Sunday, February 15, 2015

Slow Burn

*Title borrowed from Stu Mittleman's book.

Back when I was training for my first 100 miler (Leadville in 2012), I quite literally beat the s&%t out of myself. In fact, I nearly couldn't run the race because of a knee injury that left me scrambling in and out of doctors offices the week of the race. I just didn't believe that the common person -- the guy with a full-time job, kids, etc... -- could really train the way "elites" do. But, I attempted to do it anyway.  During training, I asked Wyatt Hornsby about his thoughts and methods on training and he referenced Dr. Maffetone to me. That was the first I heard of Dr. Maffetone. Wyatt went on to train very diligently using Dr. Maffeton's methods in 2013. While he had some horrible nutrition issues, he still finished only 5 minutes off of his personal best time at Leadville 100. And, talking to him and Chuck (his pacer) after, it sounded like he was incredibly strong the last 30 miles of the race. What struck me following along with Wyatt's training that summer was the consistency. There weren't a ton of crazy long runs or super intense speed session.  I think he surprised himself with a break-through performance at the Leadville Marathon that year as well.

Since that Summer of 2012, I have been quasi-practicing Dr Maffetone's methods myself. Of course, like many runners, I have adapted to make them my own. After listening to yet another podcast with him yesterday, I am struck by the simplicity of his method as well as the holistic approach to health. In his book, The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing, Dr Maffetone talks about a three pillar approach to training -- Brain, Muscle, and Metabolism. The book is about running faster by living a healthier life. It is about giving up the short-term for the long-term. Can hacks like overtraining, high carb living, etc.... make us better for one season or one race? Probably. But, at the cost of long term success and health.

Muscles is quite simple: prepare your body for endurance. There are numerous elements to this, but the bottom line is that running easy allows your muscles (and joints, ligaments, etc...) to catch-up and stay even with your aerobic system. Running anaerobic puts undo stress on the muscles and joints and can lead to injury. Why spend hours in the gym and PT playing catch-up AFTER you overdo it when you can just ease into it and prevent these things to begin with?

Metabolism is something I completely endorse. If you follow along on this blog, you already know I am a believer in low carb living -- not NO CARB, but LOW CARB. Primarily that means eliminating processed sugar, grains and legumes. This is a complex topic and books are written about it. But, the bottom line here is that having a happy metabolism allows your body to train and race better. I have seen huge benefits in my own life. Those benefits will be amplified by training slower to build a bigger aerobic engine.

That brings us to the brain... Is that the missing piece? I think so. I've blogged several times about the difference between Bear 100 and LT100 for me. The biggest thing is that I just wasn't having any fun. Training felt forced. My body was nagging with injuries. I never really got into it. I was much stronger at Leadville because I was happy to be there. I didn't obsess about time goals. My plan was simply to run patient for 40 miles -- easy to do a LT100 -- and then simply getting to the next aid station as quickly as I could. My pacers can attest to the fact that I was mostly upbeat. (Note that Dr. Maffetone wasn't just talking about mental perceptions but also chemical and other factors regulated by our brain...)

I finally decided to quit splitting hairs with Dr. Maffetone today and ran my entire run at sub-142 (my MAF number). No more rationalizing zone 1 or 2 or whether I should add 5 or 10 beats for this or that. (Note that most runners are happy to find reasons to add beats to MAF, but few are honest enough to subtract them when they are sick or injured.) The run felt amazing, even after a 16 mile trail pounding the day before. It was so good that I added mileage. In my post, I described it as a "religious experience". I felt good the whole way. No aches. No hunger. My breathing was regulated and I was in-tune with my body the whole way. Midway through the run I began regulating my HR almost with my mind. I could tell when it was rising and I kept it in the zone by concentrating on breathing, form, and taking what the route was giving me.

To be honest, I enjoy running aerobic. I enjoy getting home and feeling like I barely worked out at all, having a simple breakfast and moving on with my day. No need for extensive recovery or well planned out "recovery foods". So, this change isn't a big deal for me, much the same as LCHF fit me well. This journey has always been about life health and enjoyment. Things lined up well for me, and this method is proven. I have never bought into the "No pain, no gain" method of training, even though I have tried it once or twice.

The day-to-day changes really just mean two things for me: 1) I will lower my MAF effort to 142 beats per minute instead of the more typical 150 I used to use 2) I will do a more comprehensive warm-up before my runs. I typically do MAF workouts about 80% of the time, but I won't do them 100% of the time. Even during MAF workouts, I will add occasional "light quality" such as short Fartleks and Hill reps to improve myself as a runner and vary my training. I will still do some quality work -- primarily during my weekend longs -- to push my fitness after a solid base is in place. I am also a big believer in progressive runs where only the final third is hard.  More than anything, the goal is to stay healthy, enjoy the journey, and build a monster aerobic engine. It is the ONLY way to survive the extreme circumstances that 100 mile race brings.

1 comment:

  1. This is great stuff, AJ! While I didn't don't agree with his stance on community water fluoridation, Dr. Maffetone's method works, especially for us ultra runners. If ultras are all aerobic, it makes sense that we should develop our aerobic capacity to the fullest extent. I do think it's good to occasionally go really hard but the bread and butter of an ultra training program (and Ironman training program, too) should be aerobic. It benefits us on race day, it's conducive to fat burning, it helps prevent injury, and it helps avoid fatigue. Thanks also for the mention. Keep up the great work. Look forward to running a few miles on the trail soon.