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The Long Run Part 1 - Back to Maffetone

Nutrition Articles

Another winter of training looms ahead and it's time to go back to base. Some of you will have entered a trail ultra race for 2017, others may be doing a marathon and others Ironman triathlon. Irrelevant of the endurance challenge which faces you in 2017, 3 of the most common questions that every runner asks is:

1. How long should the long run be?
2. When should I be starting?
3. How many of them should I do?

When training for marathons in the past, I've struggled with long runs. After 18 miles, if often took several days to recover and I generally never went past that distance, which is still 8 miles short, or another third of the full marathon 26. When I took part in ultra events, I found that even more difficult. If running 18 miles requires a few days to recover, how do I even start to prepare for a 50 mile event?

Over the next 3 weeks, we're going to cover each of the 3 questions above and leave you in no doubt about planning you long run training for 2017 success. In part 1, I'm going to return to one of my favourite subjects... Maffetone.

Who and Why Maffetone?

Dr Maffetone is famous for training many of the world's best endurance athletes and using Maffetone in recent years has helped me a great deal. Let's start by asking the simple question, why do we do a long run?

1. Conditioning - Your legs deal with a great amount of impact every time they hit the ground which causes muscle damage. In turn, this muscle damage will slow you down. One of the key problems I have suffered in the past is painful tightening of the hips and groin and by the end of a long run, feeling as though I am unable to stride naturally. The only way to stop this breakdown and general wear and tear, is to spend 'time on your feet' so your body becomes accustomed to repeated movements and foot strikes.

2. Metabolic Adaptation - Your muscle fibres will adapt and more closely resemble the 'slow twitch variety'. One of the key changes is the ability to use fat as a fuel source and also to use less energy overall. These combined changes mean that you are less likely to run out of carbohydrate during longer distance exercise.

3. Mental Adaptation - If you enter an ultra running race and it's likely to be 12 hours in length, that's a long time to keep moving forwards. If your longest run is generally never more than 3 hours, you can be sure that by the time you reach 6 hours in the race and realise that you're only half way.... it's going to be difficult to remain in a positive frame of mind for the remainder of the race.

4. It's One Session - It's important to remember at this point that the long run is only a single session from your weekly training. If you wake up the next morning and can't exercise, or you feel very tired for several days, you ran too hard. Every day is important, so the long run should be completed at a pace which allows quick recovery.

If you look at all of the 4 points above, the slower you run, the more you hit each objective. If you run at a slower pace, you can run for longer, use more fat, become mentally adapted to long periods of time and still train the next day. In particular, those people who are struggling to get up to 'target distance', whether that's 20 miles for marathon training or beyond for ultra, you probably just need to slow down.

So how slow should I run?

It's very common for endurance athletes to get the 'training zone' thing very wrong. The key thing to remember is that variation is critical, so easy sessions should be easy and high intensity/interval sessions should be hard. Many athletes tend to drift into the middle ground where all the training is done at a very similar intensity.

It's far more common for athletes to run 'too quickly' on long runs, it's very rare that they are running too slow. Most runners have a 'Sunday pace' which they naturally 'slip into' and this is generally a bit too quick. A run of 16-18 miles often leaves them tired for a couple of days and going further than 18 can often require a great deal of recovery. Marathon runners stepping up to Ultra struggle a great deal with this concept. They can't calculate how they can run for 12 hours, when a normal 3 hours run will leave then tired for the next 48 hours. The answer is simple, you can slow down.... it's ok.

It is very hard to break the habit as our Sunday run pace is hard ingrained in our brains. It's our natural and comfortable 'steady running pace'. Try and run a little slower and you'll soon find, unless you are concentrating, that you'll just drift back to Sunday pace that you are accustomed to.

What is the Maffetone Formula?

Maffetone formula was made famous by Mark Allen who won the famous Iron War with Dave Scott in 1989. Allen had repeatedly failed to beat Dave Scott, always running out of fuel in the marathon stage. He turned to Maffetone who revolutionised his training, with the principal aim of enhancing fat burning to make him a more effective runner. Maffetone employs a maximum aerobic heart rate above which you cannot exercise.

It's a simple formula to use as it gives you a target heart rate figure. Initially, athletes find it very frustrating as they will be running very slowly and may even have to walk, but over time there are large benefits to be had as the base aerobic system improves.

What's the Forumla?

1. Subtract your age from 180.

2. Modify this number by selecting among the following categories the one that best matches your fitness and health profile:

1. If you are injured, have regressed in training or competition, get more than two colds or bouts of flu per year, have allergies or asthma, or if you have been inconsistent or are just getting back into training, subtract an additional 5.

2. If you have been training consistently (at least four times weekly) for up to two years without any of the problems just mentioned, keep the number (180–age) the same.
3. If you have been training for more than two years without any of the problems listed above, and have made progress in competition without injury, add 5.

For example, if you are thirty years old and fit into category 1, you get the following: 180–30=150. Then 150–5=145 beats per minute (bpm). If it is difficult to decide which of two groups best fits you, choose the group or outcome that results in the lower heart rate. In athletes who are taking medication that may affect their heart rate, those who wear a pacemaker, or those who have special circumstances not discussed here, further individualization with the help of a healthcare practitioner or other specialist familiar with your circumstance and knowledgeable in endurance sports may be necessary.

Once a maximum aerobic heart rate is found, a training range from this heart rate to 10 beats below could be used as a training range. For example, if an athlete’s maximum aerobic heart rate is determined to be 145, that person’s aerobic training zone would be 135 to 145 bpm.


You may find the run pace very slow and frustrating, if so, then you should take this as a positive, your base is very poor and you therefore have plenty of improvement to make. You may find that you have to walk on hills to stay within your target zone. All of your easy mileage running should be done in the Maff Training Zone to maximise your volume. Your harder / interval sessions should be done at much higher intensities. It's likely that by using Maff for your easy mileage, you will have more energy for the harder sessions, so the quality will improve.

It's early enough in the year to try new things, so get yourself a heart rate monitor and try Maffetone in this coming week.

What's next week?

In part 2 next week, we'll look at how far the longest run should be, how far you should be running now and when should you be ramping up the distance for a spring or summer event. Make sure you tune in.

If you'd like a more accurate assessment of your personal strengths and weaknesses, you can book a sports science assessment. We can put together a plan which will be specific to you, the cost for sports science assessment is £80 and you can BOOK HERE.

Marc Laithwaite
The Endurance Store

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