After setting my new 5k PB of 17.56 in October 2016, my mind and body were feeling pretty broken at the end of a decent first season on the MAF method. I decided to take a couple weeks completely off to rest, recover and start setting the goals for the next season. The big goal for the year came down to two choices: either complete my first IRONMAN triathlon, or try to qualify as part of Team Great Britain for the Age-Group World Championships, and earn the right to wear one of those GB tri-suits. After receiving my rejection letter from the London Marathon ballot, I decided that I’d save the long IRONMAN training for a time where I could tie it in with smashing the marathon. Qualification for the Age-Group World Championships in September 2017 became my focus.
I wanted a goal that would challenge me, motivate me and excite me enough to get out and put the work in, day in, day out. I’ve completed events before that I’ve only really half-set as a goal. I’ve said I wanted to finish them, or run a certain time, but hadn’t really set a goal that I could get truly excited about. I think the difference this year was picking something that was a genuine unknown; something that would take me outside of my comfort zone. Before, I’ve known my body will be able to carry me the distance or a half-marathon, for example, and had a rough idea of what I was capable of. However, for this year my goals would require a big leap in performance and the sort of commitment I would have to make to make those performance goals a reality. That’s what has really driven me this year. Seeing whether I can commit to those early training sessions, whether I can drag myself out of bed to go for a ride before the Sun is up, whether I can push myself to that next level. It’s curiosity – to see what’s round the next corner, what’s over the brow of the hill, what I’m capable of achieving. If your goal isn’t exciting you, pick a better goal – it’s that simple. There’s so much in the world to get excited about, go and find something that stirs your emotions on deep level and you’ll find your motivation.
Having first become excited about the goal, my brain immediately started asking the question of how we can turn this potential into a reality. Initially that involved breaking down the larger goal in smaller goals, to act as motivation for the year. There are specific races you have to complete in order to be able to qualify for the World Championships, so they helped organise my season. Working back from the dates of those races, I knew that to be at peak fitness, I would have had to do a few warm-up races, and sufficient speed/interval training. Preceding this, I wanted to have as long as possible to build my aerobic base, in accordance with the MAF method that had been so successful for me the season before. That took care of the basic season structure.
Having completed a year of MAF training already, fumbling my way through various high-fat/low-carb diet advice, over-training and a not particularly structured training plan I knew how I could improve. To get my hands on a GB tri-suit I would have to create a specific base-training plan, in order to prevent myself from over-training and risk injury/illness; I would have to eat the right foods that would provide maximum fuel and endurance (and remain nice to eat, that’s important) and I would have to plan efficient, specific speed workouts. As most of your fitness improvements are going to come in your base training period, and with the added stress of intense anaerobic training, I would only be doing a small percentage of my training in anaerobic territory – this meant I had to use what time I had given to speed work as efficiently as possible. Having specific goals for each session would help cut out the junk miles and would make every minute I spent working out useful. For example, it helped cut out sessions where I would drift just above my MAF heart rate, not developing my aerobic base, and only minimally activating my anaerobic system.
Starting in November 2016, I spent the first few weeks doing a couple easy runs or bike rides at my MAF heart rate of 155bpm – nothing too intense or structured, just getting back into it. During these first couple of weeks however, I kicked started my fat-metabolism by limiting the amount of carbohydrates I was eating. After a few weeks off, doing no exercise and eating whatever I wanted, and however much I wanted, I needed to give my body a helping hand. For me, based on what I’ve understood and read on Maffetone’s website (https://philmaffetone.com/what-is-a-low-carb-diet/) , I did two weeks where less than 10% of my calorific intake came from carbohydrates, and 20% came from protein, with the remainder from fat. Before you switch off, and start to think of me as the sort of person you wouldn’t want to be chatting with at any sort of social event as I prattle on about macronutrients and the pros and cons of high fibre carbohydrates, taking control of your nutrition is not as complex and bad as you might think.
I downloaded the MyFitnessPal app which allows you to record your meals by scanning barcodes onto your phone, or typing in the food name into the search bar, and then shows you all the calorific information and percentage of nutrients in that food. It’s simple, quick and completely customisable for your own dietary and macronutrient goals. For example, I set mine to macronutrient (fat, carbohydrate and protein) goals of 70%, 10%, and 20% for the first couple of weeks. The brilliant thing about the app is that it keeps you accountable. As long as you input what you eat, it’ll tell you whether you’ve eaten too much, too little, or what foods are using too much of your calorific allowance for the day. I’ll expand more on this in a future post about nutrition and what I eat.
Back to my current season:
After those initial two weeks on a very-low carb diet and some easy workouts, I gradually increased the number of sessions, and reset my nutrient goals to 55% fat, 25% carb, 20% protein (again based on Dr. Phil’s website https://philmaffetone.com/what-is-a-low-carb-diet/). For November and December I listened closely to my body, cautious about over-training and getting injured. I progressively built run sessions up from 20minutes or half-an-hour, up to an hour, all at the same heart rate. Similarly with biking, I was just doing simple, basic workouts at 145-155bpm, often watching Netflix on my indoor trainer – a great investment if you struggle to get out on the bike during the winter months. By mid-late December I was doing 3 or 4 runs a week, from 45mins – 90mins, and 2 or 3 bike sessions, at 30-60mins. The bikes were often shorter than the runs as I find it much harder to stay in my efficient training heart-rate range of 145-155bpm. I like being efficient in my training. Rather than sitting on the bike for hours on end at a much lower heart rate, not massively stimulating my aerobic system, I’d rather do a shorter ride where every minute is providing good aerobic stimulation. I also tried to incorporate some functional strength weight sessions into the early base season, doing deadlifts, squats and lunges to build and maintain leg strength. I also undertook injury prevention routines like core workouts, doing planks, hanging leg raises and Russian twists amongst other exercises – I just looked most of these up online. I didn’t incorporate swimming into my training until January. I started swimming twice a week and have built in up to doing 3 x 45-60min sessions, alongside 3-4runs at 45mins-90mins, and biking a couple times a week (as well as commuting to work by bike).
I did 17 weeks of pure base training, at 145-155bpm before starting to incorporate some speed work before my first race, the Silverstone Half-Marathon on March 13th 2017. My run pace had increased over those 17 weeks from 30 minutes at 8.42min/mile to 50mins at 6.58min/mile at the same heart rate (https://www.strava.com/activities/882919336). In week 16 of my base season I’d managed a two hour run before breakfast at 7.07min/mile, completing 17miles, all at 155bpm (https://www.strava.com/activities/870426260). I’d greatly improved on my pace at 155bpm not only within this base period, but compared to last season. After these 4 months of base training, and eating fairly well (I did slack a bit over Christmas), I’d gained 42secs/mile on my peak base 155bpm runs from the season before. That was a massive encouragement, and felt like great vindication for committing to the MAF method.
After just a couple of higher intensity runs (up to 175bpm) I ran Silverstone Half-Marathon and smashed my PB by 2mins10secs, at 1.23.50. With practically no speed work or tough high heart-rate intervals, I had managed to run at 6.17min/mile. I had actually set out very ambitiously at 6.07min/mile to run a sub 1hr20 half-marathon but faded after 8miles. But that’s how pleased and confident I was in my training and in the MAF method. Considering only a year before I’d just scraped under 1hr31 for the first time, and only a few years before that I had only managed a 1hr47 half. I had my confirmation that the MAF method was the way for me to train; with practically no speed work, I’d run a half-marathon at a much quicker pace that I’d have been able to sustain for a 5k before I started on the MAF method.
It’s a very exciting training philosophy to be a part of.
In the next post I will describe how my I’m structuring my speed work for my upcoming triathlons in May and the goal races in June/July.
For daily updates on my workouts, or to see what I’ve been up to in my training this season, check out my Strava page https://www.strava.com/athletes/4115074