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Back to the Track: M.A.F. #1

Maximum Aerobic Function Test  #1 (Running)



I year ago today, I shuffled my way to a pathetic 13:27, only a few weeks recovered from pneumonia. Truly, I was starting from ZERO. It sucked. But I persevered with the Maffetone Method, and my fitness steadily improved, which led to a great summer of racing with no burn out like in past years.

But this year I have been worried.

I slacked off in the fall, quit racing, and got a little too serious about an “off season break.”  The holidays interrupted a little, but I got in some nice runs. Then January came, time to start base training, but things fell apart. Huge work stress, a cold, and other assorted troubles conspired to make me miss too many days.

Last week I tried a MAF test on the track, but the results and feel were so off I knew I needed to retest this. I feared this season was over before it even started.

Then I had some encouraging signs:

  • A great weekend long run
  • A great informal MAF test that had a two minute improvement over recent times
  • A good morning HRV score

So I knew it was time to hit the track on the same day that I started last year to see where I stood. I am over two minutes faster per mile than I was at this time last year (and a bit heavier, oops!) I wasn’t able to hit a MAF pace like today’s formally or informally, until late April of last season. So while I wasn’t able to maintain ALL my fitness from last year as I hoped, or build on it as I think you should be able to when training the low stress Maffetone way, it’s worked out pretty well.

But, I’ve been too much of a run specialist. Time to remember those other two sports that make up triathlon!


MAF Test Musings: Racing, Losing, and Regaining Fitness

Good news from the track: My fitness is once again headed in the right direction. Apparently, spending 4-8 hrs on your bike going as anaerobic as possible wears a body down. Who would have thought it? I saw my MAF test pace decline about 30 sec per mile through July, and the graph of my HRV remained relatively flat. I was overreaching, and for once, I was smart about it. As school started I took my midseason break.

And it worked!

I have seen my highest HRV scores ever, and the average is up 10 points for the last month. That has never happened before. And my MAF test pace is back to roughly what it was at the start of summer, before all the marathon mtb races. What does that mean?

1. My aerobic fitness had regressed due to the heavy anaerobic demands of racing. HRV and MAF pace measure that quantitatively, but I could also qualitatively feel the fatigue build, and for the first time recognize it early enough to do something about it.

2. My autonomic nervous system is in a good state of balance and is not overstressed.

3. My aerobic system is recovered, and can once again move forward.

Speaking of marathons…

It’s marathon season, and I’ve scheduled a half marathon in October to continue to build toward a December full marathon. Now I just concentrate on long runs, and let the bike fade a bit into the background. For now, all training runs stay at MAF pace. No need to stress my anaerobic system for a marathon, it won’t be needed as much as the biggest aerobic engine I can find between now and then. Besides I had plenty of anaerobic hell in Tahoe this summer.

In other news:

The PCRM Kickstart is going well, but with so many yummy recipes to try, and only one of me to actually eat them, I’m  a little overwhelmed. Oh well, nothing like a little eating challenge to inspire and use up the great fall produce.

M.A.F. Test #5

After over four months of steady progress in building aerobic fitness with the Maffetone Method, I was still worried about what I would find in yesterday’s test. Since I raced so hard on Saturday, and last Thursday, would my aerobic development slow or regress? Even if it did, would that be a sign of over cooking myself anaerobically, or that I am reaching an aerobic plateau and could actually benefit from anaerobic training?

I woke up with an HRV score of 75 on my iThlete, which is about as high as I can go right now. The long-term trend for me is rising, which indicates steadily improving aerobic fitness. The short-term score shows how rested and recovered I am. Strangely, the day after Hammerstein my HRV was 74. I was expecting a crash, although I did sleep like a log.

So my HRV was good, my legs felt good, and spirits felt good on my way to the track. The weather was warm, but not outrageous. I am always nervous for the first mile because I can’t feel if I’m going faster than before. The result? My first mile was a minute faster than last month’s average! Still progressing! Miles two and three slow down a bit, of course, but my current MAF mile pace is about 45 seconds faster than the best score I achieved last season. Yay!

The Good:

I am still progressing, and I have two different objective measurements giving me that feedback. MAF average pace: 10:20. HRV scores regularly in the 70s.

The Bad:

I’m not as recovered from the Hammerstein as I thought. The soreness came back, and it was just a short, easy run. I guess even that little impact was enough, but I was feeling it in my quads, hamstrings and right calf. So I slathered them in magnesium oil a la Ben Greenfield, and elevated them for a recovery nap before administering the Traumeel and compression socks.

The Puzzling:

If my fitness is better than last year when I raced the LQS at Northstar, why did I struggle to last 5 1/2 hr at Laguna Seca? Perhaps I didn’t take in enough calories on lap 1? Did I go just a little too hard on the climbs early on? Or is it just that I haven’t done enough really long rides?

Not much time to solve the puzzle before the next 8 hour race . . .

MAF Test #4

While my informal MAF tests have been showing progress in developing an aerobic base, it’s been awhile since I did a formal test on the track to get my maximum aerobic pace for running. So off I went even though the test anxiety discovered numerous excuses: too hot, too windy, legs a little sore and heavy, etc. As I began to warmup on the track my dead legs almost made me quit. So I negotiated. All I had to do was run the first mile and see. If I wasn’t significantly faster than my last average, I would give in to my excuses and bag it. My first mile was the second fastest I’ve run in a MAF test, and way faster than last time! By now I was not only warmed up but motivated by a little success. As expected, my times slowed down, but when I crunched the numbers I netted a 25 second improvement.

MAF Test Average Pace: 11:06

This is only 3 seconds off my best result last year at the beginning of October.

Encouraging results, and further proof that in order to get faster, slow down and really develop that aerobic engine. I’m feeling good about this summer’s big races, even though there is still a lot of work to do.

The Value of Informal MAF Tests

I’m lagging behind. I seriously need to do another MAF test on the track. Like any test in school, they make me a little nervous even though there is no real failure. But the real reason is that I have been informally testing myself once a week and seeing progress, so I’m a little unmotivated to go to the track and hassle with timing individual miles. I always thought while reading Maffetone that if you only do a MAF test once a month, and that is the main way to see if your training or health is off track, that it wasn’t often enough to catch a problem in time. But Maffetone explains that if you use the same route regularly, you can see if you’re progressing or regressing by keeping track of some combination of speed/pace, distance, time and heart rate.

So I turned my most common running route into a fitness test. I start and stop my heart monitor in exactly the same place. I cover my warm-up and cool-down exactly the same way. I use the same route and heart rate range. While a difference of just a few seconds might not mean much, it will show a trend. My informal running MAF test shows almost three minutes of improvement in the last month or so, from 52 min to 49 min.

My cycling routes haven’t shown the same improvement. I suspect that the differing conditions of traffic, stop lights, and wind make day to day comparisons less useful. But a recent mountain bike ride shows me that I have made significant progress there too.

So I will keep one run a week reserved for my informal MAF test, take another run and stretch it out to an hour, and keep pushing my long run a little longer.

XTERRA Real Race Report

Race Time!

So after nearly eight months of no racing, Maffetone training that never had my heart rate over 140 bpm, influenza, pneumonia, and a slow march through base training, I finally got to uncork one!

And I went… slowly.

Oh well.

It was disappointing to go slower than two years ago, which was close to this year in course conditions. The swim was slow, thanks to freezing conditions that forced more breast stroke than I like. The bike was a little slower as well due to mud and some mechanical problems with my brakes. I knew my brakes were mushy going in, but I thought they would hold for two laps. They held for a lap and then the rear brake began to fade dramatically. Not as bad as last year though, when they failed completely, destroyed a rim, and left me walking the downhills. I shouldn’t be disappointed considereing my lack of training or racing at high intensity. After all, this was the first race of the season. But I am disappointed considering the improvement in my MAF tests compared to last year. I thought I would be going a lot better.

What was puzzling was that I felt great while racing. Even the swim, which I haven’t trained much at all, felt comfortable after I got used to the ice cold water. The bike was a challenge because it’s been months since I rode the mountain bike on anything remotely technical. While challenging, it was fun to ride those Granite Beach trails. The bike course is real mountain biking: lots of single track, and you’re always actively doing something, climbing, descending, negotiating rocks, turning through tight and twisty singletrack. You have to concentrate. The run felt pretty  good as well. My stride and cadence were what I wanted them, I didn’t have GI issues, but my time shows the truth: I didn’t go fast.

I wore my Garmin hrm so I could graph my heart rate for the bike and run sections and see what happened. I found that I averaged 170 bpm, and cruised a lot around 175 bpm. I noticed that around 180 bpm the door to the hurt locker slammed shut, and I had to back off, usually at the top of a climb. So, since I have done all of my exercise under 140 bpm, but race from 165-175 bpm, it appears that I need to do more anaerobic, race pace training to get used to going fast. Also, the fact that I “felt good” might be a red flag. After all, isn’t racing supposed to hurt? At least a little? I think I held back a little too much, perhaps due to being out of practice.

So going forward?

More mountain biking. Spring is here, the trails are drying out, my bike is tuned.

Readjust my MAF training range up from Maffetone’s formula of 140 to Mark Allen’s version, which is 145, especially on the run.

More volume. I felt that I faded in the second half of each event. Probably due to lack of truly long rides and runs.

What about anaerobic effort?

I will hold off anerobic training for another month and just use racing for that training effect. I need to continue to build my aerobic base because it still lags behind. I may readjust my range upward again to follow what some coaches recommend by basing my MAF off of lactate threshold instead of the 180 formula. For the moment, I will keep it low since I am still getting benefits.

After all, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

MAF Test #3: More Progress and Race Time

This test came a little sooner, just three weeks after the last one. I want to test a little more frequently than Maffetone suggests so that I have more data and can catch problems faster. Plus, I really wanted a test close to my first race of the year on April 1. That way I can compare MAF data with racing heart rate and my subjective perception of the overall race experience.

Like the February test, I knew I was getting fitter and faster because my time for a typical training run had been improving, and my HRV (heart rate variability) score had been improving. When I tested, I was not disappointed.

MAF Test #2 03/06/12

avg mile pace 11:52

MAF Test #3 03/28/12

avg mile pace 11:31

That’s a twenty second improvement in just three weeks training at my low and comfortable MAF aerobic heart rate. This score should correspond to my fitness last August. But I do need more data from the real world, so if the weather will dry out, I will go do a MTB ride that I have recorded times from last summer. Then I will have very good data. But for now, I’m satisfied.

Moment of Truth: M.A.F. Test #1

Three weeks ago I dreaded this day: the first Maximum Aerobic Function test of the 2012 triathlon season. It is a full month over due, having been derailed by pneumonia. The original plan was to start the season right after New Year’s with a M.A.F. test to assess current fitness then start building my aerobic base along with all the other New Years resolvers. Then my lungs were invaded by the virus from hell, and I lay in bed checking on my 110 BPM resting heart rate.

When I felt better and started to exercise again three weeks ago, I could barely pedal my bike, and I couldn’t run under my heart rate ceiling, or MAF.  And running is how I test myself. I had no idea when I would be strong enough to even test myself to see how slow I’d become.

But I was encouraged by every single day I went out to exercise, because each day I felt stronger than the previous session. It was amazing that I was running slowly in no time at all, without walk breaks to lower my heart rate. I can now control my heart rate by varying my running pace.

So today was the big test. How slow am I compared to last season?

Neither my hopes nor my fears were confirmed.

I hoped to go under thirteen minutes for my average, but it didn’t happen.

I feared that I would have some horrible shuffling fifteen minute pace, but that didn’t happen either.

What I got was 13:27/mi. average.

I am quite pleased with this.

To put into perspective, my best last season was about eleven minutes a mile. My first MAF test in mid July, I went twelve minutes, and that was after three months of Maffetone style training. I don’t have a time from this time last year to compare to, but I suspect it would be similar. Not bad for someone who spent much of the last month in bed.

I am so excited for this season, if I can get progress like this! I still have almost two months of pure base training before my first race whee I can make a lot of aerobic gains. I know the rate of progress will slow down, but as long as I can get out the door every day and pedal my bike or run, I’ll put it in the “W” column.


M.A.F. Test #3

Time: 4 PM

Conditions: Cool, breezy, threatening rain

Mile #1: 10:50

Mile #2: 10:56

Mile #3: 11:25

M.A.F. Average pace: 11:03 per mile

Average Heart Rate: 139 BPM

Alright, this MAF test is a real conundrum. My average only improved by a meager six seconds per mile over a month of training! Even more puzzling is that my first mile took me 10:50, fully fifteen seconds slower than last month? WTF? The improvement came from a much steadier pace for miles 2 and 3, with my final mile twenty seconds faster. WTF? redux  I was actually concerned while I ran that my result might actually worsen this month, but it didn’t happen. I avoid looking at the time while I run, until it’s time to record the split times. But I worried anyway. I resolved that if I did worsen, I would retest in a week to if this was a fluke, or a warning sign. Maffetone emphasizes the value of regular MAF tests to keep training and lifestyle on track. One thing that stands out a little is the relatively slow pace of mile one. This could mean that I wasn’t adequately warmed up. So, since I improved only a little, I will retest in two weeks instead of four, include a longer warmup, and see what happens. Another strange thing was that the differences between each mile time were much smaller than previous tests, which could indicate a plateau.

What could explain all this?

1. The August test came at the end of summer, and school had barely started. I had spent a lot of time in Tahoe over the summer and I believe I picked an aerobic benefit from the altitude. My times on some familiar training routes improved significantly. That doesn’t seem to be the case any more. As my red blood cell count, hematocrit, and EPO levels normalize to sea level, it’s possible that I was slowing down my rate of progress.

2. School means a dramatic change in lifestyle. No longer do I have the luxury of living like a pro athlete. The increased lifestyle stress can interfere with aerobic development. Even being  a little sloppy in nutrition that might not matter in the summer matters now. And other personal stresses that seemed handled from the comfort of a summer hammock took longer than expected to resolve.

3. Heat stress, while not a factor in either test, was an issue over the last month, causing me to miss a few workouts. Plus the heat really makes me cranky.

In any case I had planned to change my training after September. This marks six months of Maffetone style training, so for the next three months I will train a little differently.

The Plan:

Continue all running and cycling workouts at MAF intensity.

Increase running volume three ways:

1. Longer long runs. Building from 90 min. to three hours to prepare for the December marathon.

2. A medium long run midweek, 60-75 min.

3. Short transition runs off the bike

Decrease bike volume by shortening commutes and shortening long rides to 90-120 min.

Add in some strength training. This will be the only anaerobic efforts I’ll do.

Tighten up the loose ends in diet and work on stress reduction to improve sleep quality. My HRV levels have also plateaued, so I may need more rest.

I will retest in two weeks, to see where the trend really is going, and if further lifestyle modifications are needed.