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The Maffetone Method for Running: How Slowing Down Will Make You Faster.

Below is a post from a Runner’s World Forum. I would like to put into my own words the benefit of this training philosophy and how it works, but here is a short piece to read first. Mine will follow soon!

The idea is to learn how to run the majority of your runs at a truly easy pace based on your heart rate. Phil Maffetone is would class running coach and has proven time and time again that this works with numerous elite athletes. Learn to run at a heart rate of 180 minus your age. For example, a thirty five year old would be running the majority of runs at a 145 BPM pace. Here’s the Post!

A user posted his positive experience using the Maffetone method after a bunch of users who have never tried it criticized the method…


The common misconceptions about the Maffetone method are:
–it’s about running slow
–it doesn’t include anaerobic training
–there is no room for adjustment, the formula is strict
The first and foremost idea that Maffetone pushes in his books is the maintenance of health. There is a difference between health and fitness. A runner can be fit enough to run a PR marathon, but it doesn’t mean he or she is healthy. My experience on the many running forums on the web, and in my running club, is that there are many runners who are nursing one injury or another, getting sick down the stretch before a goal race, not improving, and hitting the wall and slowing down in marathons. They are running themselves into the ground trying to get better. Maffetone is trying to play his part in changing the no pain, no gain mentality.
His method is not about running slow, but about getting faster and faster at a heart rate where you are using more fat than glycogen as fuel. Running at a low heart rate has less impact, produces little lactic acid, and if the athlete doesn’t overdo it in terms of time on feet, stress hormones like cortisol are greatly reduced. According to Mark Allen, when he first used the 180-age formula, it slowed his training during a four month base period down to 8:00 miles. He was used to training at a near 5:00 pace. ..reference:http://www.markallenonline.com/heartrate.asp
At the end of the period, his time at that heart rate improved by a minute. After a year of mostly aerobic training and very little anaerobic work, he improved his time to 5:20 at the 180-age heart rate (155).
He no longer felt unhealthy.
My own experience is similar. Improving at this heart rate improves race times across the board. I knocked twenty three minutes off my marathon time, and 8 minutes off my half marathon time. My 5k times also improved. Best of all, all minor injuries disappeared. I was no longer cranky, and never felt overtrained or sick.
Maffetone’s method is not so much centered around the 180 formula as it is what he calls the Maximal Aerobic Function test, or MAF test. This is a 3-5 mile test performed at the calculated heart of 180-age, plus or minus any adjustments. It must be said that Maffetone’s definiton of aerobic is processing oxygen using predominantly fat (a function of the slow-twitch fibers). The purpose of the MAF test is to monitor aerobic progress. If your tests are getting faster, then that usually means what you are doing is beneficial to the aerobic system. If they are getting worse or on an abnormal plateau, that usually means that something is impeding your aerobic system. He writes about how some of his athletes have had a period of unusual stress from family or work, and there MAF tests start regressing. Often he would prescribe less time on the feet, and the tests would start improving again. Life and running stresses all add up. On a personal basis, I have found the tests to be an invaluable tool of keeping tabs on the system. My MAF tests always regress by the end of a racing season. I have also seen regression during highly stressful times in my life. When I reduced my running load, they’d improve again.
Maffetone does not exclude anaerobic training from his method. He does say that in his experience that not very much is needed, and that he found no difference in anaerobic improvement from someone running intervals at 90% MHR or someone running at 95% MHR. He would suggest just doing intervals at 90% since they are less of an impact. If you choose to do them any harder, then keep track of the MAF test. He also found that 4-8 weeks was enough, depending on the athlete, any more and the MAF tests would start to regress. The MAF test is the key to the program.
Again, all these things tie into the idea that an athlete should be healthy before being fit.
He talks about adjustments to the formula. If someone with a low MHR is not improving at the 180-age, then the number should be lowered. He also has adjustments for having been injured, people on medication, etc.
One of the most important changes I made to my training on Maffetone’s suggestion is running by duration and not distance. Before I came to the method, I was putting in 60-90 miles per week through the year. This added up to 12-14 hours on my feet. I reduced my schedule to two 90-minute runs and one 2 to 2.5 hour, with 45 minute recovery runs on the days in between. My mileage went down to 40-60 miles and 6-8.5 hours per week. I believe that two hours on your feet is two hours on your feet no matter who you are. An elite might be able to get twenty two miles in that time at an easy pace, and I can only get thirteen, but it is the same impact. My marathon time improved not doing any run over 16 miles. That’s all I could get in in two and a half hours at my peak.
Mark Allen used the method in a rebuilding year, and then for base training on a yearly basis. He also did speed training, but not during the base period.
My experience thus far is that it works just as he says. I have experienced greater health. I spend less time running. I have not experienced a wall in a marathon in three years, and my times keep improving. Less than before, but still improving.
the first year was tough, as running so slow at first sucked, but it paid off. I got much faster as promised.
It’s not a perfect system, as I know perfection doesn’t exist. Most of it is based on Maffetone’s experience rather than scientific studies. It might not be for everyone, but I believe health is for everyone, and this is one way to stay healthy and improve at the same time. If you find that you are always coming down with an injury, hitting the wall, or feeling tired most of the time. I suggest you give it

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