 180-age formula, I would end up doing my regular daily runs at pretty close to the same pace. There would be differences in how much speedwork to include and when to include it, but even with speedwork, I think every training program I've ever read has warned against doing intervals and tempos at too fast of a pace.

Dr. Maffetone does have the added layer of LCHF diet in his plan, though you already know my feelings on that:) One thing I didn't quite understand from your post: you said

"too much reliance on carbohydrates as a fuel seems to be detrimental (and favors anaerobic processes in the body, not to mention insulin resistance). Phil Maffetone says the reason the Kenyans have gone under 2 hours in the marathon is their high reliance on carbs."

Setting aside the part about the Kenyans not actually having gone under 2 hours in the marathon, don't you think these two things contradict each other??

Arcane said...

I think in user profile in garmin you can set your gender, age and weight. That's the way it is in my 405

sea legs girl said...

Alicia, Dr. Maffetone's 180 formula is different than anythinng I have seen, as well as how he arrived at it. He does not advocate LCHF.

Lydiard, for example is somewheat similar, but having trained athletes based on Lydiard's theories before, I know there is also a lot of speed work that is faster than the Maffetone pulse range.

Arcane-- thanks, my husbnad and I share a watch and heart rate monitor so I was trying to avoid changing the settings, but maybe I will at some point just to see what number it spits out. I am not actually interested in knowing my own VO2 max, more how one arrives at the number through heart rate and pace ´+ weight, age. Thanks for the advice, though!

sea legs girl said...

Alicia, I will also add, I do all my longer trainining runs over 1 min/km faster than in the past on the Maffetone plan and effort does not always match heart rate. It has been a fascinating experiment so far, but I know you have trained with a heart rate monitor for a while.

sea legs girl said...

I can see some of what I wrote will need clarification :-)...

1. LCHF: Maffetone doesn't recommend the strict definition of LCHF, which is <10% calories from carbs, which is enough to start nutritional ketosis. This is what Volek, Phinney and Noakes are researching. Maffetone recommends approx 40% carbs, but no refined carbs, which apparently is a lot less than the typical Kenyan eats. (see also Mark Wolfe's comment on my last post on Kenyas eating too many carbs and not doing well in Comrades; I argue they don't do well at Comrades because they don't race it, but that is another story).

2. Maffetone's 180 formula is not a training program, thus it differs from all the coaches you alluded to, Alicia. The formula provides a guideline for the heart rate athletes should train at to maximally improve their cardiovascular fitness. At this point I need to refer you (all) to his website and books, because, well- why waste your time on my explanation? :-)

Alicia Hudelson said...

I'm not sure we really disagree on anything here! I said in my comment that each of those coaches would have different ideas about speedwork. What I was talking about as a similarity between all of them was regular daily runs, like I said in my comment.

Pfitzinger: 45 seconds to 1:30 per mile slower than marathon pace

Lydiard: about 1:00 to 1:15 slower than marathon pace (I've seen varying numbers for this one)

NZ olympic team: 1:00 to 1:15 slower than marathon pace

(bonus) Team USA minnesota women: 1:00 slower than marathon pace

And then...

Running at Maffetone heart rate on the road, to allow for comparison to marathon times: 1:00 to 1:10 slower than marathon pace.

All I'm saying is, the 180-age thing is a great, easy way to remember what heart rate to use for your daily runs, but it's hardly new information. What each of the above people are saying is that the pace a lot of runners try to do their daily training runs at, which can often be anywhere from marathon pace to only 30 seconds slower than marathon pace, is too fast.

sea legs girl said...

Thanks, Alicia. That is actually really good evidence in support of the fact that training at or around that effort works.

I think what is new is a lot of people may not at any given moment know what their marathon pace is. Plus this can be used in other sports besides running. This also gives new runners, recently injured runners, runners coming out of "retirement" a way to come back into running again without the big risk of injury. (again, they probably won't know what their marathon pace would be). The 180 method seems easier, provided you have a heart rate monitor.

As far as Lydiard, he didn't write any of his training runs in terms of "minutes below marathon pace" so that must be an extrapopolation. I have to thank you though for pointing out these other training plans that use a lot of runs at 1 min under marathon pace-- I was not aware of those (perhaps something to cite in our background).

Alicia Hudelson said...

Yep, I am personally pretty convinced that it works. If you're planning to include some background, you could also look into what the Kenyans have been doing--I haven't read enough to say for sure, but from what little I have read, it sounds like most daily training runs are at least a minute per mile slower than marathon pace, though with a fast finish the last couple of miles.

So yeah, the information has been there for a long time, it's just that whether or not runners can put aside their competitive streaks long enough to slow down on their daily runs is a totally separate issue!

Fast Bastard - World's Fastest Hematologist said...

I don't know, Alicia. To me, this Maffetone cruising pace is new. I have always believed in the old wisdom of "everyone does their long runs too fast and their speed work too slow". Then, in between, there is the tempo run, which is certainly faster than Maffetone pace.

So if one's key runs are either long runs, speed or tempos, where does the Maffetone pace fit in?

Now, this is what has surprised me... I have borrowed Tracy's HR monitor. You know, not because I believe she is right, but you know, to try it out. Turns out my cruising pace for a no-purpose jog is pretty much Maffetone pace. And, almost eerily, my pace of 4:20 minutes per kilometer (7 minute miles) is about one minute slower than the marathon pace (2:37; 6 minute miles) that my PRs would suggest I could run (but which I never have, admittedly).

So does that mean that, for years, my meaningless joy runs have been my key workouts and all the long runs, tempos and speed have held me back?

sea legs girl said...

Perhaps we should go with Alicia's interpretation. Based on my MAF pace, I can run a 2.56 marathon!! (basically, I'm not sure they are exactly the same thing).

I agree with Rasmus that most training plans add a lot of speed work (does Team USA Minnesota alwyas run at that pace?). Plus MAF Is not a training plan at all, just a way to estimate your max aerobic pace.

Alicia Hudelson said...

I'm feeling the need to clarify (again!) that I am talking about *regular training runs.* I am not talking about *speed work.* So Tracy, in answer to your question about whether Team USA MN does speedwork, the answer is almost certainly YES but that has nothing to do with the pace of their *regular training runs* which is what I was referring to.

To summarize: everybody following the training advice of any of the people I listed above, including Dr. Maffetone's 180-age idea, will run at roughly the same pace in their REGULAR TRAINING RUNS. People who are not following Dr. Maffetone's plan will add speedwork in addition to their REGULAR TRAINING RUNS. People who are following Dr. Maffetone's plan will, apparently, not add speedwork. And Tracy, I'm not sure why you seem to be worried about the difference between a "training plan" and whatever you want to call Dr. Maffetone's stuff, but that seems completely irrelevant to me. Regular daily training run pace is regular daily train run pace regardless of what type of (or lack of) speedwork you sandwich it between.

As a side note: Tracy, my honest opinion is that if you ate enough beforehand (including carbs) and ran a smart race, you would indeed run something in the neighborhood of 2:56 for a marathon. You ran a 1:26 half marathon and you are faster now than you were then, not to mention you've got experience with ultras so you're likely at the lower end of the double-your-half-time-and-add-10-minutes formula...

Rasmus: Why are you setting aside "long runs" as their own special category? To me, long runs have the same pace (or in my case, heart rate) as regular daily training runs, because that is what in fact they are. They are not tempos and they are not speedwork and they are not intervals. A long run is simply a training run where you happen to run more miles than you run on other days of the week. Hence, you use your regular daily training run pace (or heart rate) the same way on a long run.

Also, you say the Maffetone pace is not new, but then you go on to say that it currently appears to work out as 1:00 slower than your marathon pace. Those things are mutually exclusive, as per what I said in my first two comments...

Alicia Hudelson said...

p.s. Tracy, I put your 5k PR into one of those predictor calculator things and it spit out 3:00 exactly for a marathon. I'd say you've got yourself a challenge:)

Alicia Hudelson said...

Sorry. One more thing. Rasmus, when I said "You say the Maffetone pace is not new" I meant that you said it IS new. Sorry! I think I really am done now:)

Olga said...

Not sure how relevant this observation of mine to y'all's smart discussion, but after 3 weeks of running at MAF pace (135 for me) and kind of actually finding it difficult (it feels uncomfortable to keep it constant on even slowest inclines and declines, either too slow or raises my RH), I wore all the gadget for 3 days but wasn't looking at them during the run - and went "easy" by perception. Apparently I averaged exactly 135, was "in the zone" (10 beats window) exactly 85% of the time of the run (as I do when look) and had max HR the same, and so was aver pace. I guess "easy" comes natural?

Alicia Hudelson said...

Same here, Olga, easy seems to come naturally. I'm not sure whether to be pleased or disturbed by that!

Fast Bastard said...

OK, Alicia. Valid points on your part. Maybe Maffetone pace is just a natural, sustainable cruising pace that one hits during both regular and long runs. It would make sense that a human automatically chooses a pace in the upper end of the aerobic zone. I do agree with Olga, though, that running hills can feel terribly slow, if you have to keep our HR under a certain target.

However, what I find so novel is the assumption that the regular paced runs are more important than the tempos or intervals. I know Maffetone doesn't actually make training plans, but in his studies, all the runners did was run at that same pace whenever they ran.

It seems like for years it has been very hip to cut away the empty miles and focus on "quality".

Robert said...

Hi Tracy,

I agree with Alicia about the confusion that seems to be extant about such training programs. Having a long (40+ years) history in endurance competition at the highest levels, much of the "Maffetone" method is encompassed in the Lydiard base training phase of a "classical" endurance training program. There really is no difference, in fact Mark Allen essentially admits this as his actual program included a "patience" (Maffetone) phase, followed by a speed-work phase and finally a "push" phase in prep for an "A" competition. Sounds a lot like Lydiard. The following critique of Maffetone perhaps will provide some additional perspective:

I still like the same author's summary on the subject of training:

Good luck with your project and cast a wary eye on any "data" that may be presented. There is likely a reason why there is nothing in peer-reviewed journals on the "Maffetone" method.

sea legs girl said...

Hi Robert,

I think your comment is right on. I am very stringent when it comes to publishing data and a lot of the data Phil has is old and some not usable. We have had to take a different slant on the article if it was going to be published in a peer reviewed journal. Phil has been thrilled to have the critique and I'm convinced he is not just interested in selling anything.

Yeah, Mark Allen's program sounds a bit like Lydiard and also like something Phil would recommend.He doesn't write training plans for people, though. The beauty of sub max aerobic training is you avoid injury and overtraining and can also improve cardiovascular shape. You can't run a 5k WR, though, just training at MAF. Anyway, thanks for your thoughts and links to Greg Crowther's blog.