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?
FG: Yes, I first heard about Doctor Phill Maffetone on a Trail Runner’s Nation podcast. He mentioned if you want to run faster, SLOW DOWN! This seemed really backwards to me at first but made sense after learning more about it.
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:
|Date||5 miles average pace at max aerobic HR|
|5/25/13||8:21 min / mile|
|6/27/13||7:43 min / mile|
|8/20/13||7:21 min / mile|
|11/5/13||7:26 min / mile|
|4/6/14||7:02 min / mile|
|4/27/14||6:54 min / mile|
|6/14/14||6:50 min / mile|
|8/24/14||6:44 min / mile|
|9/14/14||6:37 min / mile|
|1/30/15||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.