Winter is a great time to spend “base” training for the upcoming season. If we break up the year into different periods of training, the base phase involves lower intensity workouts, which gradually increase in volume. We are building endurance and preparing our bodies to withstand the higher intensity phases to come. More specifically, I like to think about this phase as building my aerobic efficiency and stamina. I want to be a Honda Civic with the gas tank of a Hummer.
When I say aerobic, I mean the pathway in the body that directly converts fat into energy. This is important because everyone, including the elite athletes, have enough fat storage to run for days. When we push the pace and feel the burn in our quads, we are using a pathway that is converting sugar into energy, which is not sustainable over long periods. If you have ever hit “the wall,” you have experienced depletion of your sugar resources, forcing you to slow down to begin burning fat.
What if you could train your body to efficiently burn fat at your goal race pace? This concept is the basis of MAF (Maximum Aerobic Function) training, developed by Phil Maffetone. To keep things simple, the heart rate, which corresponds to an individual’s MAF pace, is 180-age. To strictly follow Maffetone’s training plan, one would train 100% of the time at this heart rate, never exceeding it. This would exclude interval and strength training.
While I don’t follow the rule 100% of the time, I do think the base phase is the time to consider it. More importantly, we can use the MAF Test to measure our progress. To perform the test, you need a heart rate monitor, watch, and a flat road or track. After a 15-20 minute warm up, run 3-5 miles at your MAF HR. Record your time for each mile. Your first mile time indicates your aerobic efficiency, while the spread between the first and final miles is an indicator of your aerobic stamina. You can use the first MAF mile to predict your race pace with online tables easily found with a Google search. In terms of stamina, while each mile should progressively get a little slower, we want to see a minimal spread. Do not be discouraged by your first MAF test! You will probably walk more than you anticipate. Repeat this test after a month of training at your MAF HR, and hopefully you will see big improvements!
More traditional training methods use heart rate zones to describe intensity levels. Your MAF HR correlates to Zone 2 (conversational pace), while your race pace is typically found in Zone 3 (a few words between breaths), and your interval pacing is Zone 4 (heavy breathing with one word responses). USAT recommends spending 80% of your training time in Zone 2 and 20% in Zone 4. Unfortunately, most people train close to their race pace in Zone 3, which limits the amount of progress one can make throughout the season. Instead, we want to spend the majority of our time maximizing our aerobic capacity, and supplement short, focused, high intensity sessions just beyond our race pace. Save Zone 3 for racing.
For more information about Phil Maffetone and his training methods, visit www.philmaffetone.com.