You might recognize this scenario of training hard for one or more races, then taking a break and having a tough time getting back into training because your fitness has gone 10 steps backwards. In this post I’ll describe how I lost most of my fitness in less than one year and what actions I’m taking to gain fitness back.
In April 2015 I ran a PR at the Boston marathon in 2:44. The months leading up to this race I consistently ran 6 days / 60 to 80 miles a week and I was in the best shape of my life. Fast forward 1 year and life has gotten in the way of my running, I became mostly a weekend runner with 15 – 20 miles a week, and my fitness level decreased quickly.
Positive running vibes in full effect!
How to lose most of your fitness in only 12 months!
After the Boston Marathon last April, my body was pretty beat and I took it very easy in May to avoid injuries. In June, Paul Sinclair and I ran pretty hard up and down Mt Whitney at 14,500 feet in 7 1/2 hours. Going into Mt Whitney, my body wasn’t fully recovered yet from Boston. The weeks following Mt Whitney my energy levels were low and I didn’t feel like running much.
The following months, over the summer of 2015, I ran about 3 to 4 times a week, in the 20 to 25 miles per week range. On the work front, several major changes happened in August; we sold our online stationery business and I went back to work in the corporate world as VP of Marketing and Innovation at Tillys. During the first 6 months, most of my office days were packed with meetings and nights were consumed by catching up on 200+ emails per day. I was often tired at night and only wanted to chill with my fam or go to sleep, not go for a run! From August 2015 until December I only ran on Saturday and Sunday, with a sporatic week day run at 6am or after 10pm.
One of the few weekend adventures, Mt Baldy, CA
In December 2015 we found out my wife was pregnant with our second child. She suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum (severe morning sickness), so I took care of my wife and daughter a lot more, which meant less runs! From August 2015 until April 2016 I’ve had to choose between my family / work and running, so I only ran an average of 60 to 80 miles a month, compared to 200 to 300+ miles per month prior to Boston.
That brings us to this month, May 2016. This has been the longest ‘break’ from training and racing that I’ve had in the past 3 years. My wife is feeling a bit better so I’m able to get some more runs in! Our baby is due early September, so 4 months left until the party starts again!
It’s so easy to compare yourself to your peak fitness level and beat yourself up about how slow you’ve become. During my peak in April 2015, a 20 mile runs at 6:45 min / mile pace felt like a piece of cake at 148HR. In the past few months I’ve been feeling tired even after just a few miles at 8 min / miles at 147HR. I’ve caught myself thinking several times: “This sucks, I want to be done, are we there yet?” This is the first time I’ve been experiencing this feeling. From early 2013 until April 2015 I’ve always improved my performance and this is the first time regressing. The hardest part after a break is accepting the new reality and training at your current fitness level!
4 miles into a mellow run and already out of energy, not happy (Dec 19, 2015)
Getting your mindset back in shape
One of the key take aways from my interview with 6 time Hawaii Ironman World Champion Mark Allen, was the importance of mental training, getting your mind in the right place during training and racing. Instead of being frustrated, I had to get my mind in a better place. One tool that has helped me a lot is the 5 minute journal and app. Every morning you take 5 minutes to write: ‘3 things I’m grateful for’ and ‘3 things that I will do to make today great.’ Every night you take 5 minutes to answer: ‘3 amazing things that happened today’ and ‘How could I have made today even better’. The 5 minute journal starts and ends your day to maintain positive thinking patterns.
Instead of thinking ‘I’m lazy and suck at running’, I’ve become much more grateful for the things around me, such as a healthy body that’s able to run, a second child on the way, a strong wife, a nice house, a great job at a solid company, etc. In the past few weeks my mindset has become much more positive. This past weekend after 5 miles at slow pace, I started having some difficulties; my legs were feeling heavy and my pace slowed down to about 8:30 min / miles at 147HR. Only 1 year ago I ran more than 2 minutes per mile faster at the same HR. Instead of comparing myself to peak times, I think about all the things I am grateful for. Also I think about the excitement of the journey to get back in shape again.
Setting a running goal
Setting a running goal gives you clear focus to train. In X amount of days you have a race coming up, so you better put in the training, or you’ll miss your goal and it’s going to be a miserable and painful experience!
In the past few years I’ve always set a running goal about 3 – 6 months out, a few of my goals were:
Our second daughter will be born early September 2016, so I have about 4 months to get back in shape, before focusing much more time on my family again. For me, there is something magical about running a sub 3 hour marathon, you have to be in good shape in order to run this. By the end of August 2016 I want to run a 2:57 marathon on low training mileage.
Creating a training plan
A training plan increases your chances to succeed in your race goal, however listening to your body and being flexible with your plan is key!
In the next 4 months I plan to run 40 to 45 miles max, spread out over 5 days, mostly early mornings and late nights:
Tuesday: 3 to 5 miles
Wednesday: 10 miles
Thursday: 3 to 5 miles
Saturday: MAF test on track = 8 miles
Sunday: Long run = 10 to 20 miles
For most weeks, all of my runs will be aerobic in the HR zone of 137 – 147 bpm, sometimes lower. Occasionally I will add some speedwork or hills. This is also how I trained for my Boston Marathon: 94% of my total running time was aerobic, only 6% of my total running time was anaerobic with intervals and speedwork.
Enjoying the late night runs with Pretzel headlamp
Documenting training progress
One way to keep track of your training progress is by taking a MAF test on a running track: You warm up for 15 minutes, then run 5 miles at your Max Aerobic HR (to calculate this HR, visit Phil Maffetone’s site), then 1 mile cool down. For each of the 5 miles you note your mile times:
One week later, on May 7th, 2016, I improved 25 seconds over 5 miles in 37:46 = 7:33 min / mile average. This progress is very motivating because at the same heart rate, your running pace improves.
Note that not every week your aerobic pace will improve. There are a lot of variables involved that can make a difference in your MAF test times, such as your stress levels, hours of sleep the night before, your weight, outside temperature, etc. For the next 15 weeks, every Saturday at 6am I’ll run a MAF test and take note of all possible influential factors. All details will be posted on my Strava.
On 8/19/16, I want my last MAF test pace to be at or below 7 min / mile again. This should put me in a good position to run a 2:57 marathon on 08/24/16.
In the coming months I’ll be posting here on this blog, my Strava and Youtube about my findings while regaining fitness. I’ll also be diving further into nutrition, sauna training and my experience with Wim Hof breathing exercises and cold showers.
Few closing thoughts
It takes time and dedication to build up and maintain a high level of fitness. Sometimes you decide there are other priorities in life that require your time and energy. If you’ve lost some or most of your fitness, accepting your current fitness is an important step to minimize frustrations. Instead of thinking ‘I’m such a slow runner’ and ‘this takes so much more effort than before’, write down the things you’re grateful for, such as a healthy body that allows you to run, friends, family, etc.
Setting a (race) goal 3 to 6 months out and creating a realistic training plan should help get you back in shape. Document your progress by taking weekly or monthly MAF tests. Improvements don’t happen overnight so be patient. Last but not least, have fun!
Questions: what are some of the challenges that you’ve run into with your fitness, limited training time and motivation? What are you doing to overcome these challenges? Please let me know in the comments.
Mt Whitney has been on my bucket list for 2 years now, ever since I got really into trail running. With a summit of 14505 feet (4421 meters) it’s highest summit in the contiguous United States and the Sierra Nevada. On June 17, 2015 Paul Sinclair and I made this epic trip happen. Here are the Strava details and below is a little recap of our adventure:
We wanted to run as much as possible so we decided to take the main Mt Whitney Trail, instead of the steeper Mountaineer Route or East Face Routes. The main trail is an 11 mile path to the summit. It starts at 8,360 ft and ends at 14,505 ft. The total elevation gain is 6,137 ft which is not that much, the hardest part for us would be running at high altitude and dealing with melting water and ice above 11k ft.
We wanted to enjoy the day and not kill ourself, so we decided to keep our heart rate below 150 bpm. The first 4 miles were pretty runnable with about 500 ft climbs per mile at a pace of 14 – 17 min / mile. Then a lot of melting water covered the trail, followed by ice and less oxygen in the air so we had to slow down. We made it to the top in about 4 hours, chilled and ate some lunch for 40 minutes, then ran down in about 3 1/2 hours.
I highly recommend anyone in the area to plan your own trip to Mt Whitney. To plan your own trip, the most detailed info about Mt Whitney can be found on theTimberline Trailswebsite. Make sure you buy a $15 permit a few months in advance or get lucky the day prior at the Visitor Center in Lone Pine.
A few years ago when I first started with Heart Rate Monitor training, I found out that 6 time Hawaii Ironman World Champion Mark Allen was able to run a 5:20 min mile pace aerobic, at a heart rate of only 155 beats per minute.
This blew my mind and inspired me to change my approach to training and racing in the years to come. Mark Allen has worked very close with Dr. Phil Maffetone, one of my other favorite authors and coaches. I really look up to Mark’s accomplishments with 66 career victories in 96 starts, he is arguably the most successful triathlete in the history of the sport. He was voted “The Greatest Endurance Athlete of All Time” in a worldwide poll by ESPN.
Mark Allen wins his 6th Ironman Triathlon World Championship in Kona, Hawaii in 1995. Source: markallencoaching.com
I’m always very curious how top performers approach training and racing, especially if it’s in line with my own approach of training smarter, not harder, training with a heart rate monitor, improving your aerobic base and your fat burning abilities, working on the connection between your body and your mind, and much more.
Recently I sat down with Mark to dive into a variety of these subjects:
• Mark’s first introduction to heart rate monitor training [2:12]
• Seeing progression to a faster aerobic pace [3:00]
• What is a fit soul is and how can athletes work on this? [5:49]
• There is no perfect race, but you can race perfectly [10:40]
• How to stay motivated to keep trying to win Ironman Hawaii after 6 defeats [11:40]
• The battle to win first Ironman Hawaii in 1989 [13:24]
• The ability to quiet your mind [18:25]
• Switch in training from always hard to heart rate monitor [21:10]
• Developing your fat burning aerobic engine [22:45]
• Speedwork for different types of athletes [25:56] + [30:20]
• Recommendations for strength training [28:06]
• How to best spread workouts during your week? [32:45]
• Mark Allen Coaching Programs [35:32]
• Fit Soul Fit Body book and workshops [37:30]
• Art of Competition book [38:00]
• Advice for athletes looking to improve their performance [39:47]
FG: Hello, I’m Floris Gierman and I’m super stoked because today I’m going to be interviewing Mark Allen. He’s a 6 time Hawaii Ironman World Champion and he was named the greatest triathlete of all times by Triathlete magazine. In 1997, Outside Magazine also named him the world fittest man, so he was, and still is, a very fit athlete.
For those of you who aren’t that familiar with Ironman distances, it’s a swim of 2.4 miles (3.8km), a bike ride of 110 miles (180km) and a marathon run, so 26.2 miles (42.2k). The distance of the event, combined with the very hot and windy conditions, make this one of the toughest single day athletic events in the world.
Mark has worked very closely with one of my other favorites, Dr. Phil Maffetone. In this video, Mark and I will dive into 3 different areas. We talk about training your mind, training your body and we’ll also touch base about Mark’s seminars, couching programs and his latest books, so lets jump right in. I hope you enjoy it!
FG: Is this your office in Santa Cruz?
MA:Yes, it is. Where are you located?
FG:I’m located in Costa Mesa, California, so we’re not that far apart.
FG: I’m very excited first of all to have you on the show today. I first found out about your training approach from Dr. Phil Maffetone. There was a podcast about heart rate monitor training and he mentioned several athletes that he had worked with including yourself. When I first started training with a heart rate monitor I had to slow down my pace to about 9 min / mile to stay aerobic. What stood out to me, was that during your peak, you were able to run a pace of 5 minute 20 seconds per mile at an aerobic heart rate of 155. That honestly blew my mind and it motivated me to try this HRM approach, so thank you for the motivation and inspiration right there.
[2:12] MA: When I started, the first time Phil Maffetone took me to the track and had me put on a heart rate monitor, we timed a couple of miles, my pace was 8:45 min / mile. So I started almost at the same point you did when you put yours on that first time. It was a shock, because at the time I had been trying to go most of my runs under 5:30 min / mile pace, 5:15 – 5:10 even for a quarter mile, that was just the mentality back in the early 80’s, to go hard all the time. Clearly that was going to be a shift if I was going to follow that, it took patience, but in the end it did become one of the main ways of training that enabled me to actually keep progressing and get faster every year all the way through my 15 year career.
[3:00] FG: How long did that take you from running 8:45 pace to faster, how fast did you see a progression there?
MA: I got faster very consistently for about 3 years and then the very top speed slowed down. At some point you’re not going to get any faster. After about 3 years at the end of the season I was able to run 5:30 – 5:45 pace at 155 beats per minute. What continued to change over time was, some years I would get faster to almost a 5:20 min / mile aerobic pace. What did change is that the fall off from mile to mile became less over time. You might do your first mile on the track at 5:30 pace, then the next mile at 5:45, then 6:00, then 6:10, something like that. Over time that fall off became very small, so I could run 2, 3 or 4 miles and the fall off would only be 10 seconds total, so you start at 5:30, and by the 3rd mile you’re still running 5:35 – 5:40. There are different levels of fitness, there is speed and there is the ability to hold speed over time.
[4:23] FG I recognize the exact same thing of what you’re saying. When I first started with heart rate monitor training, my drop was pretty significant there as well. Mile after mile was sometimes a 30 second difference in pace with the same heart rate. One of my last MAF tests that I recently did before I ran the Boston Marathon was 6:12 average pace and that was just a few seconds difference each mile.
MA: That’s great
FG: Yes that made a lot of difference for sure.
FG: I wanted to jump into 3 different subjects in this conversation. The first is training your mind based on one of your books that I’ve read, the second is training your body and the third about the training program at markallencoaching.com that you’re currently working on. Does that sound ok to you?
MA: Yes, perfect
[5:18] FG: Perfect. I read your book Fit Soul, Fit Body and I’ve been absolutely fascinated by how you approached your training in more of a holistic way. Over the years you’ve worked closely together with Brant Secunda, he is a world renowned shaman, healer and a teacher in Mexico. In the book you explain that having a fit body is very important, but having a fit soul is important to reach happiness, fulfillment and inner piece. Can you explain what a fit soul is and how can athletes work on this in their training and racing?
[5:49] MA That’s a great question. We all know what a fit body is. When you’re going faster and you’re feeling better and you’re stronger, you have less body fat. Those are the measurable markers that means you’re getting a fit body. A fit soul is more what’s going on in your internal landscape with your internal character. Are you focused on fear or doubt, or anger, or jealousy even. Or are you focused on positive qualities like feeling peaceful in the middle of whatever is going on, or are you able to quiet your mind when the challenges get tough and that voice starts to go off in your head that’s telling you “now it’s not worth it, I can’t do it, I should have never started this sport”
FG: Haha, yes we all know that voice!
MA: To be able to quiet your mind in those moments, is what enables you the get passed them and get through them quicker and that is what is having a fit soul. Also having a fit soul is really starting with a trust in life itself. A lot of times, it’s easier to set goals and feel like, “ok, if I can achieve that goal then I’ll be happy” or “if I can win an Iron Man, then my life will be worth living”. In 1989 was the first year I made a connection with Brant Secunda, then that whole dynamic shifted around and through studying with him, studying Huichol shamanism, which is what he teaches I saw that the real starting point is to have a true trust in life. That things are always going to work out they are suppose to, that I may not necessarily always be easy, but if you stay connected to that sense that everything really is in the right place in the right time, even if in the moment you don’t understand it, then you have this amazing trusting power that enables you to work at your best level.
At all times, whether it’s at an athletic event, or in your job or dealing with relationships, and that was a key switch in how I focused. To go into an Ironman feeling like “you know what, I’m the luckiest guy in the planet, because look what I get to do today” It’s not going to be easy, I know that, it will never go 100% the way I want but I have this chance to truly live and express a gratitude for being alive! That’s having a fit soul also, is having a real gratitude to having another day on this planet.
Even with all the problems, some days it’s hard to feel like gratitude. When I have a tough day that it seems like nothing is going right, I just stop for a second and say, ok what is one thing that I’m very thankful for right now. That totally shifts your focus and your mindset, and all of a sudden, you feel like you’re able to grasp the answers to how to manage all the things going on. That’s really important in an endurance event like an Ironman, because there are a thousand moments where you want to quit. There are a thousand moments you feel like you’re never going to have the day you had hoped for, but if you can have that trust in life and it brings you back to a center point that enables you to stay fully engaged in the moment at the end. That really is where your energy needs to be in an event like that. Take that next step, take that next peddle stroke, get to the next aid station. Look around and see this amazing place in nature that you’re able to compete in this event. That’s another element of having a fit soul, is to get outside, look around, see the flower, see the trees, smell the air, see a sunrise, see a sunset, swim in the ocean, run on a trail, look around and feel the gratitude. That’s a lot of what Brant thought me to do.
[9:50] FG: That’s really good to hear. Going on about what you mentioned earlier. One of the things that I’ve noticed that one of my running coaches Jimmy Dean actually thought me was that going into a race, know in advance that the race is never going to be perfect, there are always going to be obstacles. For one of my first races that I tried to run a sub 3 hour marathon, I was very nervous and focused, all of a sudden the race started 25 minutes late, because the course wasn’t ready yet, it was the Long Beach marathon. Then my Heart Rate Monitor broke. There were all these things that could completely mess with my mind, but knowing going into that race that it was going to be ok, you’ve trained hard for it, now it’s a matter of executing and staying calm, that right there helped significantly.
[10:40] MA: I always tell my athletes that I coach that there is no perfect race, but you can race perfectly. That’s a big shift in how you approach it and that’s exactly what you were talking about. The heart rate strap breaks, the race is delayed twenty minutes. Just managing it and dealing with everything that comes up in a very calm way as supposed to freaking out about it, that is racing perfectly.
[11:08] FG: That’s good to hear. Following up on your Ironman success, I’ve already mentioned some of the successes that you’ve had in the intro of this video. From 1982 to 1988 you placed you placed in the top 5 of the Ironman World Championship in Kona many times, then from 1989 to 1995 you won this race 6 times in total. How were you able to get the strength and motivation to keep trying to win this race after years of coming in 2nd, 3rd or 5th place?
[11:40] MA: The first six years that I was doing those Ironmans I was trying to win, clearly, I kept going back because I felt like I had the potential to win and eventually that focus changed to just trying to have my best race. I thought, you know what, I’ve come in 2nd, 3rd, 5th, I’ve been in the lead early, I’ve been in the lead in the middle of the race, even up towards the end, but I’ve never been able to put it together and come across the finish line first. But more importantly, I felt like I had fallen apart towards the end of any one of those Ironmans. There was this desire inside to go back until I actually had my best race and that was really my focus in 1989, my 7th Ironman. To just go there and see if I could pace it correctly, that I could prepare correctly so that I could go there and have a peaceful mindset in the event. To deal with, and manage, the difficult moments a little bit easier and smoother and see if I could have a really steady race all the way through. That ended up being one of the most amazing Ironmans of my career. I ended up racing side by side with Dave Scott until hour 8 and was able to pull away on the last uphill. More importantly, there was a moment in the race on the marathon, we were half way through it and Dave dropped his pace down to 6 min / mile.
[13:08] FG: That’s unbelievable after all that.
[13:10] MA: Yeh, I kept waiting for him to back off and I realized “he’s not going to back off, he’s going to hold 6 minute pace”. Closing the last 13 miles of this marathon and it completely blew my mind because nobody had done that before.
[13:22] FG: Not at that temperature either and that distance into the race.
[13:24] MA: Yeh, my mind was going nuts with stuff, it wasn’t helping much. It was so hard to stay with him that my mind went quiet. The instant my mind went quiet I remember this image that I had seen in a magazine 2 days prior for a workshop taking place in Mexico that Brant Secunda, adopted grandson of another shaman Don José, would be given in Mexico. In the ad they both had photos, they had this look in their face that was very peaceful and powerful, sort of like that sense that you’re happy just to be alive. In the moment my mind went quiet in the middle of that marathon Don’s face image came back to me and it was like I was seeing him just right there with me and I got this surge of strength. I was thinking, you know what, that old guy doesn’t need to win an Ironman to feel good about his life, he’s happy just to be alive. Suddenly, I looked around, and I was with Dave Scott, he was the best guy in the world in 1980, 1990, he won the race 6 times. Nobody else was giving the guy a run for his money, there was still 13 miles to go in the marathon, something might just change, and I just started to fill up with that trust in life and that gratitude. I was looking around going, wow, this is my office, the lava fields of Kona, how amazing is that! I got stronger and stronger from that point forward and then eventually being patient, being able to pull away on that last uphill, that was the move that stuck and I was able to win the first of six titles that year.
[15:06] FG: What I was most surprised by was when I see that moment in the race around mile 24 after you go past the aid station, you can see you guys are booking it, you’re going really fast, and still you’re able to pull away. But then if you look at the form between the two of you. In your eyes, you could see in your eyes it seemed you had already won, the way you were running at that point, even though it would have taken every little you left in your body, you were running very easy it looked like. It might come in there, the whole aerobic vs anaerobic, that you had been keeping some reserve for the end, that this time you did have the energy for the 6th hour, 7th hour and 8th hour that previously might have been missing. That was incredible to see.
[16:03] MA: I guess I’m a good actor, haha, because I did feel pretty good at that point, but it was very uncertain if I was going to be able to pull it off. I started pulling away from Dave, but he’s an incredible runner on the downhills, and when you get to the top of that last hill that we were going up, there is a long downhill on the other side and I just knew I had to get to the top before him otherwise he would be able to pull away from me. There was the thing inside that said, I have to make the race happen right here. If I wait until we get into town, he’s got it. I got to the top of the hill and I kept running, didn’t look back, I ran as fast as I could down the hill, hoping that my legs wouldn’t cramp, my quads wouldn’t cramp. I got to the bottom and then I looked back and I couldn’t see him, it was at that point that I knew I had him. I knew there was nothing that was going to happen and there was no way he was going to catch me. So I had about 1/2 a mile to really just saver it, knowing now all I had to do was finish it up. I came across the line and it was this amazing feeling of relief and complete ecstatic excitement of finally having that race I had hoped to have. Having it on Dave Scott’s best day ever at Kona, he broke his previous world record by almost 18 minutes and the difference in our times is only 58 seconds. I won, he was second, the real story of the day is what we were able to accomplish together. We pushed each other to this level that nobody had ever done before. Prior to that it seemed like Dave Scott was racing and everybody else was surviving. 1989 showed that you can have competitors racing each other to the very end of the event, it changed the mindset to how that race was approached.
[18:00] FG: So quieting the mind was a good thing in that race?
[18:02] MA: Absolutely!
[18:05] FG: I’ve been meditating for about 3 months now and I’ve notice many benefits in my performance and my personal life, with reduced stress, increased attention and really living more in the ‘now’. My question to you, do you meditate and if so, what form of meditation works well for you?
[18:25] MA: In Huichol Shamanism they don’t use the word meditate, but one of the main in that tradition is you’re trying to develop is the ability to quiet your mind. So at any point in the day, in anything you’re doing, you can try to find that quiet place. As an athlete for example, any training session that I was in, when I started to get into the part of the workout that it was starting to get tough, it’s starting to get long, I’m not starting to feel as good as I had hoped, that little voice starts to go off in my head, that’s when I’d try to pull everything back, that that one breath, ok, there is the quiet place, and then keep going again.
It just takes an instant to do it, the more you practice, the place you almost go with every breath that you take. I didn’t wait until the race to practice it. A lot of athletes don’t pay any attention to what’s going on with their thoughts, with their minds. It’s one thing to be quiet when nothing is going on and that’s a starting point of how to be quiet. You can meditate, you can watch a sunrise or a sunset, you can sit in the woods, watch the ocean, emerging yourself in nature is the easiest way to quiet yourself. Then start the translate that sensation, that feeling, into finding that place when you’re actually in motion, in action, that’s the real test. To see if you can do it when you’re in the tough moments, when things aren’t going the way you had hoped. When it’s not ideal, when you’re not sitting on your couch.
[20:15] MA: That’s why I love the Ironman, it really was a test of not only getting your body ready, but also of if you were able to develop that ability to find that quiet inside and utilize it during a race. Then you taped into this energy, this life force, that just gets blocked if you’re noisy or if you’re paying attention to fair, or if you’re worried, or have too much doubt.
[20:42] FG: I can totally see that. Then switching subjects to training your body. You came from a background in swimming with a lot of heavy workouts. That’s initially how you approached triathlon training as well with all your training at a very high heart rate. Can you explain how you used to train and how this changed after you started training with Dr. Phil Maffetone around 1984?
[21:10] MA: I started racing in 1982, I was 24, had been out of college for 2 years and I had a swimming background. I swam from when I was 10 until all the way when I finished university. Back in the 70’s and 80’s the coaches had us do hard workouts all the time, there was no aerobic easy stuff, just throw us in the pool, dream up the toughest workout they could come up with
[21:33] FG: Get to work! haha
[21:35] MA: Yeh and go as hard as you could, somebody is going to do well off it, better than others. I was very disciplined and did very lousy of it because I went too hard all the time. That was my framework of how I thought you had to train for everything, so when I started training for the triathlon in 1982, I did hard bike all the time, I did hard runs all the time. Sometimes I did have good results in those races, because you get a certain type of fitness out of that. Long term it was burning me out and I was getting some minor injury things that I’d have to take a few days off. After almost every race I ended up getting sick.
[22:20] When I finally met Phil and was introduced to that concept of developing that aerobic system, the fat burning system, which is low stress on the body as supposed to anaerobic high stress, all of a sudden I saw that my workouts were more steady and my race results were more steady. It took less time to recover after the races were done and it just clicked.
[22:42] FG: It was probably more pleasant than as well, right?
[22:45] MA: Yes, definitely pleasant. At the beginning I thought I don’t know if this is working, because whenever I’d come back from workouts, in the past I would be completely trashed. Now I’d come back and actually feel good. That was a shift in paradigm, a shift in mindset to realize that you can come back from a workout and actually feel better than when you left.
[23.12] FG: Yes, that was one of the biggest differences for me as well. Even though the first few months the whole patience thing was pretty tricky for me. Some of my other running buddies would run way faster than I would and I had to slow down because my heart rate monitor alarm would be going off. Over time as you get faster at your aerobic pace, that definitely gets easier.
[22:45] MA: Yes, with the guys I trained with at the time on the bike, every hill they would pull away and I’d catch them on the downhills and they’d pull away on the next hill and they’d say: “you’re not fun to train with anymore”. It definitely took patience, especially running since it’s weight bearing, your perceived effort at an aerobic effort if you don’t have a well developed aerobic system that pace can seem really slow and perceived effort can seem very low. Physiologically you’re stimulating the development of that fat burning aerobic engine. The bigger that is, the better you’re going to do in an endurance event. Physiologically any event that is over 4 minutes is technically endurance. So if your Ironman is going to take you less than 4 minutes, you’re not going to have to worry about developing your aerobic system. Obviously for a triathlete, cyclist, runner that aerobic system is what determines the size of your athletic engine.
[24:40] MA: Then if you fine tune it with the speedwork, which you definitely have to do if you want to race well, then you get these incredible results.
[24:50] FG: That brings up my next question. I’ve read Dr. Phil Maffetone’s books and I’ve spoken to him, now I’m talking to you after reading your materials. There are a lot of similarities, but I’ve also noticed a few differences. Where Dr. Phil Maffetone was saying a 3 to 6 months base building period, then eventually if you slow down in your progress, you add 1 to 2 times a week interval training of 15 to 30 minutes, only for about 3 to 4 weeks. Then back to aerobic exercise only. Then when I was looking at your advanced training programs, I saw a 6 to 12 week building period, then after than almost always 2 x a week speedwork. When an athlete is healthy and fit, is two times speedwork a week still good to help improve the body, or do some people already struggle with 2 x a week speedwork, that it’s just too much for their body?
[25:56] MA: It depends on your overall life stress. People who are younger can handle more speedwork than people who are older, they can absorb it. People who are younger can handle more weeks in a row of speedwork than somebody who is older. The reverse is true for developing your aerobic system, so somebody who is 20, 22, 24, they might sort of plateau aerobically in 1 or 2 months, but they can handle speedwork for 6, 8, 10, 12 weeks and still continue to absorb it. Somebody who is older, when they train aerobically, they might see that they continue to get faster and faster for 3, 4, 5 months without any kind of speedwork. Then they’ll plateau and add the speedwork but they might see they can only absorb that for 3, 4, 5 weeks, so part of it is age dependent.
At Mark Allen Coaching I take that into consideration, so I don’t give someone who is sixty the same number of weeks of speedwork as I would somebody of twenty.
[27:05] FG: That’s really good it’s all individualized that way.
FG: One thing about getting older, when you turned 33 you started noticing and some of your muscles becoming a little weaker so you started going to the gym to preserve muscle strength, to maximize your agility and your power. To be honest with you, I’ve been running 40 – 80 miles a week for the past 2 years and I haven’t done much strength training at all outside of some hill repeats and stairs. I know there are several other guys that I run with who do much strength training at all. What are your recommendations to implement this into someone’s training schedule, how many days a week works best, are you more into a lot of repeats with light weights or less repeats with heavier weights? I’m curious to hear your thoughts about strength training.
[28:06] MA: Like you said, I started implementing strength training around the time I was 33, because I saw that I didn’t matter how much I swam, biked or ran, that I just didn’t have the same snap and strength than in prior years. So I knew that it was time to add it in if I’m going to continue building my performance.
The program I suggest for endurance athletes is 2 days a week, doing a program that works all of the main muscle groups in the body. You can do that in 30 to 45 minutes, it doesn’t have to be long. I think it’s good to do slightly lower number of reps than a higher amount. If you do over 15 reps in a set, you’re generally having to lighten up the weight to a point that if you do 30 or 40 reps in a set, it doesn’t give you the same strength response that you get if you do a set of 8, 10, 12, 15 with a weight that challenges you by the end of that set. If you go more than that, you lighten the weight up and it starts to become more of an endurance stimulation than an strength stimulation.
Runners, cyclists and swimmers, we already do enough endurance work, we don’t need that if we get into the gym. So I think everybody over 35, everybody could benefit from 2 days a week, but especially once you hit your mid thirties and going forward from there. Without strength training I just don’t think you can truly maximize your performance.
[29:48] FG: It’s definitely something I’m going to be working on myself as well.
[29:58] FG: Then a question about speedwork, what are some of your favorite speed workouts for swimming, biking and running. For me personally for running, 400’s and 800’s I think are good, but I’m very curious to hear what your thoughts are.
[30:20] MA: When I race, one of the main workouts was 8 x 400’s with a half lab recovery in between. People would say, that’s not very much! Yes, I know, but if you do it right, it’s a very intense workout and it works that whole range of anaerobic… there is a bunch of different ranges in anaerobic, it’s not just all lumped into one thing. There is kinda like a lower, middle, upper part of your physiology that gets worked and 400’s will do that. At the first 400 you might not be able to get your heart rate up so high, but each one as you progress you keep going faster and you push it a little more, you can approach you max heart rate on that last one.
MA: Anyway, there is no magic formula for what’s the most ideal for cycling, running or swimming. When someone is doing anaerobic work, I recommend they don’t do more than 15 to 30 minutes of hard stuff, so the workout might take you an hour, hour and a half, but the amount that you’re going anaerobic, that you’re going above your max aerobic heart rate shouldn’t really exceed more than 15 to 30 minutes.
[31:30] FG: So there is the warm up, cool down, time in between sets.
[31:34] MA: Yes, you can do longer stuff, that’s not quiet as intense but still anaerobic, more like a traditional tempo style workout that is moderately anaerobic. That will help develop that sustainable speed that you need in a race. Then you also need to do true speed workouts, where at the end of the main set, you’re starting to approach your max heart rate. Running you’ll have to get a little higher to get the same results as cycling, and cycling a bit higher than swimming, but that’s the general theme of how I like to structure.
[32:10] FG: That’s very good information to know.
[32:15] FG: Most athletes have a very busy personal and work life and occasionally they have to miss a workout. I read that 20 minutes of aerobic activity a day already helps all the fat burning activity phycology ignited. For competitive athletes, do you feel that spreading out their workouts over 6 or 7 days is better than trying to fit everything into 4 or 5 longer days, or do you feel that 4 or 5 longer days if that works best for an athletes schedule, that could work as well?
[32:45] MA: That’s a good question. The key workout for a triathlete or a runner is their long endurance workout, your long run, your long bike, your long swim. That builds about 80% of what you’re going to need for the race, you get that in that one workout. Then the second workout that’s really key or critical is going to be that workout that’s a little bit faster pace and then eventually when you’re moving into the speed part of your training, that will transition into being your speed session. Then there is your third workout that I think is very key, it’s going to be your 2 strength sessions each week.
Anything you do above and beyond that, some medium length rides, medium length runs and recovery stuff, anything extra is only going to be beneficial if it’s not pushing your body over the edge. If you’re still needing more recovery and you’re still going out and working out and you’re really tired, you have a job and you’re getting up really early, to many times in the week to squeeze these workouts in, then they are not doing you any good. So you have to look at the benefits of the training vs the stress it puts on your body, or the stress it’s putting on your family, your work and your schedule. You figure that all out and ask yourself, is it really going to do anything for me, or is it going to exhaust me even more.
Then the second thing I’d like to have people keep in mind, is lets say you do 2 swims, 2 bikes and 2 runs in a week. It’s good to sort of spread them out so you only have 2 days off of training between any workouts in a sport. So let’s say you swim on Monday, then you take Tuesday, Wednesday off, it’s good to also swim again on Thursday if you can. Once you take 3 days off in a sport, your fitness starts to drop a little bit. So if you can fit in a workout, even if it is a 20 minute or 30 minute short session on that 3rd day, it will help to keep all that sport specific physiology active and going. That’s something else to keep in mind when you structure your week.
[35:06] FG: Are those 3 different types of fitness?
[35:10] MA: Yes
[35:12 ] FG: Ok. Then I wanted to jump into the 3rd subject and that would be what you’re currently working on, because that is very exciting as well. You’re currently coaching a variety of athletes from beginners to pros. Can you explain how you work together through your coaching and training program on markallencoaching.com ?
[35:32] MA: Yes. People go online and they answer questions about their current fitness, their past training history, their age, their main goal race they have coming up in the next whatever 10 to 20 weeks, or something like that. They also put down the days they want to do their key workouts and the number of workouts a week they’d like to do. I have a backend software that generates training plans based around all that information.
It’s really good because if you look, when people say, it’s not that customized, it is very customized, because there is no template, there is no schedule they’re getting shoved into thats the closest thing to what they’ve input. They actually get it based on what they want. They want to do their long run on Friday, they’re going to get that, they want Thursday’s off, they’re going to get that. Most coaches end up cutting and pasting anyway.
There are certain things that you just kind of have to do to get fit, so there are some similarities obviously between the different programs for people, but it’s customized for them. Then they also get unlimited email support, so anytime somebody has questions, they email me and I can write back with my thoughts of what’s going on.
[36:55] FG: They can move their days around as well?
[37:00] MA: Yes, they can move things around. I retooled all the programming over the past year and it’s finally worked very well now and we have plans for a lot of features that are going to be implemented in there for the clients in the next 6 months orso to make it really something nobody else has. I’ll just leave it with that!
[37:20] FG: Haha, I’ll definitely have to keep an eye on that! That’s exciting! Where can people find more about you and your work, your videos and your books?
[37:30] MA: Great question, thank you. The coaching is at markallencoaching.com, if you’re interested in more about the Fit Soul Fit Body, you can go to fitsoul-fitbody.com and there is information about the book that Brant and I wrote together and also upcoming workshops that we have. You can also always email us if you have any questions about the content in that book. There is also a book I came out with just about a year ago called The Art of Competition.
[38:00] FG: Yes, can you explain a little bit about that, because I saw the combination of quotes with photography from nature, it was beautiful.
[38:08] MA: The backbone of the book are 90 quotes that I wrote that bring a real though provoking look at competing and personal challenge, overcoming obstacles and achieving personal excellence. Each one of those quotes is paired with a photo from nature. I did that to give people more sort of that fit soul, fit body feel to the content within the book. There are 6 chapters that I wrote about change and fear, and what you do when you get stuck. The final chapter is called Art and it describes my book in Ironman victories, my first in 1989 and my last in 1995. How I was able to change something that could be just an athletic event into something I truly feel is art. Art is really when you go to that point of personal perfection, whatever level that is. You can see that book on art-of-competition.com and I have 2 versions, 1 is the standard edition, it’s hardback a coffee table book, and then there is a limited edition book available with only 600 copies in print, they’re all signed and numbered. There is a 48 page bonus section in the back where I expand on 24 of the main quotes in the body of the book. That comes in a boxed sleeve, that’s pretty cool, it’s a collectors piece.
[39:35] FG: That’s awesome, I’ll make sure to put a link to all these materials in the show notes as well.
[39:40] MA: Great, thank you.
[39:41] FG: Do you have any parting advice for athletes looking to improve their performance, any last advice on your mind?
[39:47] MA: The best advice I can give is be patient. Give yourself a timeline that’s realistic. Everything nowadays is happening at the speed of Twitter and our genetics were set up thousands of years ago so our bodies changes gradually, slowly over time. When we create those slow changes, those are the significant changes. Whether that is fitness or how we approach the world, or how our minds set so be patient, enjoy the process.
Hook into a community of people who try to focus on the same things as you are. It’s great to do this kind of work of training and changing yourself with other people. If you need help, reach out. There are a lot of people who have gone through the same things that you’re trying to attempt to do who can guide you. That’s what I know I like to do and it’s what Brant does at his work at shamanism.com. He has retreats all over the world. We just taught a Fit Soul Fit Body retreat at Kripalu institute in Massachusetts last weekend.
[40:48] FG: How did that go?
[40:51] MA: It was really great. We ran with the people. Brant did ceremonies. We discussed the nine keys that are in our book. A lot of people came who had no idea what to expect and they went away with a smile on their face.
[41:05] FG: That’s great, perfect. Thank you so much for taking the time. This was very helpful and I know that the readers from my website will really enjoy it as well. I want to wish you all the best with your coaching programs and training.
[41:19] MA: Great, thank you for having me on, I appreciate it.
This morning I ran the Boston Marathon for the first time, it was such an incredible and fun experience! There were 30k participants and 1 million spectators cheering along the course, there was so much positive energy!
I ran an 11 minute PR in a time of 2:44:15. Here is a little post about it. The first part is about my marathon preparation, the second part dives into the race specifics.
There are a lot of different advanced marathon training programs out there. Many of these programs include aerobic runs + 3 to 4 times a week intervals, hill repeats and speed-work, every week.
I approached my marathon preparation different than this. I’m a huge fan of Heart Rate Monitor training with lots of aerobic (low heart rate) miles, inspired by Dr. Phil Maffetone. I approached this marathon by training mostly (94% of my total running time) at a lower heart rate (138-148 bpm or sometimes lower). Occasionally I added intervals or speed-work at higher heart rate (6% total running time). I choose this 138-148 bpm HR zone by using the 180 formula and by doing a blood lactate test. For the intervals I’d run 8 x 800’s, mostly on the track, occasionally on hills since Boston is hilly. A few times times I added some speed-work to simulated running on tired legs, by running a 20 miler and increasing the pace to marathon pace or faster the last 5 miles.
Here is a breakdown of my weekly miles:
Jan 5 – 11
6h 38 min
Jan 12 – 18
7h 46 min
Jan 19 – 25
8h 7 min
jan 26 – Feb 1
6h 20 min
Feb 2 – 8
5h 59 min
Feb 9 – 15
8h 40 min
Feb 16 – 22
9h 21 min
Feb 23 – Mar 1
9h 3 min
Mar 2 – 8
12h 0 min
Mar 9 – 15
6h 55 min
Mar 16 – 22
10h 0 min
Mar 23 – 29
11h 20 min
Mar 30 – Apr 5
4h 10 min
Apri 6 – 12
6h 0 min
Apr 13 – 19
2h 31 min
114h 50 min
7h 22 min
A lot of people train at a heart rate and pace that’s much too high and fast for them, this causes a lot of stress on their body along with higher chances of injuries which slows down improvements. Although there is something to be said about getting familiar with a fast pace and race pace, you don’t need to kill yourself with a bunch of intervals, hill repeats and speed-work to become a faster runner. In my opinion slowing down your pace on most of your runs will make your runs more enjoyable and injury free, then over time you’ll become a faster runner.
A few other things I did:
From my previous running experience, I knew that 75 – 80 miles per week was the maximum amount of miles that my body could handle. I didn’t want to spend more time away from work and family. Also, more than 80 miles per week would cut into my sleep, so it would have minimal return for me with an increased injury risk.
Double runs and 2 hour runs max
A few months ago I started running doubles and really liked it, because it is much less taxing on your body than running higher miles at once. A few times a week I’d run 5 miles in the morning and 11 miles at night. The short morning runs kickstart your metabolism and give you alertness during the day. The evening runs felt easier because my legs and body were already feeling warmed up.
When I trained for my 100 mile run from Long Beach to San Diego, I ran many long training runs of 3, 5 or even 7+ hours. For these ultra training runs it was more important to have time on my feet than speed. I aimed to run the Boston marathon under 3 hours, my goal was sub 2:45. After interviewing Phil Maffetone, he advised to keep your longest marathon training runs at 2 to 2 1/2 hours max. Running longer than this significantly increases your chances of injuries, with minimal improvements. My longest training run was 20 miles in 2 hours and 14 minutes.
Since I started getting into running 2 years ago, I’ve been injury free, however I’ve experienced tight ankles and calves. I took a step back and realized that the muscles, ligaments and tendons in my feet and ankles were underdeveloped, even though I run 8 – 12 hours a week. Having strong feet and ankles is part of a strong foundation.
For the past 2 months I decided to walk around barefoot as much as possible. I work from home, so most of my days I’m not wearing shoes or socks, until I go running or leave the house. After just a few weeks I started feeling a positive difference. It helped reengage the weak muscles and improved mobility, stability and strength in my feet and ankles.
Rest and recovery
It might sound backwards, but we get more of our training benefits from the recovery phase than from actually training. If we don’t get that recovery, we aren’t going to allow our body to naturally progress. Even in peak running weeks of 80 miles per week, I’d still take 1 day a week off from running. If I’d feel very tired or not motived to run, I’d take 1 or 2 days off. It’s amazing to feel completely recharged again after a short break and after getting enough sleep.
I haven’t changed much nutrition wise these past months. I’ve continued to avoid eating processed food and refined sugars, with occasional exceptions for things like sushi, ramen, pizza and beer! I blend a lot of veggies in my Vitamix blender for daily veggie shakes.
MAF tests results + Blood Lactate Test results
Every month I track my running progress with a MAF test, you warm up 2 miles, then run 5 miles at your Max Aerobic Heart Rate (for me 148 bpm) and check your mile lap time:
5 miles average pace at max aerobic HR
8:21 min / mile
7:21 min / mile
6:54 min / mile
6:31 min / mile
6:17 min / mile
6:12 min / mile
During my taper I took a Blood Lactate Test for running and it confirmed the heart rate zone I wanted to target during my marathon, in particular the 157-162 zone:
LT (Lactate Threshold)
151 – 156 bpm
8.5 – 8.9 mph
AC (Advanced Conditioning)
157 – 162 bpm
9.0 – 9.6 mph
SST (Steady State Threshold)
163 – 165 bpm
9.7 – 9.8 mph
Once I go over 162 bpm (even just a few beats) I’ve noticed that my breathing gets heavier and I’m not able to maintain this HR and pace for a longer period of time.
My strategy going into the Boston Marathon
My last 2 races I started too fast and suffered a lot at the end, this was in both my 100 miler and my 1/2 marathon in Amsterdam. For race day, the temperatures were going to be mid forties with a 12mph headwind at the start that picked up to a 21 mph wind at the finish, with high changes of rain. That’s 26.2 miles running against hard wind, definitely tough race conditions.
Here is the race strategy for the Boston marathon I wrote down beforehand:
My plan is to hold back the first 1/2 of the race at 6:15-6:20 min / miles and not go over 156-159HR. I’ll still run the downhills pretty fast because my HR should be pretty low downhill. Then mile 13 – 21 I’ll not go over 160 HR (occasionally up to 165HR on the hills), this will hopefully leave me with enough energy left to finish the last 5 miles strong, with a HR in the 160-170 zone.
I qualified for the Boston marathon with a 2:55:05 and was in wave 1, corral 3, the start time was 10am. Here is how it all went down:
I prepared for a crowded start, this was indeed the case, not much I could do about this.
Mile 1 = 6:21 min / miles (warm up + people in the way, didn’t want to lose energy on zigzagging)
Mile 2 – 13 = had to hold myself back here, averaged about 6:10 min / mile. I ran on effort, not letting my HR go over 160 to keep energy in the tank for later. There was a lot of headwind, so I tried to stick to a pack of runners and never ran on my own in the open. This made a huge difference of 20-30 seconds / mile effort-wise.
Mile 13.1 = I ran the first 1/2 marathon in 1:20:59 and was feeling great.
Mile 13 – 16 = So many people in the crowd, this helped keep the stoke levels high!
Mile 16 = The Boston Hills, this is where the hard work started. I knew there were 4 hills in the next 5 miles, at mile 16, 17.5, 19 and 20. I slowed down the pace up the hills but not more than needed, my Heart Rate monitor was very helpful here so I wouldn’t go over 165 beats per minute. Although my pace slowed down to 6:47 min / mile at mile 21 (Heart Break Hill), it was ok because I had energy left to go fast the following miles.
Mile 22 – 25 I had energy left to pick up the pace to around 6:00 – 6:10. My legs started to feel so heavy and I started running out of energy.
Mile 25 – finish. My heart rate started to rise to 170+ and I knew I was in the red zone. Early on in mile 25 I started to see stars and bonking was near. I gave it one last push to cross the finish line and my legs pretty much gave out for a few seconds. A medic gave me an arm and walked with me for a bit. I checked my watch and it showed 2:44:15, I was so hyped!
Plans moving forward
Back to the trails!! I haven’t run many trails lately and definitely missed that a lot. Running fast on road is a lot of fun, but nothing beats a sunrise run with friends on a remote steep trail like the Santa Monica mountains, San Gabriel mountains or El Morro. In June I’m running up and down Mt Whitney with a few friends.
I’m also going to finish writing my first e-book “how to run a sub 3 hour marathon”.
A few days ago I had my second Blood Lactate Test with Gareth Thomas at TRIO sports science testing facility in Los Angeles. On Monday April 20, 2015 I’ll be running the Boston Marathon so to prepare for this I’ve been running a lot of miles these past few months.
The reason I took this Blood Lactate test was to get a scientific reading of my blood lactate levels at different Heart Rates. Lactate is constantly produced by the body. In rest and with light exercise, you only produce a small amount of lactate. During a blood lactate test for running, blood lactate samples are taken at gradually increasing intensities while running on a treadmill. As exercise intensity increases, your lactate production increases and reaches levels that are reflective of a loss of aerobic efficiency. In general, low levels of lactate are the sign of an efficient aerobic system.
Here are my test results from my test on 4/10/2015:
139 – 150 bpm
< 8.4 mph
LT (Lactate Threshold)
151 – 156 bpm
8.5 – 8.9 mph
AC (Advanced Conditioning)
157 – 162 bpm
9.0 – 9.6 mph
SST (Steady State Threshold)
163 – 165 bpm
9.7 – 9.8 mph
VO2 max development
9.9 mph +
* Soon after 9.8 mph (6.07 min mile) I start to lose aerobic efficiency shown by lactate rising more rapidly and going above 4 mmol.
Here are my test results from my test on 11/26/2013:
135 – 149 bpm
< 8.0 mph
LT (Lactate Threshold)
150 – 158 bpm
8.1 – 8.5 mph
AC (Advanced Conditioning)
159 – 168 bpm
8.6 – 9.2 mph
SST (Steady State Threshold)
169 – 172 bpm
9.3 – 9.5 mph
VO2 max development
9.6 mph +
* Soon after 9.3 mph (6.25 min mile) I start to lose aerobic efficiency, with lactate rising more rapidly and going above 4 mmol.
The data from my MAF tests and from my 1 LT test show some big differences:
On my LT test on 4/10/15 I hit 148 HR at a 8.3 mile / hour = 7.13 min / mile pace.
I noticed that during the LT test my Heart Rate would elevate much faster at slower pace than running outside on a track. A few possible reasons, I never run on a treadmill so it’s harder to get into a flow than running outside. My MAF test was at 53 fahrenheit early in the morning, vs 68 fahrenheit inside at 11am during the LT test. Also, my GPS watch might be slightly off on distance which might show faster pace than the treadmill pace.
For the Boston marathon I’ll be wearing my Garmin Heart Rate monitor. In training runs I’ve noticed that once my HR goes over 162 for a while (from Advanced Conditioning to Steady State Threshold), my breathing switches from 1 breath every 4 steps to 1 breath every 2 steps. Once this switch happens, I’m using a lot more energy and this is something I want to avoid until the last stages of the race.
I think a Blood lactate test is a great way to track your progress and to develop your own training plan from there with the input from the testing / training facility. If you’re located in Southern California, I can highly recommend Gareth at Trio or you can try to find a sports science laboratory near you.
I love photography and mountains. Today we joined forces with 20 of the best Snow photographers in the world. Our photo print shop Aika Collective now sells more than 300 epic Snow and Mountain photo prints on our website. I’ve been looking up to these guys for years and I’m stoked to welcome them to our Aika Collective Team. It’s 8.30am, I haven’t slept yet, time for bed now!
This week I got the opportunity to interview Dr. Phil Maffetone. In this video we cover the fundamentals of his approach to training, nutrition and recovery.
We also dive into very specific subjects, like learning how to listen to different signals from your body, why many doctors and the media recommend food that’s not good for you and how incredibly important rest and sleep is for a healthy athlete. I learned a lot of new things in this video and I hope you will as well, enjoy!
QUESTION OF THE WEEK: What’s the best running tip you’ve ever received or learned? Please let me know in the comments.
• Improvements after training with a Heart Rate Monitor [3:30]
• Why the 180 formula is preferred over the Lactate Threshold test [7:25]
• Adjusting your MAF training HR based on current fitness and health [10:52]
• Benefits of walking to build your aerobic system [13:48]
• Floris Gierman’s progress after training with HRM [15:55]
• The importance of listening to your body [18:08]
• Why many people feel the need to do intervals and speedwork [19:00]
• Training aerobically only and run a PR [21:08]
• Everyone’s training schedule is very individual [22:48]
• Why Dr. Phil Maffetone prefers time over miles [25:00]
• Avoiding processed cards and refined sugars [28:06]
• Bad recommendations from doctors and the media [31:55]
• Eating real food [34:50]
• Making your body and brain work together [37:25]
• The Five Minute Break [43:45]
• The importance of sleep for recovery [46:00]
• Dr. Phil Maffetone’s own daily routine [49:00]
• The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing [52:35]
• Articles on Dr. Phil Maffetone’s website [55:45]
Floris Gierman: Hello, my name is Floris Gierman located here in OC Cali, and today we have a very exciting interview coming up with Doctor Phil Maffetone. He’s an internationally recognized researcher, educator, and author, in many different fields including nutrition, exercise and sports medicine, and biofeedback. For more than 35 years he’s worked with athletes around the world, both on a professional and amateur level, and he’s written more than 20 different books; including one of my favorite ones over here, called “the big book of endurance training and racing”, and over here is one of his latest books, called “1:59, the sub 2 hour marathon is within reach” Today we’re going to discuss a variety of different subjects, including heart rate monitor training, nutrition, and also recovery. Some of the basic fundamental s will be discussed here, but we’ll also quickly dive in and looking at more specific details. Without further Adieu, here is Dr. Phil Maffetone.
Dr. Maffetone: Good morning.
FG: Good morning.
PM: Is Floris the way to pronounce your name?
FG: That is the correct way.
PM: And where is your name from?
FG: I’m from Holland. I’m from Amsterdam, I moved here about ten years ago, and where are you living at this point?
PM: I’m currently living in Arizona, I spend 1/2 the year here, and half in the Catskill Mountains of New York, my kids and grandkids are all there kind of in the area, so that’s a good reason to go there and get away from the warmer weather here, I’m in the mountains here, so it’s not that hot in the summer, but it’s warm enough.
FG: We’ll kind of dive right in here, I’ve been following your work for about 2 years now, after hearing about your work on the Trail Runner Nation Podcast for the first time with Don Freeman and Scott Warr.
PM: That’s always a fun one.
FG: Yeah it seems like you guys always have a blast on that one, and your podcast and articles and book made a really big impact on a lot of athletes, including myself. I’m sure you hear it all the time, but I want to start off with a big thank you for all your work that you put out there, it’s been a big help.
PM: Well thank you, your discipline and dedication is impressive to say the least, so keep up the good work.
FG: Thank you! I want to record this video today to share your knowledge with some of the people that are reading my blog, and my website, but I also want to explain to people the experience that I’ve had with your different approach to running, nutrition, and biofeedback. So there are three areas that I’d like to jump into today, the first one is the Heart Rate Monitor training to become a faster and healthier athlete, [The second] is the processed carbs, refined sugar and different healthy alternatives, and the third is the importance of rest, recovery, and training your brain. Does that sound ok to you?
PM: Sounds perfect.
FG: Let’s jump right in, so, your training approach is based upon building an aerobic bas first by using heart rate monitors, and by doing most of your runs at a relatively low heart rate. After you experimented with athletes, you came up with the 180 Formula to calculate and athletes maximum aerobic heart rate. Can you explain what you noticed when athletes first started training this way, and the improvements that they made over a long period of time?
PM: The first thing I noticed is that, in many cases, the training that they were doing and the training that I was doing, coming from track and field, was not a healthy form of training. There were high injury rates, fatigue, many athletes would drift into overtraining, which would lead to depression and one health problem after another. Essentially, what was happening was that their heart rates were creating fit athletes who were unhealthy, and who eventually fell apart. I was in healthcare to help people, my goal was to improve health, and so I thought that there had to be a better way. One of the first things that I noticed was that the 220 formula, which has been around for decades, was not a very good way to train, because it resulted in a higher heart rate.
FG: It would have you train at a way higher heart rate than you needed?
PM: I’ve seen 10, 15, even 20 beats per minute higher depending on how the individual figures out what their heart rate should be, based upon quite often nothing. And then I noticed that athletes who were running with a lower HR were running with a better gait. They looked better running. I got to the point where, if I was out for a run and if I saw some other runners, or if I was driving down the road and I saw runners, which unfortunately even today people are running on the road with lots of traffic, you could almost tell what their HR was. I applied that idea to the track, where I was starting to go every week with runners, and I’d look at runners, and I’d say, “well that runner looks like she’s running at a 145 pace,” and suddenly I was accurate when I stopped and looked at what their HRs were. The first thing that I noticed was gait, and I noticed the whole biomechanical issue was the main factor when a runner changed from being a lower HR aerobic to a higher HR anaerobic. That’s a significant finding, and when you look at the big picture of body mechanics when they start to falter, it’s a problem within a race, it’s a problem within the course of the season as your body becomes more stressed from training, and from health in some cases. Things start breaking down, and the end result is that runners are slower at the same HR, which is the opposite of what we want to do.
FG: There are a lot of different training techniques out there, even regarding HR monitors, you just touched base on the 220 max HR formula, and then another way to calculate the HR you should be running at, or at least the different zones, would be to go to a lab and they’ll do a Lactate Threshhold test, but even there, some of the outcomes are pretty different than with your 180 formula. I did for myself for example, I went to the lab, and actually the HR number 148 came out, and I did your 180 test, and the exact number 148 came out as well, so it was very similar, however, Paul, one of my friends, who’s 46 years old, and doesn’t have any medical conditions, he gets the number 134 [with the 180 formula]. When he goes to the lab he gets a zone from 136 to 154, so then my question is why is yours so much lower than the results given by the test, and why do you feel that the 180 formula makes more sense in that case?
PM: Well I spent a long time evaluating runners, mostly runners, back in the 70s into the 80s. the running boom had exploded, and most of the athletes that I saw were runners. I was looking at runners, looking at gait, evaluating health in various ways, what I did was calculate an HR based upon my evaluation. It really took 3, 4 years, to realize that this lengthy evaluation, which could take two hours on top of going to the track to evaluate gait and look at the HR in relation to that gait, it took a while to realize that there was probably a simple formula to come up with that would determine the same thing that I could determine in my clinic. That became known as the 180 formula, because you subtract the age from 180. What’s unique about it that we don’t rely upon the max HR to obtain that formula, instead I relied upon the health of the athlete, those who are healthier ended up with higher HR, and those who weren’t as healthy ended up with lower numbers. It relied upon fitness levels, it relied upon gait changes, but in the end the 180 formula always gave you a good gait, although gait was not so much involved in the process of determining the HR. It didn’t involve max HR, which has severe limitations in terms of accuracy, and I think most formulas out there rely on that max HR. What was most important for me was to look at that individual and come up with an individual number and base it on their level of health and their level of fitness.
FG: With the 180 formal you also take into account whether you’ve had two or more colds per year, you have to adjust you aerobic pace. For example, I have a two year old daughter, and regardless of me trying to live as healthy as I can, I’ve noticed that sometimes I’ll end up a bit sick just from her catching a cold and me being around her, as much as I try to avoid getting sick it can still happen in cases like this. I do notice that if I change my training zones a bit lower that my body is more in line.
PM: That’s a good observation, you know, even though you’re exposed to more viruses and bacteria and more potential infections the bottom line is still that your immune system is taking the brunt of it. As minor as you might consider them, they are still significant factors from a health standpoint. If on top of that, you put some running at a heart rate that’s a little bit higher than your body wants is that it’s an additional stress, and the issue with stress, be it mental, physical, emotional stress is that it’s cumulative. So, if you have a stress here, and a stress there, and you go for a run, even if it’s supposed to be a low stress thing and to help counter that stress, if the HR is too high, it’s actually adding another stressful even into your day, which isn’t a healthy thing to do.
FG: One other question, to do with the 180 formula as well, when people are a little bit older, for example are 50 or 60 years old like my parents, and they run somewhat irregularly, or don’t at least have that base of two years of consistent training, would they really have to be training at 180-60-5, which is an HR of almost 115, for them it’s often basically walking, with part of it as slow running. Do you still see improvements with this type of training?
PM: Sure, you do still see improvements, what a lot of people don’t understand is that most of the studies that show that exercise is healthy are done on people that are walking. Just going out for 20-30 minutes 3 or 4 days a week, which doesn’t sound like much to those of us who are working out a lot, tremendous benefits can be gained from that. Sure, they wouldn’t be able to run a marathon in under three hours, but that wouldn’t be their goal. When someone says, well I want to run a 10k, or a 5k, and build up my aerobic system, that relatively lo HR becomes a starting point, because that’s the level of their aerobic fitness. Unless they start at that level where their body can handle the workout, then building their aerobic system will never take place. The problem with a lot of runners, especially those coming into the sport later, at 30, 40, 50 years of age, but really, even a young person, they’ll start to progress, developing their body and then they’ll kinda jump or skip ahead. You know, it’s like being in first grade, second grade, third grade, and then saying, you know, I’ll jump ahead into high school, I don’t like these. It doesn’t work, because your brain and your body won’t envelop efficiently, and it puts your aerobic system at a deficit that it can never recover from. Then, when you start hitting 30, 40 years of age, your body makes some changes, one of the most evident ones being that we become more insulin resistant, and we start relying more on fat as a source of energy, or at least we should, but if we’re not able to at least produce that energy from fat, then we just stay in that slow category and that’s a reflection of the dietary component of the aerobic system.
FG: That’s a really good point, and just to go back on what you’re just saying that a lot of people are training at too high of an HR relative to what they should be training at, I’ve experienced this same thing myself while training for my first marathon a few years back. I was often training at an HR that was very high, even though I didn’t run with an HR monitor, I could notice that the signals from my body were indicating that I was very low on energy, when I was finished with a run, I would feel very tired and very hungry, in the afternoons I would have the hard energy dip and everything. When I first heard about your training method, it was pretty controversial compared to some of the things that were out there, but I thought to give it a try. One of the tests I did that you describe to measure your progress is the MAF test, where essentially you warm up for 15 minutes, and then on the track you run for 5 miles and you calculate once you’ve run it, your maximum aerobic HR, based on what your pace is. I did this about 18 moths ago, and at that point, my average MAF pace was about 8:21 per mile, and then, as I only started running aerobically, I was able to drop that pace in 1 month time by 38 seconds. So the next month, I ran the same MAF test at 7:43, and over time, by a combination of things, including increases in mileage and improving my nutrition, as well as steady training within the correct zones, I was able to shave off time almost every month, although sometimes after a race I noticed that progress stopped or went backwards a little bit, just because the body had more stress. It was crazy to see, this last weekend I did an aerobic test at an HR of 148, and I was able to hit 6:31 per mile.
PM: Wow, that’s great. You know, you’re very observant, and that’s a problem that many runners have is that they’re unaware of their body. For too many athletes it’s all about the workout, and there’s a big social component, and they don’t realize that their body is hurting, or maybe they do, but they won’t admit it. Being aware of your body, this is why I don’t like to see athletes listening to music or podcasts while they work out, there’s plenty of time to do that in the car or at home instead of turning on the TV. Listen to your body, and you’ve done that very well which is a very important thing.
FG: Some of your athletes have won races without doing any interval training or speed work, they trained only aerobically. To run fast, like in the half or full [marathon], or even a 50 miler, how important is the role of interval and speedwork? Why do so any people feel the need to do it?
PM: We have a “no pain no gain” society, and everyone thinks that more is better and that speed is important, you know what happened in the 60s and 70s when the running boom hit, there were very few coaches, and the need for coaches evolved from track and field, a lot of coaches came over from T&F, and started coaching 5/10k runners, marathoners, and eventually ultramarathoners, and with that they brought their approach to training which was intervals. How big of a role does it play, it plays a minor role, when you look at the marathon or other endurance sports, in the marathon its 98% aerobic system. If 98% of your effort is going to be generated by the aerobic system, why would you spend so much time doing anaerobic training, then it plays a relatively minor role? I’ve seen so manny athletes in all the endurance sports from 5k to ultras and the double ironman, and other longer events I’ve seen many many [athletes] who only did aerobic training and avoided speed work altogether, and they performed their best. In the early 80s I did a study where I had 223 runners that spent 3-6 months building aerobic base, with no lifting or anaerobic training whatsoever, and 76% ran a PR. These are experienced runners.
FG: So they already had the base going into it, not the aerobic base, but they already had the high volume of mileage.
PM: They had been training yeah, but many of them haven’t run a PR in years. Just ask around at a race, the thing is in the ultra scene it’s hard to relate to a PR, but in a 10k or a marathon, start asking people when the last time they ran a PR, the new runners will be running them more often, but with the experienced runners, many of them will say that it’s been years since they ran a PR 10k, 5k or marathon. That’s unfortunate, since the aerobic system doesn’t really peak until our 40s, and after that peak it doesn’t just drop off, it can stay pretty high, as we all know there are some great 45, 55, 65 year old endurance athletes who are beating a lot of 20 year olds.
FG: There’s a question about training volume that I want to dive into. Let’s say that someone is training for a marathon, an ultra, even a half marathon, and they want to peak at around 60-70 mpw, with your approach it’s mostly aerobic miles. Is there anything that you can say with regards to how you would diidid those 60-70 miles, I understand that you don’t recommend going much over 2 hours, since you don’t see much added benefit relative to the risks that you’re going to be having. Can you explain a little bit? Would you say to run 6-7 days a week, or would you say to combine long and short runs, or even 2 runs per day?
PM: It depends on the person, it really makes a difference if we’re talking about a professional runner who doesn’t have to work 5 days/week, if we’re talking about someone with a family, if they have a house that they need to take care of, if there are other social obligations. These things all should be looked at as part of your schedule, because they are part of your life and they influence your training, and they potentially create stress whether it’s good stress or bad stress, and usually it’s a combination. It depends on the individual, but you’re’ right, I’m not keen on going much over 2 hours, maybe 2.5 hours. If people need to better understand what it’s going to be like for say a 50 miler, or something that’s going to be a lot longer than 2.5 hours, they can add a half an hour of walking as a warmup and another half an hour of walking as a cool down. Now they’re up to 3-3.5 hours, and that should give them a much better sense of the time factor, because controlling time is just as important a factor in the longer races especially. I like to use time instead of miles because the brain relates to time better, and most people can run in a race about 3x what they normally perform in training, so if you can run for 2 hours in training, 6-7 hours in a race shouldn’t be a problem physiologically and mentally either. So, I think changing to time in your log, rather than mile sis a very important thing to do.
FG: So, even for an ultra, a 50 miler, you wouldn’t go any longer runs than 2.5 hours. You think that the walking for 30 mites before and afterwards would get you in a good enough preparation?
PM: For the average person yes, however, there have been situations. For example, I worked with Stu Middleman for many years, Stu had many american and world records in various ultra distances, and many of his races were on the track, so it was not unusual for Stu to do a 6 day race, where the whole race took place on a 400 meter track, or a 200 meter track. The world championships, I don’t know if they’re still in [France], which was an amazing event that I’ve been to a few times, full of spectators and the best runners in the world, but it’s on a 200 meter track. If you’re not used to running on a track for that long it an really get to you, so what Stu did, I recommended that he spend more time on the track running one direction for a while, and then reversing and running in the other direction. those workouts could be 2, 3, 4 hours or longer. He’d always begin with a long walk, and then the walk would speed up, he’d start jogging faster, and at the end, the reverse would take place. In that situation, there’s an exception to the rule, one could benefit by doing longer track workouts like that. If you aren’t used to trails and you’re going to be doing a trail run, you could benefit by spending some time out on the trail, getting used to how your body works.
FG: Moving on to the nutritional side of things, because you really opened my eyes, as well as the eyes of many athletes around the world with your views on nutrition, and one thing that stood out to me the most was the dangers of processed carbs and refined sugars for your long term and short term health. Many people eat a significant amount of processed carbs and refined sugars, some of them don’t even know that they are processed carbs. Can you explain why processed carbs are so bad for you, and what health benefits you can gain by avoiding these things?
PM: That’s a huge topic, the trend in having pasta before the race, and having sweet cereal in the morning, most of that came from the companies that make those products. It was “here’s some sugar, sugar equals energy” and there isn’t anything recent about those ads. They began in the 50s, and people were told that sugar, white flour, are healthy, and those are where our energy comes from. Hardly anybody talked about fat, even though the first book I saw on fat on and fat burning was called “eat fat to get slim”, and it was a best seller in 1958 I think. When I became interested in nutrition, which was in the 60s, it was clear from a scientific standpoint that refined flour and sugar, which were very popular, were unhealthy. People didn’t react well when they ate it, the studies were showing that it could be a problem. So, for a runner today, the dietary component, in particular refined carbs, is as important if not more important than building up the aerobic system. There are many reasons for it, but one of the big ones is that when people consume refined carbs, we make insulin, and what insulin does is reduce fat burning and increase sugar burning. Sugar burning is a very limited fuel, and fat burning is our long term energy. Then we’ve been noticing this for the last 10-15 years, for the first time, many athletes in all sports are becoming overfat. The fat burning is low and the sugar burning is high, so the fat stays stored up in the body, and that’s a serious problem. Number one, for the sport, because your endurance is going to be diminished, and number two it’s a serious health problem. They’ve associated excessive carb consumption with everything from cancer, to cataracts, heart disease, and hair loss, diabetes of course. There are health issues, and also the lack of aerobic development will impair performance.
FG: It’s so crazy to me hearing what you are saying, and at the same time, hearing the mixed messages coming the media, and even from some doctors who would recommend these foods as part of a healthy diet.
PM: It wasn’t that long ago, and I have some ads on my website, that doctors recommended the smoking of cigarettes. So you have to ask yourself, who controls the media, and that’s an easy answer, it’s the advertisers that control the media. I’ve had this happen many times at a running magazine editorial meeting, I‘ve had someone say “I want to talk about burning fat and how sugar can impair that process”, and the top editors will say “we can’t run that because we have three regular advertisers who won’t allow that”. You have to look at who controls the media, and it’s a big problem, because people follow the media, people follow running magazines. I used to say to runners, partly as a funny comment, partly serious because I saw it in practice, that invariably during lecture in front of runners, someone would ask why there are so many knee problems, and I’d say it’s from reading runners world magazine. A few years ago, I had three runners who all had knee problems, and they all had the same story. They are following a program from a magazine, and that’s when they first hurt their knee. We have to think as individuals, we have to think about what every run is doing for us. Is it beneficial, is it hurting us, are we or our coach individualizing our programs? If that’s being done, you will find success. The idea of one size fits all programs or diets is very unhealthy.
FG: So what are some alternative things that people could eat that are more healthy and beneficial?
PM: Real food, when I had my clinic, I would give the runner a report after doing a diet analysis to look at their nutrients. I’d be able to say, 3 of your vitamins are below minimum levels, and 8 of your nutrients are below minimum levels, and so I don’t want you to eat pasta, bread, potatoes, etc. and they’d stop me in the middle of this list and say “that’s all I eat”, and I’d say, “that’s why you’re here”. People don’t know what real food is quite often, and they’ve been brainwashed by the media until they don’t know the difference between junk food and healthy food. And those are the two options that you have, junk food and healthy food. Junk ofd includes processed, packaged things, that are somehow interfered with. White flour for example, they’ll take a wheat kernel that most people have never seen, and they’ll process it, getting rid of the bran, the nutrients, and the healthy oils, and they’ll put synthetic vitamins into it and they’ll call it healthy. And things like that are the foundation of the diets of most athletes. And of course, there’s the sugar issue, sugar is found in so many packaged foods, that many people will tell me “I don’t eat sugar, I take my coffee without sugar, I don’t eat desserts”. Yet they’re eating a lot of packaged foods that if you read the label, you’ll find sugar high on the list. Being aware of healthy food, and separating it from the junk food is a very important plea to start for people.
FG: I wanted to move on to the last subject that I want to discuss, that is rest, recovery, and training your brain. The other day I went for a run, and after 5 miles into the run I just realized that I’d run for 5 miles, but it was as if the 5 miles didn’t happen. I was on the other side of the lake, and I thought “wow, that’s really crazy”. So my brain had switched really early on from the beta waves to the alpha waves, and I was able to maintain that for a very long time. I analyzed my HR afterwards, and it was 5 bpm lower than it would have been in a normal run where I was more conscious. So can you explain why sometimes when you run, you can’t remember several parts of your run, while other times this doesn’t happen, and what can be done to make your body and brain work better together.
PM: That’s a great question, I’ve been encouraging athletes to use their brain from the very beginning, because that’s where it all begins. The brain says “let’s move this arm forward, this leg forward” the brain dictates all movement, quality and quantity of movement, the brain is continuously getting information from the body about how much energy exists, how much wear and tear we have, how well the muscles are working, all this information from moment to moment is being fed into the brain, like a supercomputer. The brain is able to respond to this information, if fat burning starts to diminish it may make some adjustments, if blood sugar is lowering it may convert some glycogen to blood glucose to maintain a stable blood sugar during training. Having a healthy brain is a big part of it, and the diet influences the brain considerably, because the brain is 60-70% fat, it means that all the fats in our diet have a chance to potentially get into the brain, and the good fats make the brain function better, for example EPA and DHA, two very important fats in fish or in fish oil, help the brain, but trans fats, hydrogenated fats, or the vegetable oil omega 6 fasts can be unhealthy for the brain because they can create chemical imbalances which are a problem for the brain. States of consciousness are very important, and you mentioned that, you went 5 miles without realizing it, and it’s not unusual for people in sports to get lost into their world, especially with running because we tend to go out for a long period of time. I’ve been lost more than once on my bike, which is why I got rid of my road bike, because I’d go out for a 2 hour ride, and after 3 hours I wouldn’t know where I was anymore. That’s going into an alpha state and runners for many years have hear about the runners high, and I think what it is in part is that we develop a certain state of consciousness when we’re out there. We can do it at home, at work if we want to take a 5 minute break we can just close our eyes and go into this runners high, if you want to call it that, but all sports have this type of thing. It has to do with the state of consciousness where you brain is making alpha waves, like a meditative state, it also has to do with brain chemistry. There are opioid receptors in the brain that are similar to receptors for cannabis, and those get triggered off, and we get this wonderful feeling of runners high. You might get it on the bike, and that’s fine, you might get on a long hike, it’s a wonderful thing to experience. If you’re running with a group of people, or even one other person and talking, or if you’re listening to a podcast or music, you’re not going to get that runners high. Again, I’d like people to focus on their brain which is focusing on the body. What is your body doing, how is your muscle functioning, how do the shoes fit, how is your hydration, do you need the water, or are you just drinking it because you think that you are thirsty, do you need extra energy or is your fat-burning doing ok? This is a critical part of training, and using the brain for it is really the way to go.
FG: You mentioned earlier, a 5 minute break, can you say a little bit more about that?
PM: Yeah, the alpha waves that we’ve been talking about, meditative state is a great way to describe it, is a very healthy state. One of the things that it does is reduce high stress hormones. While we’re at work we tend to have high stress hormones, and if we could reduce those hormones that would be terrific. What alpha waves also do is correct muscle imbalance. Injury rates are unfortunately extremely high, with some studies showing 60%, and higher in some of the anaerobic crossfit type activities, with 74% in one study. The problem with inures is that they’re always preceded by some sort of muscle imbalance. Runners may go out for a run, and have some sort of muscle imbalance that’s causing wear and tear, and the process of recovery should try to correct that. If you can sit down or lie down, close your eyes, and go into this alpha state for five minutes, you can have a little mini therapy session for your brain and body by going into alpha. You can reduce stress, reduce muscle imbalance, balance blood sugar, improve fat burning, do a lot of very healthy things for both fitness and health.
FG: The good thing is that you can do it anywhere.
PM: It can be done in five minutes, people can go to my website, it’s called the five minute power break. People who know how to do it know what I’m talking about, but a lot of people are just so caught up with stressful things that they never go into an alpha state, and that’s a really sad thing because it can really help with your sport.
FG: Now, rest and sleep is a very important part of training, but many athletes don’t sleep and rest enough. I’ve read an article online that a big part of recovery happens in the third and fourth 90 minute sleep cycle. Why is rest and sleep so important, and what is the minimum number of hours of sleep for optimal performance.
PM: We usually talk about healthy sleep bing about seven to nine hours of solid, uninterrupted sleep. For someone who’s running 50-60 miles per week, 7 hours probably won’t do it, and for a triathlete, for example, who’s working out 25 hours a week you’ll need to be closer to 9 hours to get that recovery. The recovery process is really where it’s at, we get more of our training benefits from the recovery phase than from actually training. If we don’t get that recovery, we aren’t going to allow our body to naturally progress. Humans should naturally get faster over time, if we aren’t, something is blocking that. It’s like people starting an HR training program using the 180 formula and they have to run slow and a month later they’re still running slow, and they say that this doesn’t work. Well, it doesn’t work because something’s blocking that progress, you’re eating too much sugar, your stress levels are too high, or you’re not sleeping enough, recovering enough, of course you won’t make progress. Sleep is a very important thing, and interestingly enough, one of the things that wakes people up in the middle of the night, other than kids, is stress hormones. If your stress hormone levels are high, one of the things that happens is that in the middle of the night, your stress hormone levels start to elevate, and it wakes you up. A lot of people are tired during the day, and they wake up at 2 AM, and they have all this energy, and they wonder why they don’t have this type of energy during the day. Well, that’s what stress hormone does to you, that’s an indication that there’s some very serious problems. So the 5 minute power break, eating right, training in a balanced way, those will all lower the hormones and help you be a healthier, more fit athlete.
FG: I’m curious to hear, since you’ve talked about the different healthy ways of living, training right, and eating right, what is your morning routine look like? Do you do meditation, do you do the 5 minute power break, what do you eat for breakfast?
PM: I get so many questions about that, here’s one I got the other day, “how often do you cheat?” and they were talking about food. I don’t cheat, I practice what I preach. Some people call me a fanatic for doing that, but I want to be healthy. I’ve got 12 grandchildren, I want to see my great grandchildren graduate college, and I want to see their children graduating from college, and we control a lot of that. As far as genetics, we actually control a lot of the genetics with the foods that we eat. I grow most of my own food, and the meats and things are either raised here on the farm, or their from a nearby farm that we barter with. I’m very strict, I’ve spent my entire adult life trying to figure out the best way to be healthier, and it seems like every year I make an adjustment, because I’m finding that I can’t eat as much of that, I need to eat more of this and so forth. So what I’m eating today may not be what I’m eating a year from now. I’ve learned to reduce my caloric intake significantly, and I’ve done that by increasing my fat burning ability, and so today I eat about 300 calories in the morning, I have some heavy cream and coconut oil in my coffee, along with an egg yolk in the coffee, and that’s technically my breakfast. I had that around 6 this morning, and then about 9:30, just before this broadcast, I had 3 eggs and vegetables. That was my first real meal in terms of solid food. My day will go like that and I’ll probably end up having 5 meals per day, and everything is healthy. My workouts vary with where I am, what I’m doing, the weather, and I could run, swim, although we’ve gotten rid of our pool, so no more swimming until next summer, bike, hike, occasionally, I do some weights if I’m not working on the farm lifting rocks and cutting would and that sort of stuff.
FG: Last question, [the Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing] made some of the biggest impact in my life, and I’m very serious about that. It goes with great detail into the subjects that we’ve discussed. Where can people find out more about you, and where can people buy your books?
PM: They should be able to buy the book anywhere, amazon, Barnes and Noble for people who still use bookstores. They can also go to my website, there are 100s of articles, some of which have not appeared in books, that they can read on the site. For the first time, I’m announcing that there will be an addendum to the Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing, that will be called Endurance, or Endurance Addendum, it’s all the things that I’ve ben writing about and a lot of new things that I’ve been writing for that book since the Big Book came out, and I believe, although I haven’t been given a date yet, but I’m thinking that that’s going to be coming out in mid to late spring some time.
FG: Is there a specific color for that book, because this is the big yellow book, and the other one is the big red book (laughing).
PM: I don’t know, the publisher is Sky horse, the same publisher, and I’m waiting to hear back, I’ll be expecting the manuscript any day now, and I’ll probably be sent some cover ideas. I suspect it’ll be a smaller yellow book. The Big Book is maybe too big, I haven’t gotten any complaints other than that it’s too big. The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing was as big as it was, likewise for “Health and Fitness” because it spent a lot of time explaining things, how did I come up with the 180 formula, how did I come up with the 2 week test? There’s a lot of stories about why this and why that, and more scientific and varied explanations of things, that can be helpful for very many people. I’ve done 20 books now, and maybe that’s enough, but I keep writing them, and I keep writing articles on a regular basis. The articles appear on the website because it’s easier for me to not have to deal with an editor, and not have article go back and forth, and “what do you mean by this word?”. I’d rather do it unedited, my writing has gotten a lot better, though I’m not a great writer, but I like to put the information down, and say here’s how you do this, and here’s how you can figure out the best way to do that. I do write for some of the online publications, IronMan Online has some of my articles, and the Natural Running Center, but I do most of my own writing and they go on my own website PhilMaffetone.com.
FG: I’ll link to some of these articles in the show notes as well. Thank you so much for your time, and hopefully at some point down the line we can connect again.
PM: Thank you, it’s been fun. These are fun venues to do, and it’s a great way to educate people out there who are looking for information.
We’re 5 weeks into the new year already, I hope your runs are going well these winter months!! Today I wanted to share an interview I did with Greg White for the LA Leggers Running Club. Many details are being discussed about the Phil Maffetone training method, my running progress with this method over the past 18 months, what running means to me, balancing running with family and career and much more.
By Greg White – If you’re reading this, then I’m guessing the prospect of running a sub-3 hour marathon sounds pretty good, right? But damn, that sounds real hard, right? I mean, all that speed work and all those long, crushing tempo runs…tough stuff, right? Yes. Except: no. I’d like to introduce you to 32 year-old Long Beach resident, Floris Gierman. After years of on and off running with no real structure, Floris decided to try and beat his 4ish hour marathon time. His journey lead him to Phil Maffetone’s aerobic conditioning plans, and brought him some pretty amazing success at 26.2. Based largely in heart rate zones, Maffetone’s approach is a holistic one that all endurance athletes should consider in their own training. I spoke with Floris about his adventures in speeding up by slowing down.
Running some hills in El Moro, photo by Mike Bell
GW: You had a great deal of success training using the Maffetone Method. Could you talk a little bit about what goes into that training and why it works?
Most runners (recreational, amateur and pro) run with a Heart Rate that is too high. This means their body generates energy primarily from sugar instead of body fat. If you slow down and train with a lower HR (in combination with proper nutrition) you teach your body to use mostly your body fat for energy. Body fat provides more than twice the energy than sugar. Over time once your aerobic base develops and metabolism improves, your pace will improve as well. By slowing down you, over time you’ll become a much faster runner with less effort.
To give you an example, on 5/23/2013 I started training with a Heart Rate Monitor at my max aerobic Heart Rate. This is the training heart rate that reflects optimal aerobic training, when you go above this HR there is a fast transition to more anaerobic training. For me this max aerobic HR was 150, so for several months I ran almost all of my runs at 140 to 150 beats per minute. To calculate your own max aerobic HR, read this article about the 180 formula.
A great way to monitor your aerobic progress is a Maximum Aerobic Function test, aka MAF test: You warm up for 15 minutes, then run 5 miles at your max aerobic HR, on a flat course (no hills) with minimal wind and normal temperatures to avoid inaccurate data. Here are a few results from my MAF tests over time:
5 miles average pace at max aerobic HR
8:21 min / mile
7:43 min / mile
7:21 min / mile
7:26 min / mile
7:02 min / mile
6:54 min / mile
6:50 min / mile
6:44 min / mile
6:37 min / mile
6:31 min / mile
This means that with the same Heart Rate, on 5/25/13 it took me 41 minutes 45 seconds to run 5 miles, on 1/30/15 it took me 32:35 to run 5 miles, 9 minutes and 10 seconds faster.
The first few months of training aerobic, almost everyone has to slow down their pace significantly. It’s best to avoid speedwork while building your aerobic base. If you add high Heart Rate workouts during your base building period of 3 – 6 months, you add stress to your body and you slow down your aerobic base development.
Speed work is still an important part of this Maffetone Training Program when done right. After 3 – 6 months of aerobic runs, there is a chance you notice your improvements slowing down or stopping. This can be an indication that its time to add some speed work: 1 to 2 times a week, 15 to 30 minutes intervals, 3 to 4 weeks in a row max, then back to aerobic runs only for a few months until your improvements slow down again.
A few advantages I’ve experienced running this way:
• My energy levels are a lot more consistent. I used to be very tired and hungry after some of my longer runs. Now I run much more controlled and it’s a lot more enjoyable. It feels like I can keep running forever and never stop. After every run I feel energized which is a great feeling.
• You learn how to listen to your body. If you have a cold or flu, you’ll noticed an increased HR. Once you notice that your body is off, you can adjust your training pace accordingly.
• The risk of injuries is a lot lower. In the first few months of aerobic training, you slow down your running pace. This way you give your muscles, ligaments and tendons time to properly develop. Once your aerobic base develops and your pace increases slowly over time, your body is ready to run at a faster pace.
Sunrise run in the forrest, best way to start your day!
GW: What did your training look like before you started this?
FG: I used to run pretty irregular; some months I wouldn’t run at all, other months I’d run once or twice a week. Before May 2013, I trained often at 7:00 or 7:30 min / mile on road and 9 ish min / miles on trails. My pace during most runs was too high, so my runs felt hard and not very enjoyable.
GW: How did you change your running after you heard about the Maffetone method?
FG: With this Heart Rate Monitor Training, at first I had to slow down significantly to about 8:30 min / mile on road and 11 to 13+ min / miles on trails. I’m not going to lie, it was frustrating at first because I was used to running fast and now I had to hold back while other runners were passing me. Patience is the most important thing here. After 1 month of HRM training, I dropped 38 seconds per mile at the same HR. This was such an eye opener, to run much faster with the same or less effort.
GW: What was your PR before and after training this way?
FG: A few years back I ran my first marathon race and bonked at mile 19, I finished it in 4 hours 11 minutes. In October 2013, after 5 months of HR training, increased miles and improved nutrition, I ran a 2:55:03 marathon. PR-ed by 76 minutes.
In 2012 I ran a 1:46 half marathon and bonked because I didn’t train smart and went out too fast. In October 2014 I ran a 1:20:01 half marathon.
GW: What nutritional changes have you’ve made to improve your running?
FG: Nutrition is really the foundation for performance and recovery. Until early 2013 I had never paid much attention to what I ate or drank. Then I decided to eat a lot healthier. I cut out all refined carbohydrates, no more bread, pasta, pizza, chips. etc. I also cut out milk, coffee, alcohol, soda, fruit juices, most fruits, sweets, potatoes and rice.
The reason for me to do this was to change my body metabolism to burn fat instead of glycogen. When you eat refined carbs, your body produces a hormone called insulin, which slows down fat burning. As soon as you get rid of refined carbs, it takes your body 2 meals before it shifts into a high fat burning metabolism. This happens very quickly, my energy levels increased, I slept much better and didn’t have fatigue headaches anymore.
Nowadays my meals consist of: veggies like spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots etc, salads, tuna, salmon, bacon, chicken, beef, burrito bowls, avocados, egg whites, beans, lentils, bananas, nuts, chia seeds, almond milk, coconut water, green tea and a lot of water. I use a Vitamix blender every day with mostly loads of veggies.
GW: How has running a sub-3 hour marathon changed the way you look at training and racing?
FG: There are a lot of so called experts out there claiming you need to put in many fast miles to become a faster runner. I just didn’t want to believe the NO PAIN – NO GAIN mentality.
I decided to slow down in my training pace to eventually become a faster runner with less effort. It was a nice confirmation when I ran a 2:55 marathon with mostly aerobic training runs and minimal speed work, this Maffetone Method works and it’s fun and enjoyable.
GW: What does running mean to you?
FG: Running to me is a feeling of freedom, clearing your mind in nature with friends or alone. Being present in the current moment and thinking about nothing else. It’s a reset button for my mind, a natural chill pill. Sometimes I feel stressed, angry or sad, a 30 minute run can change my mood entirely, it’s rad when that happens.
Running up Mt Baldy, photo by David Villalobos
GW: How do you balance training with family and career?
FG: I’m not going to lie, it can be pretty tricky to balance 2 start up businesses with a family life. Last year my business partner and I co-founded an online photo printing business Aika Collective and my wife and I run an online stationery business together called Love vs Design. My daughter is 22 months old and I’ve run 1500+ miles with her in the stroller, we take breaks to play by the beach or feed the ducks, it’s fun. In the weekends I usually get up pretty early for my longer runs.
GW: What are some of your proudest moments in your running career?
FG: On June 21st 2014 I left my house in Long Beach at 2am and I ran 100 miles south to San Diego in 17 hours 47 minutes. This was a solo running mission, so there was no crew, pacers or support, just me running with a backpack with water and food + Go Pro Cam.
It was the ultimate test to see how far I could push myself, always keeping my Heart Rate below 149. At mile 62, on Camp Pendelton after about 9 hours of running, I hit the wall for the first time. It was a physical and mental battle to keep moving forward. After a bottle of Coke I was able to run again for many more miles. At mile 81 I hit the wall for the second time, but I didn’t want to give up. A few miles later I was running again. I was so happy to make it to San Diego in time to take the last train back to Long Beach!
GW: What’s your next goal?
FG: I’m running Boston in April 2015 and I’d like to run it in 2:45. I’ll probably sign up for a race later in the year, I haven’t decided which one yet.
GW: What would you say to someone who wants to run a faster marathon, but can’t wrap their head around running slower to get faster?
FG: It takes patience, but try it for 4 weeks and see your progress. A lot of people try this for a week or less and give up because they have to take walk breaks to lower their Heart Rate, or they have to jog very slow. This means your fitness level needs to improve and that’s very normal. Give it some time and you’ll see the benefits soon enough.
A heart rate monitor takes the guess work out of training and can help increase your aerobic speed. It can also help prevent injury and burn more body fat.
GW: Where can people find out more about you?
FG: My Flotography blog has several running articles about Heart Rate training and nutrition. All my runs are tracked on my Strava account. If you have any questions at all, just leave me a comment below.
Happy New Year!! I wanted to start the new year by sharing some marathon running tips. I brought a little Go Pro camera on my sub 3 hour marathon to discuss the marathon racing process. Many details are being discussed in this video, such as pacing strategies, watch settings, hydration, nutrition, race gear, mindsets, battling tough spots, and much more.
The video may be a bit shaky at points with some wind in the microphone. Below the video is a transcript of the video. All the run details can also be found on my Strava. Hope these tips can help you improve your next marathon!
VIDEO TRANSCRIPT: Video 0:00: Hello I’m Floris Gierman, here in Newport Beach, California. I’m about to run a solo sub 3 hour marathon and I’m bringing a little Go Pro to share a few marathon running tips along the way. Hope you’ll learn a few things.
Today I’ll try to run a 2:57 marathon. That’s a 6:45 min / mile pace or 4:12 min / km pace. I’m trying to have 3 minutes extra there just in case the course is a bit longer when you try to run a marathon, or if you have to zigzag in between people. Its also nice if there is a little room for error in case you get it really tough at the end. Let’s get started here!
Video 0:50: I started my run this morning at 7am. I woke up at 5.30am, that gave me 90 minutes to eat some breakfast, get ready, put all my gear on and have a proper warm up.
Last night I ate a regular dinner of what I normally eat. I wouldn’t try anything different on race day or the day before. I ate a normal dinner with veggies and a steak. It works well for me, I trained with that, and it works good. This morning I just ate 3 baked eggs, with a banana and some water. That’s my magic formula. Try to see what works for you and eat that before your race.
Video 1:46: First mile in 6 minutes 43 seconds, that’s about right on target. A lot of people start very fast, especially at the beginning of the race. They see other people start fast. They have all their race excitement kick in, probably have done some sort of taper so you’re really hungry to run. Start slow! If you shave 1 minute off at the beginning, it might cost you 5 minutes later on if you start cramping.
Video 0:00: I’m running with a water pack. For any marathon race, I always recommend drinking at the aid stations. A water pack is very heavy and I wouldn’t recommend it. But I’m running solo, so it’s the best option. AIRPLANE!!
You might want to practice with some water stations because for a lot of runners it’s new. Try to grab a water without choking. Maybe set up a little table in your front yard, get some weird looks from your neighbors, wondering what the hell you’re doing. But yeh give it a go.
I see a lot of runners wearing very warm clothes. I like wearing not too many warm clothes, I’m rather cool at the beginning, kind of cold even. So later on in the race when I’m properly warmed up, I do not overheat.
This morning it was 44 fahrenheit when I started, that’s 4 degrees Celsius, so that’s pretty cold. So I’m wearing a long sleeve shirt and later I can roll up the sleeves, I’m wearing shorts as well.
Video 3:34: The 4 settings I have up on my watch display are overall time, overall distance, HR and average pace per mile.
3rd mile in 6 minutes 46 seconds. Pace per mile is a great function, it gives you a great idea how you break down each of your miles. You can really tell how you’re on schedule. If you’re trying to run somewhat of an ever split, like right now I’m pretty close in range of my target goal of 2:57, because I’ve run 3 miles around 6:45. Now I just have to keep that going for another 23 miles
Another great watch setting I’d like to use is the time alert, that was the time alert right there. That way I can tell myself, every 25 minutes I should be taking a gel. When the alarm goes of, it reminds you.
Video 3:34: When there are hills on the course, I try to go not too fast up the hills, so you keep your heart rate under control and not burn too much energy up the hills. When you go down, you can really let go and make up for some of that time. Right now I ran about 7 min / mile up hill and I can run 6:30 min / mile down hill, so use those hills to your advantage.
I have my virtual pacer set to 6:45 min / miles. If I now click here, I can see I’m 6 seconds ahead of my virtual pacer. So especially for further on in the race, you can see if you’re still on goal or not, so it’s a very handy feature.
Every 50 minutes or every hour I take a salt and electrolyte pill, in my mind this helps me against cramping later in the race.
Video 5:57: I think marathons can be split up in 3 parts. The first part is mile 1 to 13, this is really the part where you have to hold back, you’re very excited to race, but just hold back for a bit. Mile 13 to mile 20, is really that getting to work part, focus on your nutrition, focus on your pace and your form. Mile 20 to mile 26 is where the race really starts. Up to mile 20 is really foreplay, then mile 20 and on is where it’s getting to work. It’s the part where people either fall apart, or where people can run through and run a good race. This last part of the marathon is tricky to train and for many runners this is a pretty unknown territory.
Video 5:57: I just passed the half way point in 1:28:26, 4 seconds ahead of schedule. The half way point is always good to give you an idea of where you are, how you’re doing and what you need to be doing the second half. I’m on schedule so we’re going to keep it going.
In a race, don’t try anything you haven’t tried in training. So don’t try any new gear, no new shirts, new shoes, new belt pack or whatever, run what you trained with, so you don’t get any surprises.
Video 7:20: I just finished mile 18 in 6 minutes 44, this is the part where your mind start the play tricks. To run a marathon you have to be strong physically and mentally. Mentally I think is pretty underestimated. When things get tough, I usually start talking to myself and focus on the little things. Run the next mile really good, run to the next aid station and you’ll be fine. Or just little pep talk, like “you’re doing good, come on, you got this!” Anyways, it’s going well, 6:44 last split, let’s see how it goes.
Video 8:00:Mile 20 in 6:47. One thing to accept in advance when you run a marathon is that you are going to hit tough spots. At some part your mind is going to start playing tricks. You might start to feel some aching, just take it step by step. Don’t think about the long distance you still have to run. Just think about the next 500 meters or ½ mile and you’re totally going to work through it.
Mile 22 in 6:46, still on schedule for a 2:57 marathon so all good. This is mile 22, the part that is make it or break it. If you feel shit, just smile, laugh, slap a high 5 to a volunteer or someone in the audience, you’ll instantly feel better. So give it a go, smile and keep going!
Mile 24 in 6:45, this is the part of the race where you have to dig deep, this is where you have to go into those reserves and really go for it. 2 miles to go and a little bit.
Mile 26 in 6:46, almost there, so I’m just going to go for it now.
Video 9:20: Yaaaaa, timer stopped, so that was a marathon in 2:56:59, about 1 second off my goal, but I’ll take it!
After my races within 30 minutes I try to eat and drink. I also enjoy taking an ice bath. I know there is no scientific evidence to show really that ice baths help speed up the recovery process, but I enjoy ice baths, so that’s why I’m going to jump into the cold water in a second here. It’s going to be a cold one, AHHHHH. Well, there we have it.
Video 10:16: Marathons can be pretty tough, but at the end of the day it’s all about having fun out there. It’s totally normal to hit some tough spots, everyone has that, it’s just the mind game to get over that. As I said earlier, break the race up in little chunks and take it piece by piece. The most important part is to have fun out there. You trained really hard, believe in your training! Go out there and do it. It’s totally normal that things start messing with your mind, just stay calm and go out there and have a good time, enjoy the journey.
Hope you guys enjoyed this video. Check out my blog flotography.com for more videos and articles. I’ll be posting the Strava details of this run below. Happy 2015, later!!
——— end of video transcript ———
A lot of the advice in this video is from trial and error and from my running friends at the Coyotes, especially coaches Jimmy and Kate. If you have any additional marathon racing tips that work well for you or if you have any questions, let me know in the comments below!
This morning I set my alarm at 4am to run in the snow at Mt Baldy, an hour outside of Los Angeles. I got out of bed quietly without waking the rest of my family. All my running gear was ready on the kitchen table and the night before I had prepared a bag with my breakfast to eat in the car (3 baked eggs + banana + water).
At 4:30am sharp I left our house to drive an hour North East. This way I was able to beat LA traffic and arrive at the mountain by 5:30am, more than an hour before sunrise. Once I arrived at the mountain I realized I left my backpack with water, Gu gels and Salt / Electrolyte pills on our kitchen table at home.
I was bummed for a minute that I wasn’t able to run my planned 18 mile route starting at 4000 feet elevation to the top at 10064 feet. My new plan was to start at 4000 feet and run up until the snow would get pretty un-runnable, then head back. At about 5000 feet the rain turned into snow. Here is a little video from the snow conditions between 6000 and 7000 feet. Running downhill is definitely much easier than going up!
The last mile on the way down the road wasn’t slippery anymore, so I ran as fast as I could. Stoked to run a new downhill PR, 1 mile in 4:37. Can’t wait to go back with a full running pack and a few friends soon.