MAF Number One: 14:36

Thursday, September 15, 2011

I started running a year and a half ago, when my friends made a drunken pact to do a triathlon. I figured if they could do that on a whim, I could at least learn to run 5k. I'd tried to run in the past, but usually gave up pretty quickly, so this time I used the Couch to 5k training plan to force myself to actually go out and do it. This worked better, and since then I've done my own triathlon and a very cold and slippery half marathon.

While I can now say with some confidence that I am capable of running 5, or even 10 kilometers, I can't say that it's comfortable. I tend to go very red in the face and sweat profusely as my heart rate skyrockets - I typically sustain around 170-180 bpm. During my half marathon, which took 2 hours and 24 minutes, I averaged 176 bpm. Like I said, not comfortable.

This summer I picked up bronchitis around about mid-July, and by the end of August I was feeling seriously sorry for myself. In a depressive fit of self-pity, I starting reading about various theories on aerobic training, and one thing that kept coming up was the Maffetone method. I spontaneously bought the Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing, as it was available for Kobo and I could satisfy my impulse immediately. I somewhat regret buying the book, as it's written in a rambling, repetitive, pseudo-scientific style, peppered with anecdotes from famous athletes proclaiming the miraculous achievements resulting from the training method. None the less, there were a few nuggets of sense, such as correlations between heart rate and respiratory quotients, that made me decide to ignore the "hippy logic" of the book and give it a shot for a few months.

Here's a plot showing both heart rate and speed from the first run I recorded on my fancy new Garmin (just before bronchitis took over):

Kind of hard to read, but basically it says that I'm slow (average pace 6:54 per km), and working too hard. There was a hill and a couple of stop lights, which account for the wild variations.

Next up is my first run using the Maffetone "180-age" formula. I'm 26, so I should be running at 154 bpm, but I've taken off another 5 for my crappy lungs. I've also adhered to the recommended "slow warm-up and cool down", hence the ramping up and down of my heart rate in this next graph:

As you can see, I'm not very good at maintaining a consistent heart rate (or speed). That'll come with practice, I'm sure. What you can't see in this graph is the total time: 1 hour. An hour to go 6 k! That's pretty much walking speed, though I was doing a running motion for the 1.5 - 5 km segment. Another thing you can't see is how good I felt during and after this run - happy to have done some kind of activity again, fairly energized and with a surprising burn in my legs, but not the usual stomach-churning gotta-pass-out feeling that I usually get after a run.

All things considered, I'm going to stick with this program for a few months and see how it goes. The theory behind this method is that I should start being able to run faster while maintaining the same low heart rate as a result of improving my aerobic system. The metric to track is the Maximum Aerobic Fitness pace, or MAF. This is the time it takes to run one mile, after warming up, at the 180-age heart rate. I'm not sure if it's supposed to be the first mile or the average, but I'll go with my first mile MAF pace as it's less embarrassing... 14 minutes, 36 seconds.

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