Building to Races: Anaerobic Training

After 17 weeks of base training, and great progress in building my aerobic base, I decided to re-incorporate interval-based, anaerobic training into my training program to build towards my first races of the season. From what I understand about the MAF method, most of your performance gains will come from building your aerobic base through base training. Accordingly, I have tried to do as many weeks doing base training before my goal races in June and July 2017.  However, I also understand that there is still significant benefit to doing anaerobic training – if you’re smart about it. I made the decision when planning my season, that in order to peak for my two goal races, the GB Age-Group Qualifiers, I would need 8-12 weeks of training that included anaerobic training.  In his book, Maffetone suggests that this time frame is where you’re going to see the most progress in the anaerobic system. He does say however that some people cannot deal with the increased stress of anaerobic training, and that their anaerobic gains will primarily come from racing. If you can tolerate anaerobic training, it should be a short period. Much longer than 8-12 weeks and you would see more benefit in training you aerobic system with base training. This is strikingly different to a lot of training programs that include lung-busting anaerobic training sessions throughout the season.  In my season planning, I counted back the weeks from the point that I wanted to be peaking, and I had my anaerobic training period sorted. The weeks before that would all be base training.

Why is it such a short period?

Due to the high level of stress anaerobic training has on the body, there is only so much your body can take before you becoming increasingly likely to injure yourself or pick up an illness.  Having a shorter period of time where you’re training anaerobically, you reduce the likelihood of becoming ill or getting injured, allowing you stay more consistent in training. Consistency is the single biggest lesson I have learned whilst training with the MAF method.

Similarly, having a short period of anaerobic training forces you to make each session count, and make each anaerobic session as efficient as possible, with specific goals for each session. Training this way has helped me cut out a lot of the junk miles, avoiding those medium-tough runs where I would be training above my Maximum Aerobic Function (MAF) heart-rate of 155bpm, but not pushing race-pace or above – neither providing efficient aerobic or anaerobic stimulation.

A relatively short, structured, highly-specific anaerobic training schedule is a smart way to train – keeping the tough sessions that are most likely to provoke injury and illness to a minimum, whilst still seeing the gains of anaerobic stimulation.

How have I structured my anaerobic training?

After my base-training period through the winter, I had my first race, Silverstone Half-Marathon, within 2 weeks of starting on anaerobic training.  These 2 weeks included just a couple of harder runs, which had the goal of getting my body used to going anaerobic again.

My first session back was a 2mile warm-up to 155bpm, 2 x 1mile at 165bpm (1 mile recovery at 145-155bpm between reps), then 1mile at 175bpm, followed by a cool down.

The following week I did a tempo run at my half-marathon heart rate (the heart-rate I’ve managed to average in my previous 3 half-marathons, 175bpm). I did a 2 mile warm-up to 155bpm, then did 5 miles at 175bpm, followed by a 2 mile cool down.

These sessions were just getting my body used to dealing with lactic acid again, but not stressing my body so much as to risk injury or illness. Suddenly going back into pounding 400m reps round a track would have been too much of a shock to my body.

As my first race was a half-marathon, I did not need my top-end speed just yet, like I would if I had been doing a 5k race. Similarly, as this was not a goal-race of mine, I had not needed to set aside weeks of race-simulation training to prepare for it. It was just a gauge of how my base-training had gone. I set a new PB at the half-marathon and followed it with an easier, base-training week to recover. As a side note here, the fact that I set a massive new PB after very little anaerobic work was very encouraging and well evidences the efficacy of the MAF method.

Now came the bulk of my anaerobic training. As for the majority of the winter I had been doing easy base-training, I was concerned that my very top-end speed and strength might have escaped me. In order to remedy this, I set out the next four weeks of my anaerobic training for maximum-effort, short intervals, with plenty of recovery between each repetition.

My run session in that first week was 10 x 200m, with 2.5-3min recovery. I was targeting doing the 200m in about 30seconds, or 4min/mile.  I gave myself so much recovery because I wanted to max out my speed. I’ve built-in time in my training program to work on speed-endurance and intervals with much shorter recovery later, at this point it was about maxing out, regaining top-end speed.

Other run sessions in the upcoming weeks were 8x400m with 3min recovery, 200m hill repetitions with 3 min recovery.

On the bike (predominately on my indoor trainer), I did 10x1min with 2 min recovery, 10x2mins with 3 minute recovery, and 5 x 5 minutes with 5 minutes recovery.

In the pool I have done 12×50 off 2minutes (i.e. if I do the rep in 40 seconds, I have until 2mins on the clock to rest, so 1min20), 10x50m with 2 min recovery, 10x100m with 2.5min recovery.

In the upcoming block of sessions, I will be reducing the recovery period between reps, and including some longer intervals to make the sessions more race-like, improving my body’s ability to deal with lactic acid, but ultimately at a slightly slower pace than my max-out intervals.

For example, a run session might be 8x400m but have 1 minute recovery instead of 3 minutes, and I’d be running at 5.30min/mile pace rather than 4.55min/mile pace. This is much closer to race-pace.


Races are a great indicator of what level your fitness is, and they are a great training tool – no other training can prepare you for your goal race quite like racing can. Moreover, your races are a great informant of your training. After running the Silverstone Half-Marathon, hoping to run around 1.20.00 at a pace of 6.07min/mile, but falling short and breaking down after 8miles, I knew what I had to work on. I had been able to hold a steady 6.07min/mile pace for the first 8 miles, smashing my 10k PB, but my legs had given out soon after.  Aerobically I felt fine.  My breathing was in control and I wasn’t gasping for air – my legs just didn’t have it.  I was confident in my race nutrition and that I was adequately fuelled, so I could infer from my race that it was my body’s ability to deal with lactic acid that had slowed me down. I therefore needed to make sure I build in plenty of lactate threshold work (i.e. race-pace runs, or intervals above race-pace with short recovery) to avoid a similar fate in future races.

Before my goal races in June and July, the Olympic-Distance Triathlons in Chester and Arundel respectively, I have a couple of shorter sprint-distance races in May to simulate triathlon racing and highlight any areas I need to work on to be in peak fitness before my goal-races.  I have chosen these races as they allow me enough time to work on weaknesses from those races, and in order to practice racing, sharpening my mind and body.

Top Tips

  1. Just because you start incorporating anaerobic training, it should not become the bulk of your training. A majority of your training should be at or below your MAF heart-rate (calculate yours here:  Personally my body is just about coping with three anaerobic sessions a week, one in each discipline of triathlon. If I’m feeling too fatigued I will replace an anaerobic session for an easier base-training session.
  2. If you start to pick up a cold or virus, take the day off and recover – the season is more important than the session – it’s better to miss one day than to push through it and end up missing weeks.
  3. Find out what you need to work on: enter a race and identify your weaknesses – could you not reach your desired pace? Then maybe you need to work on your top-end speed. Did you fade towards the end? Maybe you need to work on your ability to deal with lactic acid. Did hills cause you a problem?  Maybe you need to work on your technique or practice running hills. Analyse your performance and spend time working on your weaknesses, allowing enough time in your program to work on these areas.
  4. Have a specific goal for each session. If your pace drops during an interval session and you can’t hold your goal pace, stop. Not being able to hold the pace could mean you’re tired and you’re losing your form which could risk injury. If necessary, re-evaluate the goal for future sessions.
  5. Don’t go above 90% of your maximum heart-rate (likely your maximum heart-rate you achieve going all-out over 5k) as this causes extreme stress to the body and you will take longer to recover, affecting future training.

To read more about what MAF training is all about click here

To follow my training daily click here

Train smart,



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