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Back to the Track: M.A.F. #1

Maximum Aerobic Function Test  #1 (Running)

11:13

Yay!

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!

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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.

When to Take a Midseason Break

I haven’t trained more than a couple of days in the last three weeks. I didn’t quit completely, I just scaled back. I exercised, but not every day. I didn’t go for as long, and I kept everything strictly aerobic, below my Maximum Aerobic Function. I knew it was time for a break, and showing that wisdom can indeed come with age, I actually took that break. How did I know that it was time?

Quantitative Factors:

Race Performance:

If race times flatten or worsen, it’s a good bet you’re overcooked. I raced the Squaw Mountain Run in basically the same time as last year. I went for one last 8 hour mountain bike race, and only lasted four hours. I was crashing, cramping and suffering in the heat. (although I did solve the mystery of the Tahoe Trail 100 meltdown, wear the hydration pack!) I really wanted to race XTERRA Tahoe at Incline Village, so I cancelled other race plans.

MAF Test:

Maffetone believes the objective data from a MAF test is the best, so if you plateau or regress it’s time to carefully evaluate what’s going on. I regressed in both formal and informal MAF tests. Time to back off.

Heart Rate Variability:

HRV should increase as fitness increases. Coinciding with my decline in MAF tests, my HRV never seemed to increase much past where it had been. There would be a big dip after a race from the anaerobic stress, but as I recovered, my HRV would only return to where it had been before, no higher. Kind of like treading water.

Qualitative Factors:

Mood:

I didn’t want to race that last MTB race, but I had already signed up and paid, so I went anyway. Usually I delay registering until the last moment, just to be sure. But I thought it would sell out, so I put it on the calendar when it seemed like a good idea. Our attitude and enthusiasm is a great gauge of our fitness. If we feel flat or over cooked, most likely we are. Pushing on will just make things worse. So I pulled the plug on another race and rested instead, knowing the start of school would increase other kinds of stress dramatically. I ran a little, biked a little, and took days off. I wanted to be ready for Tahoe.

How to Know When to Jump Back In:

Qualitative:

When you feel like it! When Tahoe came around, my motivation was mostly back. My extra rest brought back my enthusiasm, and I had a fun race, even though it was harder than I expected. With some extra recovery days after the race, I feel excited to train again for my next big goal, a marathon in December. That goal motivated me to take my break now, rather than burn out too late. My nutrition, which had also suffered as I gave into temptations, is now back on track as well.

Quantitative:

My HRV has hit all time highs, both for a single day and average. My informal MAF test today showed several minutes of improvement. I now have motivation and a positive attitude toward my new goal. I’m cutting way back on racing and doing a run focus from now until the marathon. I feel confident that this time I won’t burn out early, instead I’ll make it all the way to my December vacation with increasing fitness.

Do you take breaks during your season? How do you when to stop and when to start back up?

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.

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.

MAF Test #2: Real Progress

Almost exactly one month later, I did another MAF test. I aimed for three weeks, a little ahead of Maffetone’s guidelines, but it worked the same anyway. I wanted some validation in data that I have been getting stronger, and I got it. I know I’ve become fitter, because I can feel it. I also have informal data from times posted on training routes that I use frequently. All good news, because the racing season starts in roughly one month with the XTERRA Real in Granite Beach.

MAF Test #1 2/06/12

Avg mile pace 13:27

MAF Test #2 3/06/12

Avg mile pace 11:52

Almost a minute and a half faster! And I lost some training time due to mid month vacation.

Even better than the relative improvement is how this number compares to last season. I didn’t start using the Maffetone method until April of last year, and I did not measure aerobic fitness with a MAF test until July 15, with a result of 11:56. So right now, I theoretically have better fitness than I did at midsummer last year. Yay, me! That first test came one week prior to racing the Leadville Qualifier Series race at Northstar, where I felt good. I want to chop off an hour or two from my time and move from the back of the pack to the middle, and this test gives me hope. I still have months to build aerobic fitness for that race.