9/8/15: Morning Run MAF Test, 5:30 a.m., 5 miles plus warm-up and cool-down, New York Sports Club

If you have read my blog entries, you have seen my links to Dr. Phil Maffetone’s website. I have been following Dr. Maffetone’s “180 formula” for nearly three months as I train for the TCS NYC Marathon, building a solid aerobic base. While I might write a lengthier post on the Maffetone Method, many others have already done the same (such as Daily Burn and The Running Man), and some disagree with the Method (like Strength Running).

Here’s the short version: For endurance athletes, Dr. Maffetone advocates training slower to race faster. Because the aerobic system is the most important system involved in endurance training and racing, he advocates building a strong aerobic base by training almost exclusively in an aerobic training zone.

To calculate your aerobic training zone, Dr. Maffetone created the “180 Formula.” You subtract your age from 180 and adjust the number based upon other factors such as illness, training, and injury history. The result is your maximum aerobic heart rate, under which you should do all your training, ideally in a zone between that number and a heart rate ten beats per minute slower.

So, for example, my maximum aerobic heart rate as determined by the formula is 144, so I train between 134-144 beats per minute. Recognizing that this is a “one size fits all” formula, I allow myself two beats per minute higher on the upper end of the spectrum, which means that I slow down when I hit 146 beats per minute.

Dr. Maffetone also recommends a 12-15 minute warm-up before and cool-down after each run, which allows the body to adjust to the stress and then to ease back into a state of relaxation at the end of a training session.

You might be wondering: What about anaerobic training, such as intervals, tempo runs, pace runs, or hill sprints? What about the speed work? These are the sessions most modern training plans contain. Dr. Maffetone does not entirely oppose this type of training, but advocates that runners build a solid aerobic based before incorporating any or too much anaerobic training into their regimes. Dr. Stephen Gangemi, a long-time Maffetone enthusiast, has a great piece about incorporating anaerobic training into a Maffetone-based training plan, and also lays out some of his disagreements with Maffetone’s method.

So, when does a runner know when to incorporate anaerobic training into his plan? Essentially, once a runner’s performance on the MAF Test has plateaued.

What is the MAF Test?

The Maximum Aerobic Function Test (“MAF Test”) is the method by which a runner can determine how well she has trained her aerobic system. Essentially, the runner performs a Maffetone-style training run (12-15 minute warm-up followed by 4-5 mile run at her maximum aerobic heart rate followed by a 12-15 minute cool-down) on a track, treadmill, or other flat surface and measures the pace per miles run, excluding the pace of the warm-up and cool-down. The pace of the first mile run at your maximum aerobic heart rate equals your maximum aerobic pace, and the paces of the following miles demonstrates how well you can maintain a pace over a distance. The runner’s pace will slow throughout the test, and if it doesn’t, it’s usually an indicator of an incomplete warm-up.  The test should be performed monthly and, if the runner is training using Maffetone’s method, her maximum aerobic pace should decrease (i.e., the runner should get faster while running at her maximum aerobic heart rate). If a runner plateaus and makes no improvement with her maximum aerobic pace over the course of a month, she might want to incorporate some anaerobic training into her workouts.

Since I returned from injury, I have performed two MAF tests. I performed both on a treadmill at the gym, warming up by walking for about six minutes, jogging for three to four minutes, and then running at a pace below my maximum aerobic heart rate for two to three minutes. I then run at my maximum aerobic heart rate for five miles, followed by a cool-down walk of about 12 minutes. I want to note that during the running portion, I am running right at 144-145 beats per minute, not at a rate in my aerobic training zone of 134-144 beats per minute described above.

I monitor my heart rate using the Fitbit App on my iPhone, which displays my instant heart rate as detected by my Charge HR wristband. I decrease the treadmill’s speed when my heart rate hits 145 or 146 beats per minute. I also occasionally need to increase the speed during the run when my heart rate falls to 142 or 143 beats per minute.

Here are the results of my two MAF tests:

Date and Mile 8/11/15 (Pace Per Mile) 9/8/15 (Pace Per Mile)
1 7:33 6:55
2 7:49 7:08
3 7:53 7:20
4 8:01 7:32
5 8:17 7:43

Before taking the first test, I was skeptical. Why analyze your speed at a pace well below your desired race pace? In The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing, Dr. Maffetone indicates a correlation between a runner’s maximum aerobic pace and 5k pace (correlation chart near the bottom of the page). That, however, seemed open to criticism, as he bases his correlation on MAF tests he administered to clients, and he provides no sample size. Based upon his correlation chart, I could expect, with a maximum aerobic pace of 7:33 minutes per mile, to run a 5k at a 6:00 minute per mile pace. This seemed impossible. My previous best 5k pace was 6:17/mile, which I ran with lots of speed work and prior to injury.

However, one and a half weeks after the first MAF test, I ran the Percy Sutton 5k at a 5:56 pace. This aligns almost perfectly with Dr. Maffetone’s correlation chart. I became a true believer at that point.

One caveat to my training: I was injured on April 11, 2015, and did not run again until June 25. I did, however, swim, cycle, and use the elliptical during the time off my feet, and generally trained at an aerobic heart rate (this was before being introduced to the Maffetone Method). So, I think I reaped the benefits of training aerobically for almost two months before really embracing Maffetone’s method. I have also done some anaerobic sessions since returning from injury, which include the November Project workouts and the Percy Sutton 5k race, so I can’t say that I’ve followed Dr. Maffetone’s advice perfectly. What I can say, though, is that by slowing down the vast majority of my training, I am running faster.

Dr. Maffetone claims that his method provides additional benefits, including a reduced risk of injury and overtraining, and increased general health and wellness. While I cannot speak to these yet, I can say that I am getting faster, feeling physically healthy, and enjoying every minute of my training.

As always, happy running!

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