In March I completed about two weeks worth of heart rate based training, giving the Maffetone method a test run. I had to take a break from it with the Storm the Campus 10 mile race and the Star Wars half marathon weekend, but now my race calendar is clear and I’m diving head first into about 6 weeks worth of heart rate training as I build up my weekly mileage and get ready for marathon training. I have already learned a few things that might come in handy for anyone considering the Maffetone method, so I thought I would share my findings so far.
First, the plan indicates that you should not be overly concerned about any numbers (like pace or time) except keeping your heart rate in the target zone. Phil Maffetone has obviously never met me. Numbers are my way of life and I just can’t ignore them. I am tracking my daily runs mile by mile as a way to look for trends and I fully realize that not every day is going to show improvement, or even stay flat; there may be some days that are worse than the day before, but overall the trend should be in the right direction. The plan also says that you should see some progress as you compare runs that are 2-3 weeks apart. In the first two week trial run I definitely saw my pace improving, though some of that appears to be due to the weather. My first couple of runs were in the 70-71 degree range, then upper 60s, mid-60s, mid-50s, and one run at 46 degrees. Then my final run was at 74 degrees and I struggled to find a pace slow enough to keep my heart rate in the zone. At this point I learned that the only way to determine if the training or the weather was responsible for my improvements was to control the weather. The only way to do that is to take most of my runs inside for the six week training.
The next thing I learned is that I suck at following a restricted diet. The Maffetone method includes a two-week “carb cleanse” plan where carbs are supposed to be eliminated from your diet, and not just the obvious stuff like bread, pasta, desserts, and potatoes. The plan calls for the elimination of fruit, processed meats, milk, yogurt, protein bars, peanuts, and even diet soda. I’ll let you look at what you are allowed to eat if you’re interested (here), but let’s just say not much of it was already in my diet. However, I decided that I needed to do this in order to teach my body to become a better fat burner. I made it through the first day with 5 eggs, two salads, chicken, celery, a slice of provolone, and a ton of water. When I was looking for something for dinner I grabbed a bag of veggies out of the freezer and realized I couldn’t eat them – 6 grams of carbs. Another bag had 10 grams of carbs, then I found 3 grams, 5 grams, 7 grams…. Wait a minute, except for potatoes and corn veggies are OK to eat. But no carbs allowed and the veggies have carbs. Then I checked the Romaine that I ate for lunch – yep, 3 grams of carbs. I was sabotaging my own plan (pronounced torture) without even realizing it. And if veggies have carbs, what can I eat? I am now in the process of searching for answers to this dilemma, and am happy to report that my diet needs work again.
Third, and perhaps most important, I learned that there are different ways to attack the need to stay within your target heart rate zone. Let me also add that no matter how much you despise treadmill running, trying to stay at a specific heart rate is much easier when you have absolute control over your speed and can adjust it in small amounts. I am tracking my time and heart rate for each mile of each run separately, allowing me to compare each mile from one day to the same mile for another day. Until today I had been attempting to stay as close to the top of my zone as possible throughout my runs, allowing me to go a bit faster, and I did see improvements in the early, middle, and later stages of my runs. For example, my first mile was 10:29 on March 15th, and a couple days ago it was 9:28 – over a minute improvement at the same heart rate! And miles 2-5 have shown even more improvement, getting close to 2:00 better during the fourth mile.
Today I switched things up and decided to go a bit slower than I needed to for the first mile, while still remaining in the 10 bpm window that I need to be in (131-140). I got on the treadmill and set it for 10:00 per mile. I was just over 130 for most of the first mile, 135 average for the second mile, and 138 for the third. I had never done the third mile at that pace while staying in the zone. Then I dropped the pace to 5.8 mph, about 23 seconds slower per mile and thought I’ll keep this pace until I am over 140 bpm. I never had to adjust the pace again and I ran another 3.3 miles! Miles 4, 5, and 6 were completed in 10:23, new best times for all of those miles. My heart rate for those three miles was 137, 137, and 136. That makes it look like I probably could have finished the 7th mile at a 10:23 pace, or almost 2 minutes faster than my best 7th mile time. Starting the run off a little slower brought overall improvement to the run, especially in the later miles.
I am going to repeat today’s test either Saturday or Sunday, but I am pretty confident that I am making some progress and there may be some really great things coming out of this style of training. If I have confused you with all the numbers I apologize. I’m better at handling numbers than explaining them. If you have questions about this style of training you can leave questions for me in the comments and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can, or you can always send them to me through Twitter (@rilla6969) or Facebook (rilla6969). Here are the two links for the Maffetone explanations: