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The Maffetone Formula

Who and Why Maffetone?

Dr Maffetone is famous for training many of the world's best endurance athletes and using the Maffetone formula has helped many people to reach their maximum potential in endurance events. Let's start by asking the simple question:

What is the purpose of the long run?

1. Conditioning - Your legs deal with a great amount of impact every time they hit the ground which causes muscle damage. 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. It doesn't matter how big your engine is, if your legs are internally bleeding and your chassis is collapsing at the 18 mile point, your marathon PB is going out of the window. The long run should also be 'specific', for example, downhill running causes greater damage than flat running and carrying a 'pack' adds extra weight and further damage. If you're training for a mountain running event, running a flat route without your pack isn't specific enough.

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 events. We are more likely to use fat as a fuel source at lower intensities, as we exercise harder, we switch to carbohydrates as a preferred fuel.

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.

If you look at all of the 3 points above, the slower you run, the more you achieve each objective. If you run at a slower pace, you can run for longer and spend more time on your feet, use more fat and become mentally adapted to long periods of time.  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. The most common 'long run error' is people running too hard and as a result, they struggle to complete the full distance. Worse still, they can't walk for the next 3 days and miss out on other critical sessions.

So how slow should I run?

It's very common for endurance athletes to get the 'training zone' thing very wrong, they drift ino the habit of doing easy stuff too hard and then the hard stuff is too easy, we posted a blog about this LAST WEEK HERE.

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 12-24 hours, when a normal 3 hours run will leave then tired for the next 48 hours. The answer is simple, you can slow down, you can even walk.... 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. IMPORTANT - Most people give us on Maff as they feel the pace is too easy and they get frustrated as they are not working their aerobic system hard enough. It's important that you understand, working the aerobic system hard is NOT an objective of the long run. There should be other sessions in the week which tax your system considerably more than the long run. Stop believing that everything has to feel hard!

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.

Practicalities of Maff:

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.

On the negaive side, if you only use Maffetone to guide your running, you can become incredibly slow. Lots of ultra runners use Maff and whilst they have great endurance, their pace is very slow. As per previous blogs we have written, speed is generally the limiting factor for most amateur runners. Make yourself quick and then use Maffetone to add the durability over long distances.

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.

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.

Regards
Marc Laithwaite
The Endurance Store



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