When I began the Maffetone Method and Heart Rate Training, I reset the clock on my running back to my early running days and began the road to my “Running Reboot”. For the past three months, I have been consistently training with a heart rate monitor and attempted to stay within Zone 2 – 3 based on the heart rate formula outlined by Dr. Maffetone in The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing.
In a nutshell, Dr. Maffetone states that the generic fitness formula 220 – your age is too broad and not an accurate way to determine the target heart rate that is right for you or me. For example, with my history of severe allergies, asthma and chronic plantar fasciitis, my target heart is much, much lower the standard 220 – minus my age (177).
Maffetone’s 180 formula subtracts your age from 180 and then factors in all of the criteria which effects your performance. So when calculating the Maffetone formula for me, it would look like this:
180 – my age (43) – 5 for allergies/asthma = 132 <- 132 is my maximum heart rate.
That seems CRAZY low, right? WRONG. Here’s why for me, this is on the mark.
For years, I have been pushing myself trying to get faster. I chased fast people in my running club. I did a gazillion set of intervals trying to hit that coveted Yasso 800 and yes, I saw some improvement. The key word is some improvement.
The cold, hard reality I hit a point where I wouldn’t see any more progress. My allergies and asthma worsened. I was constantly sick. My plantar fasciitis became increasing worse and then my running performance slowly declined. In essence, I became slower.
According to Maffetone, my plateau and a physical breakdown were all related to performing in an aerobic state. (This is the part where most fitness people will shake their heads in disbelief.) How can intervals and running fast be an anaerobic state?
See, while I was pushing myself and hitting the pavement hard in a desperate attempt to improve, I was doing more damage because I was exceeding my targeted heart rate zone according to the Maffetone 180 formula. Exceeding my targeted heart rate would have me performing in zones 6 – 7 at 188 bpm. In some incidences, I hit 182 bpm and literally giving it 110% during my Track Tuesday interval sessions, which all kidding aside not good at all.
Once runners start exceeding their target heart rates, their bodies start producing dangerous levels of cortisol also known as a “flight or fight” stress hormone. Producing too much cortisol can lead to sudden heart attacks as well as cause all sort of health problems.
The fitness community loves to encourage us to “KILL IT!” “HIT IT HARDER!” “PUSH IT!” “MAX OUT!” with repetitive burst of HIIT (high intensity interval training) and many runners will see short term results and success with it; however, there are some serious long term repercussions to this mentality. The Maffetone method is changing that whole approach.
For me, producing too much cortisol lead to increased weight gain, illness and injury. Given that I had already done severe damage to my vascular system by running multiple marathons, I realized that I need to reset my running clock and start over, A Run DMT Running Reboot.
So, I began this journey back in January and I’m still at it. Through the process, I am reprogramming my heart and relearning how to run almost in the same fashion I learned eight years ago: alternating running and walking.
Most people that I know who attempted the Maffetone method gave up after two weeks. But I’m way more
stubborn committed than that. Three months later, I’m still walking and running three miles.
Due to time constraints, I decided stick with 3-4 miles as it takes me around 50 minutes to finish three miles at a 16:00 pace. While I would LOVE to add more miles, I am sticking to the plan of heart rate monitor training over distance until I can perform better and more consistently.
In the beginning days, I would start to run and instantly hit my maximum heart rate which was unbelievably frustrating. I would immediately have to walk in order to recover and it would take about 2-3 minutes to drop to the base of zone two. As a result, I mostly walked three miles because I could maintain my heart rate more accurately without exceeding the zones.
I also learned very quickly that the time of day that I walk/run three miles makes a huge difference. Since it’s already so warm here in Florida, the heat makes my heart work harder at 10:00 or 11:00 a.m. and therefore, my heart needs more recovery (walking) late morning than it does at 5:00 a.m.
Three months later, I have been following a 15 second run/30 second recovery, which is so ironic because I balked at the idea last summer when I ran with Jeff Galloway. But there is some interesting truth to this maddening method because I do believe the built in recovery is what saved me at the Florida Beaches Half Marathon!
So while I’m still running/walking (And yes, it is completely frustrating!), I’ve made some interesting discoveries about myself through this Maffetone journey and Running Reboot.
I’ve not been sick in ages.
I kid you not. I would be ill once a month related to my allergies. While I take a daily Zyrtec, eat local honey and use essential oils to combat my allergies, I would still come down with sort of infection or cold. Since I have scaled back my training, I have managed my allergies just fine and even avoided a nasty respiratory infection. *knock on wood*
You may recall last April I attempted Iron Girl with a respiratory infection. I am happy to report there have been no visits to the medical tent this race season! WOOHOO! *knock on wood*
I have learned to recognize when I am hitting my maximum heart rate.
You may think this is quack science, but I’m telling you, once I started to understand the physiological side of my performance, I would begin to know when to recover BEFORE my Garmin watch would beep at me.
What does that mean? As I mentioned before, I’m running 15 seconds/walking 30 seconds. When my heart is about to exceed zone 3, I can feel my heart JUMP outside chest. If I maintain my target heart rate, my heart beats normally, a bit faster than a resting heart rate but still normal. Once it exceeds 132, my heart will jump, almost skip a beat in order to start working harder and then my Garmin will yell at me to slow down. Over the past few months, I’ve began to realize when to slow down before my Garmin tells me to; whereas in the beginning, my Garmin was constantly yelling at me to slow down.
Ironically, that heart pounding outside my chest feeling is exactly what I would feel when I would push myself during a race, a tempo run or speedwork. This Maffetone’s target heart rate training could be described more like an easy run, however, my heart is still working and burning fat, just working more efficiently.
I have energy in the tank.
I know it will sound ridiculous because I’m only running three miles. Obviously, I’m not fatigued. However, I noticed a difference in energy levels when I ran the Florida Beaches Halfathon. Through running/walking intervals, I had energy after crossing the finish line. I wasn’t physically exhausted and I could walk after the race.
Conversely, there have been races where I was in so much pain and I could barely move. I know other runners will talk about a “runner’s high”, but that’s the cortisol talking. Through this Running Reboot, I understand what really fitness feels like. It’s not spikes in adrenaline that cause you to crash.
I can maintain my target heart rate better on a bike.
Since I began running about 8 years ago, it has been my go-to fitness. The bike has always been my secondary fitness choice. Once I began my Running Reboot, the bike has become my new best friend because I can maintain my target heart on the bike better and I know the “signs” of when my heart rate is exceeding the right zone. As a result, I can adjust and recover much more quickly.
Because I picked up so many bad habits over the years in terms of running, correcting that will be a much longer progress. And boy has it ever!
I’m less thirsty and I sweat less.
Some may read that and think sweating less and being less thirsty is a result of not pushing myself. Here’s the deal, Einstein. I was running slower than three years ago and still looked like I ran through a thunderstorm. I was sweating more. I was so sweating that my socks were drenched. That’s not normal. Sweat is normal but sweating to the point where you look like you were swimming instead or running is not.
Before my Running Reboot, I would be constantly thirsty during my runs. In races, I would need to hydrate at every water station. This overhydration could have been a result of a hormonal imbalance. As a result the hormonal imbalance would inform my kidneys to excrete water. Ironically, the kidneys working to remove the fluids would disperse it throughout my body could also have caused a weight gain.
Now, even though I carry a hand-held Nathan, I am drinking less during my runs no matter what time of day I run. Even during spin class, I’m drinking less because I’m less thirsty. It’s bizarre. Hopefully, it’s allowing my body to regulate hydration appropriately.
The weight will come off slowly and naturally.
The weight gain was the most frustrating thing for me after finishing for my last four marathons. With each marathon, I gained a few pounds, gaining close to ten pounds by the last one. Although I refuse to step on a scale, so I really don’t know how much weight I gained. All I know, my clothes don’t fit and I’ve gone up a dress size, which is so frustrating because I watch what I eat.
According to Maffetone, when you constantly train higher than your maximum target heart rate and stay in the higher zones, you are in working out in an anaerobic state and your body begins to store sugars as your sweat and burn. Basically, you are undoing everything you are trying to achieve.
Now that I’m maintaining my target heart rate, the weight is beginning to come off, albeit slowly, but that’s fine. I gained it slowly too. In the end, I will burn off fat, keep it off and develop more muscle tone than I did running miles. Which leads me to my next point….
No More Strength Training or Weightlifting
Again, this will sound like complete quack science and I know people will think I’ve lost my mother running mind, but strength training will undo all the results you are trying to achieve with the Maffetone method. Maffetone recommends no weight training or strength training until you can maintain your target heart rate consistently in your aerobic activity
As much as I love Body Pump, I can’t hit my target rate and maintain for at least 20 minutes. I really do miss Body Pump and I’ve started to feel all squishy, like I’m losing muscle tone. Therefore against Maffetone’s recommendation, I decided to give Body Pump a go after having been off-the radar for a few months. When I returned, I went easy on the weights (like a Body Pump newbie would) and even opted out of using weights for squats and lunges, simply using my own body weight for weight.
But Body Pump was a bad move on my part. In one hour, I undid everything I spent months working on. I pushed myself to the point of fatigue and I thought I would pass out during the class.
For that reason, until I can maintain my target heart rate, there will be no weight-lifting. That also means no core workouts, planking, crunches or random lunges and squats. When I do decide to return to strength training, I think I may enlist a personal trainer to learn proper strength training techniques to improve my overall performance as a runner.
On another note, a few weeks back while flying home from Vegas, my husband chatted with a 28 year old male marathoner on the flight. The young man mentioned that he was trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon but suffered from repeated injures forced him to take weeks off from running as a result. The runner mentioned that he was following the Maffetone method and seeing progress. In fact, he was running faster than ever. The whole process took nine months, but he hit his goal.
That’s what I’m hoping – to follow the Maffetone method through and not give up. If I were injured or sick, I would have to take time off from running anyway. At least, I’m moving and doing something in the way of fitness. With the warmer temperatures already here in Florida, I would need to slow down my pace and shorten my distances anyway. If I follow the BQ lead, I should be able to hit my sub-2 hour half marathon goal by the Rock ‘n Roll Savannah Half Marathon this November.