The best way to kick-start your MAF training is to do a period of ‘base training’. This is a period, ideally of 16-20 weeks to start out with, which builds a strong and powerful aerobic, fat-burning base on which all your later competing and racing will heavily rely. Most base training periods take place over a winter, when there are fewer races and competitions in endurance sports like running and triathlon. My most recent base period took me from November 2016-February 2017 over 16 weeks. This is a period where you can see big improvements in your base-level pace when you’re frequently training in your optimum training heart-rate range (for me 145bpm-155bpm). An extended base period like this allows for you to build up your training mileage, and progressively getting faster and stronger as your body allows it. This opposes a lot of other athletes who seek advantages by doing high-intensity intervals throughout the year to try and force the body through its perceived performance ceiling, rather than working with the body to push the ceiling higher, as you do with the MAF method. The way I looked at base-training versus my old, interval-based training, is that where the interval training is constantly butting your head against your personal records, incrementally moving them forward, the MAF base-training allows you to take a step-back, take a run-up and then smash through your old records into new realms of competitiveness. Although I believe there is a place for interval training, it should only follow a good aerobic base-training, where most of your gains are going to be found.
A base-training period also affords you an opportunity to play around with your diet. With no pressure of being a certain weight for competitions, or a certain pace for races over the winter, you can adjust your diet and see what foods work for you, and what fats, carbohydrates and proteins give you maximum performance. By keeping track of heart-rate, pace and your diet, you can see how different dietary and lifestyle factors affect your performance. For example, if I’ve eaten loads of fast food, not had a great deal of sleep and then head out for a run, my heart rate tends to be a great deal higher, meaning I have to run at a slower pace to keep within my MAF. By keeping heart rate constant, I can tell that maybe I need more sleep, or need to lay off the Big Mac and fries as I was running more slowly. The base period allows you to find out the best dietary and lifestyle strategies that work for you, and your training, so by the time races and summer come around you can be in peak physical shape, knowing exactly what it takes to deliver on your athletic potential.
When starting out, Rule 1 is be patient. You will be slow at first, but if you #TrustTheProcess, and commit your training and diet to the method, you will quickly see results. Start off simple, with just a few sessions a week in whatever endurance disciplines you do. Then plan out the weeks in your base-training and set a definite goal for the sort of miles and number of sessions you want to be doing a week by the end of your base period (this will vary depending on your goals). One of the most important tips I learnt when goal-setting is to make the goal EXCITING. If the goal isn’t exciting enough you won’t want to drag yourself out of bed to get an early run in during a cold December morning. You have to associate the emotion of excitement and total belief in your ability to achieve the goal, or you’re going to be pressing snooze on that alarm. If your goal isn’t exciting enough, get a new goal, make it bigger. Personally, I printed off my goal and stuck it next to my bed, so the first thing I see when I wake up is the accomplishment of my end goal, of where I want to be at the end of my training – it’s a great motivation.
Back in November I started doing a couple of 3 mile runs a week. By February I was running 40mile weeks, including long runs up to 17miles, at the same heart rate, but up to 90seconds a mile quicker. Those sort of gains have to get an endurance athlete excited to get out, commit to the training, and reap the rewards.
For my experience after my second base period, and the review of my journey with MAF so far, check out my blog page.