Well, that was a fun experiment

Monday, February 13, 2012

Ostensibly, I created this blog to talk about running. More specifically, I wanted to share my experiences trying to increase my endurance using the "Maffetone Method". I had a rather vicious and tenacious strain of bronchitis at the time, and running at low speeds and low heart rates was a way of at least getting on my feet.

I finally kicked the bronchitis with another round of antibiotics in December (hooray for modern medicine), and now that I'm capable of "real" exercise I'm giving up on the MAF experiment, for now (despite what I claimed back in October). I have several reasons for this:

  • I can't run with other people if I'm doing 8 min/km; I enjoy running with friends.
  • I just don't have enough time to get in decent distances while adhering to the rules. With a 15 minute warm-up and cool-down, 10k was taking almost 2 hours.
  • My commute up the hill to school was putting my heart rate above the optimal threshold anyway, which apparently violates the rules.

In other words, I have a number of excuses for why I don't want to do it anymore. However, I do find that I like having some kind of schedule - just a rough "do this at some point during the week". I did the popular Couch to 5k plan when I first started running, and when I finished it and decided to keep going, I found that I wasn't nearly as consistent if I didn't have some sort of plan to follow. With C25K, if I didn't do two of the three workouts by the time the weekend rolled around, I would do both of them on the weekend. When I was just "trying to run three times a week", I'd end up slacking off and doing one or two.

So, what's the new plan? I recently discovered the "scheduled workouts" feature on my nifty little Garmin, and I found out that someone else has done the legwork to put together training plans that do fun things like intervals and hill training. I decided to pretend that I'm running a half marathon in 12 weeks and do a Sub-2:00 training plan. I went for the heart rate plans, since by now I'm semi-used to pacing myself by heart rate.

I just finished the first week of the training plan, and it's certainly been more exciting than always going slow. After the first week, I noticed a couple of oddities.

The first week of the Garmin schedule specified two "steady 3 mile" runs. Up here in metric land, that's just under a 5k. One of these runs coincided with Wednesday night group runs, and while I maintained a reasonably steady pace and heart rate (for me), it was a pretty slow run:

Overall, an average pace of 7:23 min/km and heart rate of 159 bpm. The next 3 mile run was on Friday afternoon:

Notice anything funny? This time (2 days after the first), I averaged 6:23 min/km and a heart rate of 161! Somehow I don't think that two beats per minute heart rate accounts for the full minute per km faster.

To me, these results suggest that there's more to running speed and endurance than a simple heart rate formula. I like that Maffetone's ideas are theoretically backed up by empirical studies (though it appears he hasn't published in any peer reviewed journals), but I think there's a large amount of subjectiveness required.

The other interesting occurrence during my first week of the Garmin training schedule happened on my "Easy 6 mile" run. This particular workout specified doing an almost-10k run at heart rates that looked suspiciously similar to Maffetone's - in my case, 135-148 bpm. I tried to stick to this, I really did, but I just couldn't establish a comfortable pace. Instead, I went with my subjective feel of what an "easy pace" was, and settled in at 154 bpm. Now, curiously, this is exactly the heart rate predicted by the Maffetone formula (180 - my age) if I were perfectly healthy! In my case, I subtracted 5 points for recovering bronchitis + asthma, but in the future, I might give Maffetone another shot. I'll just remember to adjust the numbers based on how I feel about it.