Blog

Goal Achieved! Age-Group World Championship Qualification

Back in mid-July I had my final shot at qualifying for the Olympic Distance Triathlon Age-Group World Championships, happening this September in Rotterdam, Netherlands.  After the disappointment of missing out on qualification after my first qualifying race in June, having suffered a mechanical issue during the bike, I was keen to improve for my final race.

It was clear that in back in June, that my swim times and my run times were competitive, it was just my bike that had let me down.  Although this had been in part due to the mechanical issue I had, I also knew, from reviewing my training, that I had not be doing enough miles on the bike.  Back at the start of the year, I had set the target of doing at least 100 miles a week, but had barely been achieving 80 miles. To remedy this I made sure I got out for a long-endurance ride every week between my two attempts at qualifying. I’m not sure why I’d been skipping out on the longer rides – perhaps due to the fact that I’d be doing the miles solo, or whether I felt that I didn’t feel that I could hold a high enough heart rate (145-155bpm) for my training to be efficient, in my MAF training range.  However, knowing how important the bike portion is to my race, being the longest portion, I made sure I got out in my few weeks between my qualification races.

When race day came, after full recovering during the taper week, I felt ready.  I’d increased the amount of carbohydrate I was eating in the last 3 days before the event, from 25% of total calorie intake that I would tend to eat when training, to nearer 50%, keeping protein levels the same, just reducing the fat intake.  I got a relatively decent sleep, despite the 5.30 am race briefing, and the 3.30am alarm call.  The weather looked good, not much wind. It was all set for a good race.

The swim went brilliantly. I smashed out the first 200m to the first buoy, hoping to find the feet of the fastest swimmers. Despite some punching and an aggressive start I found some breathing space, and managed to find the feet of some quick guys, and there were 3 of us in a train all the way to the finish. I set a new 1500m PB for the swim, partly due to the increased buoyancy from the salt-water, but also due to the fact that the tide had started to turn, and the flow in the river was starting to help us out by the time our race had started. Still, I think I can claim 20.42 as a new PB, much quicker than the 29 minute swim I set in my first Olympic tri 2 years ago.

The bike was tough. A relatively hilly course (especially for me, living in a flat area of sub-urban London), with a tough climb at the end meant that I had to pace the race well. There was no point smashing the opening of the bike, and having nothing left for the the climb, where I could have lost lots of time to competitors.  The bike started well, and I managed to get a better transition from swim to bike – not just in T1 itself, but having kicked enough for the last few 100m of the swim to get enough blood flow to my legs to make sure I could start the bike strong.  It was the first time I hadn’t almost passed out in T1 after an Olympic swim – normally I get a rush of blood to my head and have to steady myself against the racking when taking off my wetsuit.

The run was tough too. An off-road, 2-lap course with tough climb mid-way through the lap made pacing key. The good thing was though that it was practically downhill for the final 1.5miles, meaning you were ensured a quick finish, and could almost mentally pace yourself to finish with 1.5miles to go, at the top of the hill, knowing the descent would carry you to the finish.

I knew that to qualify, I would either have to come in the top 4 in my age-group (20-24) or hope for one of the couple of fastest loser spots available, with only the top 20 from the 3 qualification races going to the World Championships. Upon crossing the line, immediately my heart dropped. I hadn’t been as quick overall as I’d hoped, and I could see several racers in my age-group already finished.  Checking the results, I knew I was outside the top 4 automatic qualification places, and I didn’t think I’d race fast enough to get the fastest loser spots. It was tough to take. Particularly as my bike was where I lost all my time, and I would consider myself relatively strong on the bike.

Reflecting on the race over the next couple of weeks, I thought back on how much I’d learnt over the past year.  I’d taught myself so much about time management, being able to train twice a day on most days, whilst maintaining a job and social relationships. I’d learned a great deal about my own body, and nutrition – when to have which fuels, and what foods were adding unnecessary calories whilst not increasing performance. I’d lost weight, even getting down to 67kg at one point, significantly down from the 72kg I was when I started in triathlon.  I’d also shown myself what was possible when you set a goal, that you’re truly emotionally motivated by, and that you apply yourself to, day-in day-out.  From being a novice triathlete just 2 years before, missing the start of my first race while I struggled to put on my wetsuit, I’d come up just a few seconds short of qualifying as one of the best of my age-group in the UK.  That was some improvement. Whether I qualified or not, I had learned so much – I hadn’t failed if I was still learning.

However, returning from my holiday this week, I received an email from British triathlon. To my surprise, I was in. I had qualified for the Age-Group World Championships with one of the last fastest loser spots.

The news was astonishing. I had qualified. I had taken myself from novice, to a high-performing athlete, without a coach, but with a radical training philosophy courtesy of Dr. Phil Maffetone, and the MAF method.  The training plan was validated in that email – it works!

I’ve got 7 weeks until the Age-Group World Champs. I’m splitting it into 4 weeks of base work (155bpm work), 2 weeks incorporating anaerobic training, fine tuning for the race, and one taper week. Let’s get it!

Half-Marathon PB! 1.21.54

Back in March, coming out of the long months of winter base training at my MAF heart rate, I set a new half-marathon personal best at 1.23.50, despite pacing the race terribly and fading massively towards the end of the race (https://www.strava.com/activities/897417770/overview ).

Untitled

I had been so confident in the progress I had made over the winter, going from 8.40min/mile at 155bpm in Week 1, to 6.58min/mile in Week 17 at the same heart, I had attempted to run a sub 1hr20 half – 6 minutes faster than I had achieved the year before (and that had been a 5 minute PB!).  So at Silverstone Half in March I had attempted to run at 6.06min/mile, to achieve a 1.19.58 time, despite doing only one session anaerobic session above my 155bpm base in 5 months.  I had managed to hold pace for the first 7 miles but faded down to 6.40min/mile and finished with a time of 1hr23, and I was disappointed. It did show that it is possible to race without doing much/any anaerobic or speed training.

It’s crazy to think I was disappointed with a 1.23, when just one year previously I’d failed to crack 1hr30 at my 4th attempt at the half-marathon distance. Just shows how much progress can be made if you commit to a goal, I guess.

Anyway, to make amends for poorly pacing the Silverstone Half in March, I decided to enter Swansea Half-Marathon at the end of June, in the hope of getting nearer to the 1hr20 target. Now, as this was right in the middle of my two big goal races for the year, the GB Age-Group triathlon qualifiers, I hadn’t specifically targeted my training towards the half. I knew that the weekly long runs I was doing, and some of the speed work that I was now doing weekly for my triathlons would see me through the half-marathon. I didn’t want to particularly adjust my training for what was a minor race in the whole make up of my racing season.

web-SWAF3053The week of the race had been incredibly hot here in the UK (hot for us anyway), and I had poorly timed some of my workouts to go out in the midday sun, and had failed completely at hitting my target pace for those workouts. Just 4 days before the half I had intended to go out and do an hour-ish run of around 8miles, broken down into a 2M warm up, then 5miles at my intended half-marathon pace, and a mile cool down. My legs had felt heavy when warming up but when I went to begin the 5miles at 6.06min/mile I had nothing to give. I struggled to hold 6.35pace, and ended up cutting the session down to 2miles of effort and I jogged home again at an easy pace. I wasn’t hitting my targets and there was no point of hanging on to a 6.35min/mile pace – it wasn’t a race pace workout, or high-end speed stuff, it was just the junk that lies between 155bpm base and efficient anaerobic work – I didn’t need that in my life.  It was a mental struggle to fight doubts about racing at the weekend when I couldn’t hold anywhere near a race-pace for 1mile just a few days before, let alone 13!

I then did a slight taper (didn’t work out on Friday), although admittedly I was on my feet all day, and then did an easy 10min jog on the Saturday to check on the legs before Sunday’s race. Trying a taper as recommended by this guy’s triathlon YouTube channel – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_UqEGK0luec&t=362s – you should check it out.

The legs felt okay on the Saturday, but there was a degree of tightness in my legs from the failed tempo run on Wednesday. That afternoon involved a family walk down to the beach – which again, wasn’t ideal race prep – but you have to make sacrifices for your close friends/family. The amount you train probably impacts on their lives and inconveniences them from time to time, so don’t always be a pain in the arse and refused to move all of Saturday afternoon….unless the race is like super-important, in which case don’t move. Whack Netflix on and enjoy your afternoon, you’ve earned it.

Sunday morning I was up at 5.30am for a 9am race start. I had my now customary pre-race smoothie of a couple of eggs, some beetroot and a banana topped up with water. I then experimented with some rice-pudding and oat mixture, to provide some good carbohydrates, but less heavy, bloating fibre than pure oats would have been. And of course coffee. Must have coffee.

web-SWAA0137I arrived at the race on time for once and actually managed to get a light jog warm up in. I joined the start queue slightly late as I didn’t want to be waiting in the starting pen area for too long, where you’re so jammed in you’re never able to move and you stiffen up. It was so busy that I didn’t get towards the front with the quicker runners so actually started behind the 1hr40 pacer. TOP TIP: start in the right place in race.

The race went well though after slicing through the crowd in the first mile to find the quicker runners. I hit the target pace of 6.06 for the first mile but quickly knew my legs couldn’t hold it. Checking my watch I could see that what I felt (perceived effort level) would be a sustainable ‘half-marathon effort’ was nearer 6.15pace. It was frustrating looking at my heart rate data, floating around 170bpm, knowing that I can hold 175bpm for a half-marathon (after tracking heart-rate data but running on feel for a few races). I wanted to push on to 175bpm and nearer 6.06min/mile but the legs weren’t there. I also wanted to avoid a big fade like I did at Silverstone so I held a pace that could see me to the end, so restrained myself. My legs just weren’t feeling it (See pain face below).

Like normal, I raced the half as a 10mile race, with a 5k push at the end to get to the finish line. I held a relatively consistent pace until 10miles, at around 6.15min/mile (where 6.23min/mile pace would have still been a PB), and then tried to kick on from there. I managed at 6.00min/mile at mile 11 but then had to drop the pace back down again to see myself to the line.

I finished in a time of 1.21.54, at an average heart-rate of 172bpm and in 58th place out of about 5000 people. It was a PB 2 minutes faster than Silverstone 3 months ago, 5minutes faster than 14months ago and over 9 minutes faster than February last year. Although I hadn’t hit sub 1hr20, I was pleased with my progress. I thought that after finding 6 minutes on my half-marathon time last year I would start to see diminishing returns, but I’ve made another big step this year. What pleased me even more was that my heart-rate was 172bpm, not the 175bpm I’ve averaged in my past 3 well-paced races – so excluding Silverstone where I hit 180bpm in the first mile, I was being dumb.

Knowing that my nutrition plan before the race was solid, and that my training was going well, I can infer from the race that the reason my legs were heavy was because I hadn’t rested enough that week. I think that the heart-rate data indicates that I was fit enough to go faster, I just hadn’t recovered enough from the previous week’s training. It’s nice place to be. Maybe next time I’ll crack the elusive 1hr20 barrier.

In other news, it’s only 2 weeks before my final attempt to qualify for the Age-Group World Championships in Rotterdam, so I’m into my final week of hard training before a week long taper. Exciting times!

Lessons learned:

  • Give myself more time to taper if I want to race to my maximum
  • Listen to your body – rest when you need it; don’t force the race pace if you don’t have it on the day
  • Don’t panic if key sessions in the weeks prior to the race don’t go to plan. Just adjust how much rest you need, or adjust the goal if necessary.
  • Remember to look back on how far you’ve come, it’s a great motivator for further progress.
  • Track your heart-rate data in races when you can – it’s useful to be able to compare effort levels / pacing between events. I find it invaluable knowing that I can hold 175bpm for a half-marathon when properly rested – I stops me going too hard and stops me reserving too much.
  • Reward yourself: pizza is deserved.

Later MAFletes!

Age-Group World Champs Qualifier Review

It may have been a couple of weeks ago, but due to moving house I haven’t had the opportunity to review one of my big races for the year: the first GB qualifier for the Olympic Distance Triathlon World Championships in September.

Going into the race I felt prepared. I’d had a brilliant base training period over the winter, managing to avoid major illness and injury and had built my pace at my MAF heart rate from 8.40min/mile to sub 7min/mile. On top of this I’d had 6-8 weeks of training that had incorporated some anaerobic stimulation, fine-tuning my body with more intense efforts to simulate race-conditions and race-pace.

To qualify for the Age-Group World Championships as part of team Great Britain, I had to come in the top 4 of my age-group, the 18-24 category.  When I set this goal at the end of last season, I knew that it was going to be a big ask.  In my first (and only at the time) Olympic distance tri from 2015, I had finished in 2h34. Based on last year’s GB qualifiers I knew I’d need to finish much nearer a sub-2h05 time, certainly sub-2h10 – I was asking a lot of myself.

I had broken this down into a target of a 23minute 1500m swim (down from 34mins in 2015), a 1hr-1h03 40km bike (down from 1h14, and a 37mins 10k run (down from 43mins on a short run course), plus a couple of minutes for transition, for goal race time just over 2 hours.

Was this a realistic target? Probably not. Doing 100m/200m intervals in the pool at 23min swim pace (1.32/100m) had been tough; I’d managed to average 24mph (38.6kph, or a 1h02 40k bike) at a Sprint distance race a few weeks prior, but that’s only half the distance. I had set a new 10k run PB during a half-marathon in March at 37.40 though, and my training had been going well so I was at least confident of a good run time.

Race Day

What I ate before the race: 2 eggs, beetroot, 1 banana in a smoothie + rice pudding 3.30-4hrs before

Nutrition during the race: 2 x High 5 energy gel; 800ml water w/ 2tspn of honey

Splits:

  My Time Qualifying Time
Swim 23.20 (+0.47) 22.33
Bike 1.09.51 (+7.05) 1.02.56
Run 36.58 (+1.15) 35.43
Overall 2.12.29 (+9.17) 2.03.12

Generally I was pretty happy with the race. As you can see in the table above, my swim and runs were on target and were in-fact new personal bests. I actually stopped my watch coming out of the water in 22.30 (but the timing mat was at the top of a hill entering transition).  However, my bike was disappointing. My legs hadn’t felt brilliant but after 5k on the bike, and the first time we’d got out of the wind, I heard a horrible rubbing sound coming from my back wheel. I’d looked back and could see that one of the springs on my brake callipers and come loose and the whole calliper had been pushed to the extreme right, and that I had one brake pad rubbing the whole time. I quickly jumped off and tried to readjust the brake to no avail. I even disconnected the whole rear brake, and completed the rest of the ride with no rear brake function (except the permanent rubbing).  Mentally this was a struggled to get over, and keep pushing through. But also, after checking the results at the end of the race, I calculated that if I’d hit my target average speed on the bike, I’d have been around 30secs off a qualifying spot for the World Championships.

This was incredibly frustrating, knowing how close I could have been, but it’s now a motivation. Looking at how far I’d come from my first race, and seeing how quick I was now, I can be confident in my MAF method of training, and can be sure that it isn’t just a weight loss technique – it will allow me to race competitively.  Also, looking at my splits compared to those that qualified, I can see that my swim and run were relatively competitive. My swim is down, but always improving, and my run was in fact faster than two of the guys that qualified.  I can be confident that if my training goes well for the next few weeks I’ll be in a great position to challenge for qualification in my next race in mid-July.

Lessons from the Day

  • Rice pudding works for me as a lower fibre (easier to digest), alternative to porridge oats.
  • Give yourself plenty of time to set up your bike and get ready for the race – I was delayed and didn’t get a chance to check my bike was working, or to warm up before the swim. I almost missed the start! It’s not worth the extra 30mins of sleep, or jeopardising the months of training – get yourself to the race on time.
  • Just the one bottle of drink and two gels worked well for my nutrition during the race.
  • Sprinting the first 100m of the swim to find the feet of the fastest swimmers massively improved my time – it’s my first time trying this strategy. After you’ve found their feet just hold on for a new PB!
  • Pushing the first mile of the run to hit your target race-pace. Yes, your legs will feel terrible coming off the bike, but they’ll come back, I’ve found. If after a mile I couldn’t sustain the pace, then I would have adjusted.
  • Don’t be intimidated by other people’s nice bikes – stay confident in your own ability and your own training.
  • Set yourself big goals – you’ll work for it if it’s exciting enough!

Key Bike Sessions on the MAF Method

With cycling being the largest part of the triathlon, any performance gains you can find are going to have the biggest difference to your overall race time. Finding a 5% performance increase on your bike is going to improve your overall racing by much more than it will than a 5% increase in your running ability, simply due to the length of the bike section. Therefore it is key to maximise your bike training, and make each training session as efficient as possible. Over the past couple of seasons I’ve found the sessions, below, are the keys to developing on the bike, and have helped me go from a 19.7mph average for 40k, to 22.3mph, in just over a year – this worked out at an almost 8 minute improvement in my race time. Think of all the people you could have beaten had you not lost 8 minutes in your last race! In fact, in my last two sprint triathlon races I’ve managed to average 23.6mph,  20% faster than I cycled before I started on the MAF Method.

Strength-Based:

One of the major concerns that people new to the MAF method, myself included, is that it appears too easy with such a restriction on your heart rate. However, despite my initial scepticism, I found that riding at my MAF heart-rate of 155bpm for much longer than an hour was quite a struggle.  Compared to running, I felt as though I did have to work quite hard to hold an effort between 150-155bpm for an hour or so.

But I did feel that only doing rides at 145-155bpm for an hour or two would mean that I would lose all strength and power in my legs, even if I gained endurance. To remedy this concern, I researched the top pro athletes, cyclists and triathletes, to find out what sessions they did. After my research, I collated a list of all the key training bike sessions I should be doing, from both the pro-peloton and Maffetone’s guidelines, to make sure I set a PB in my next race.

Session Name Goal Description
Endurance ride Build endurance and fat-burning Fairly comfortable ride of 90mins+ at MAF heart-rate. If I’m tired, or struggling to hold that heart-rate I do aerobic intervals – e.g. 5mins at 145-155bpm, with a few minutes recovery, then repeat
Over-gear work Build strength Dropping my cadence to 50-60rpm, and putting the bike into its highest gear to build functional strength

e.g. 6 x 5mins at MAF, with a few minutes recovery

Single-leg drills Technique/strength Unclipping one foot from the pedals and using the other leg to do all the work. This helps improve strength-endurance as the working leg gets no rest during the pedal stroke. This also highlights any dead-spots in your pedal stroke, helping to improve efficiency. I struggle to get up to my MAF during this session.

e.g. 5x1minute on each leg, with 30secs easy pedalling with both feet between sets.

Neuromuscular efforts Strength Helps recruit more of the muscle fibres you have, rather than build new fibres. I try and do this every few weeks to make sure I’ve using all my leg muscles efficiently.

e.g. From a standing start in your highest gear to a full sprint (10-30secs), plenty of recovery, then repeat x10.

Anaerobic session Strength / speed-endurance After adequate base training, I will try and involve one anaerobic session per week into bike training (>155bpm). This can be for strength, doing short efforts with lots of recovery
e.g. 10x2mins, with 2mins recovery
Or, for my non-drafting races this involves extended efforts at a high-intensity, with less recovery to simulate race conditions

e.g. 3 x 20mins @160-165bpm, with 5 mins recovery.

 

An encouraging side note:

  • I found in my research that there was a growing practice in pro-cycling in which teams had their riders heading out on long, easy endurance rides at a controlled heart-rate, without breakfast to stimulate fat-burning ability.
  • Additionally I found that many cyclists were adopting ‘sweet-spot’ training and reporting great performance benefits. This involves cycling at a consistent effort for about an hour at 80% of your maximum heart-rate. For me this worked out to be exactly what my MAF heart-rate was. Maybe this MAF stuff isn’t crazy after all…

 

If you think there are other sessions that work for you that I’ve missed,  comment below!

Until next week, continue to #trainsmart people!

Follow me on Strava: https://www.strava.com/athletes/4115074

My Training Week

Monday: Swim: Endurance set – 4x750m off 14mins Run: 6×800 hard, 1min walk. recovery
Tuesday: Bike: Commute to work Weights: Pull ups & core
Wednesday: Bike: Commute to work Weights: Pull ups & core
Thursday: Swim: Kick & breathing drills Bike: 5x2min hill reps
Run: 10mins @175bpm
Friday: Swim: 6×150 efforts
Saturday: Aborted long run due to glute pain Swim: Open water 1000yds
Sunday: Bike: 1hr50 @145-155bpm Run: 30mins at 145bpm

 

Weekly Totals: Run: 16.2miles Cycle: 86.1 Swim: 9,259yds

Weight Loss on the MAF Method – Training Week 28

Now less than a month before the Great Britain Age-Group qualifiers in Chester on June 4th, I’m fully in the swing of cutting down towards what could be called a ‘race-weight’. I use the term loosely as I’ve never really paid close attention to my weight before I started on the MAF method. For a majority of the year I float between 70 and 72kg, (154-159lbs) but I’ll try and aim to be around 68kg (149/150lbs) for my races.  There hasn’t been a particularly sophisticated method of working out what my ideal weight should be, I’ve just had a look at myself and decided that there is no need for me to be over 68kg – there appears to be enough of an excess of ‘stored energy’ for me to lose a couple of kilos without making myself unhealthily thin, or not have enough fuel to carry me through a race.

Basically, by paying more attention to what I’m eating over the next few weeks, the aim is to get to about 68kg. If I’m under 68kg, and I still feel energetic and have enough energy for my training and racing, then great! We’ll see how much I can shed before my races without making myself unhealthy. It is important to remember that the overall goal is to perform better on race-day – if you cut too much you may feel lethargic and empty out on the course.

Why bother slimming down?

You mean other than looking even better in Lycra?  Weight and not carrying any excess for you race is something I’d never really considered before I started on the MAF method. I didn’t consider myself to be over-fat, or like I was carrying much excess weight. Sure I could become super-lean and skinny but it seemed like a lot of effort, for what I thought were mainly aesthetic benefits.

However, after researching the area, I’ve discovered the effect of weight on performance is significant and not something to ignore. As well from the added stress a few extra kilos puts on your knees and feet over the thousands of steps you take whilst training, there is an effect on your speed too.  In one article, a marathon coach and author of Build Your Running Body, says he tells his marathoners that ‘one minute slower per one pound overweight’ over the 26.2 mile distance (http://www.runnersworld.com/race-training/your-fastest-weight).

One great website, below, provides a calculator in which you can input your race times and how much you weighed at the time, and then provides a time estimate had your weight different at the time (all other things being equal). Although this is not necessarily an accurate indicator of weight on running speed, it does highlight an important trend. Here is mine based on the 5k I ran at the end of a sprint triathlon last week: http://www.runnersworld.com/race-training/your-fastest-weight

weight vs speed

The calculator, above, suggests that I could have made a 20-30 second performance gain over the 5k distance had I been at my ‘race-weight’ and not a couple of kilos over like I was. That’s a crazy difference! You can train for weeks, and put in hours of hard miles in the pool, on the bike or on a run and not find 30 seconds – all it takes is not taking an extra bite of Mars bar for a few weeks. The gains aren’t just for running either, a similar effect would be found swimming and biking too. Essentially, the less of you there is to carry, the easier things get.

How are you cutting calories?        

Personally, using the MyFitnessPal app, I’m recording the foods I eat and aiming to be 200-500 calories a day below what my Garmin Connect app is telling me is my target number of calories for the day. If you don’t have a fitness tracker watch (get one, they’re cool), then the MyFitnessPal app can give you a calorie target if you tell if how active you are on a typical day. Although calorie counting can seem dull, ultimately weight loss or fat loss comes down to there being an overall deficit between calories consumed and calories used in the day.

With a week before Chester Olympic Distance Triathlon I’ll stop the calorie deficit and be eating my target number of calories again (whatever the app tells me – it seems to work). The body performs best on a full tank!

No, I mean what are you eating differently?

I set up my diet so it’s easy for me to succeed – I’ve made an a strong, emotional decision to do everything I can to succeed in my goal of qualifying for the triathlon Age-Group World Championships; I’ve found out that saving weight could save me a significant amount of time; I know I couldn’t live with myself if I missed my goal by 30 seconds or something, after all the hours of training, all because I couldn’t say ‘no’ to that extra dessert in the work cafeteria.  With this being strong in my mind, adjusting my diet and sticking to it has become relatively easy.

Regarding specific foods, I’ve just slightly reduced what I’ve been eating throughout the year, and have been training with since starting on the MAF method. No major changes, just slight reductions so there is very minimal pain associated with the trimming down and dieting. If I’m not cutting anything out, or starving myself of the nice foods, what am I losing? All I’m getting is performance rewards.

A few of the dietary changes:

  • I have stopped putting sultanas on every bowl of porridge oats, and only had a few with oats after tough, anaerobic workouts.
  • Only using half a banana in smoothies, rather than a whole one.
  • Not putting milk in smoothies, and using water instead.
  • Only having one piece of chocolate, instead of two
  • No milk or sugar in tea or coffee

I’m already starting to see progress. Although weight can vary depending on how dehydrated you are, or whether you’ve just peed, I weighed myself at 69kg a couple of days ago, down from being 70.5kg a couple of weeks previously. I will be regularly weighing myself, as soon as I get up in the morning, to measure whether my diet tweaks are having the desired effect.

But what’s this got to do with the MAF method?

With the high fat-burning state you develop in MAF method training, weight loss is relatively easy as all you have to do is reduce the amount of excess sugars you’re eating that can impair fat-burning. You’ve been training the body to burn fat, and so your excess weight (as stored fat) almost melts away. The other exciting aspect of the MAF method is that because the diet is primarily consisting of high-quality fats, you need to eat less of them to feel full. With sugars you need to eat lots of it to quell your hunger but it’s a different story with fat. I’ve found it much easier to regulate my weight, and drop a few pounds for races when I’ve needed to – plus most of the flavour is in the fat – it’s brilliant.

One thing to bear in mind is that if you are cutting calories, you could find yourself with a slightly reduced immune system. Adjust your training accordingly, stay hydrated, and remember to put the season ahead of the session. If you’re feeling unwell then just take the session off, recover, and get back out tomorrow. Soldiering on, while it seems epic, can just result in you missing days of training instead when the illness catches up with you.

That’s all for this week, remember to #trainsmart

To follow my training more closely, follow me on Strava at https://www.strava.com/athletes/4115074

For more information on the sugars vs. fat, check out last week’s post about race nutrition

 

My training week:

Monday: RACE DAY Off
Tuesday: Run: 4M easy jog Swim: Easy 2k 
Wednesday: Swim: 2.1k, leg drills Bike: Drill session
Thursday: Bike: Commute to work Off
Friday: Swim: 1x2k Run: 10M low-aerobic
Saturday: Bike: Recovery 45mins Run: 1hr low-aerobic
Sunday: Workout: Core Off

 

Weekly Totals: Run: 24.6miles Cycle: 73.3miles Swim: 7,437yds

Race Nutrition on the MAF Method – Training Week 26

When I first started out on the MAF method, eating fewer carbohydrates, training more slowly and eating more fats, I struggled when it came to races.  In half-marathon run races, sprint-distance and Olympic-distance triathlons, my training partners and competitors would all be devouring mountains of quick-cook pasta the night before a race, and forcing down cereals and toast with jam in the early hours of race day.  I, on the other hand, was torn.  I’d heard all the advice suggesting that your body needs to be fully stocked on carbohydrates in order for you to perform to an optimum level, and that on race morning you want some simple carbohydrates, which will be easily processed by the body, so you’re not feeling heavy or likely to get indigestion during the race.  However, my MAF method reading was telling me to ditch all the refined, processed, carbohydrates you find in bread and pasta – everything my competitors seemingly couldn’t get enough of in the final 24hours before a race.  So what should you do if you’re fuelling for a race on the MAF method: relax on the low-carb diet and try to pack in as much simple carb-fuel as possible or continue eating fats and hope you’re fat-burning engine delivers on race day?

Stick to What You Know

Rule 1 is don’t change anything drastically before the event – do what you’re used to and have done before.  If it’s your first race and you’re sitting there thinking that you’ve got no clue about what to eat before you race, just stick to what you’ve been eating during training.  If you’ve been doing all your training avoiding breads, pastas, cereal bars or whatever, don’t suddenly try and pack in as many of those to your diet as you can. Chances are that your stomach will be pretty confused by the sudden delivery of carbohydrate and isn’t likely to perform at its best.  If you want to try something new for your races, try it in training first – simple!

On the MAF Method

The idea behind the MAF method isn’t to eliminate carbohydrate, or paint carbs as the bad guy or the reason you’re still overweight, but to suggest that training your body to be able to burn fat, as well as utilising stores of high-quality carbohydrate, should allow you race harder and for longer.

One of the keys of nutrition on the MAF method is not spiking your blood sugar too high that it impairs the body’s ability to burn fat. If you’re blood sugar is high the body isn’t going to break down stored fat for energy, it’s going to use the available fuel coursing through your bloodstream – the body’s smart like that. That’s part of the reason why people who have a high-sugar diet pile on the pounds, or can never seem to lose the last bit of flab – the body doesn’t need to break down fat if you keep pouring in easily-useable sugar – but that’s another story.  The key is to eat foods that provide the necessary carbohydrates (which are broken down into useable sugars) for top-end, peak performance, but don’t spike your blood sugar like white bread, white pasta and certain fruits do.

One way to slow down the release of sugar from your food, and thereby not spike your blood is combining fibre and fat with the carbohydrate. This is why carbohydrate sources like porridge oats are a brilliant source of carbohydrate as the high-fibre content slows down the release of sugar from the stomach to the blood stream – hence it’s known as a slow-release carbohydrate.  On the other hand, fruits like oranges, ripe bananas and dried fruit are packed full of easily digestible sugars that pass quickly into the blood stream and impair fat-burning. But how are you supposed to know which foods spike your blood sugar? Helpfully, some clever people have created the Glycemic Index (GI), which compares foods on how quickly they release sugar into the bloodstream. You can just google the foods you’re eating before a race or workout and see whether they could be affecting your ability to burn fat. Low GI foods like raspberries and blueberries are good, high GI foods like sultanas, white bread and oranges should be eaten sparingly, if at all – I personally try and save these foods for after a tough, anaerobic, sugar-burn workout when my blood sugar is likely to be dropping.

There is a consideration to bear in mind with the lower GI foods, and eating more fibre and fat before a race or workout – the fact that they do take longer to digest.  Whereas the simple sugars found in a banana, or a piece of white bread with jam, will be quickly digested within a couple of hours, a meal with more fat, fibre and complex proteins take much longer. If you’re happy getting up at 2am on the morning of your race for a cheesy omelette or a steak and chips then you can stop reading here. If not, carry on reading.

So What are We Looking For?

We’re looking for a meal that provides us with adequate carbohydrate for peak performance, yet doesn’t spike our blood-sugar and impair fat-burning, whilst not taking too long to digest.

How I Came Up with My Pre-Race Meal

The short answer is experimentation.  Over the past couple of years I’ve tried different foods, at varying times before a race and made a notes of how I felt during the race – whether I felt a little empty, whether I felt overly full, whether I spent more time-in the race-day Porta-loos than a Westerner spends on the toilet during his first trip to Delhi; the standard stuff.

For my half-marathon races and triathlons I personally wanted a reasonably sized meal before the race, containing some fat to ensure my blood sugar didn’t spike and that I didn’t feel hungry by the start of the race. When I first started recording my pre-race meals, I would have a couple of eggs followed by bowl of porridge oats with a banana and blueberries. I would also have that all important coffee. Initially I started having it with a little bit of cream to make sure I had enough fat in the diet – I later cut this out as it made me feel a bit sickly.  This meal would provide me with plenty of carbohydrate but with some fat and fibre (from the oats) to ensure I didn’t spike my blood sugar. I varied the time of the meal from 2hrs before the start to 4hrs before the start, to see what worked best. People can digest foods differently to others and at different rates, so you personally may be able to eat an hour before a race and feel great, but I’m not one of those people, so I need a little longer. From then I would sip on water or orange squash to until the start. However, after finding out that the orange squash I was using had only trace amounts of sugar/carbohydrate, I adjusted my diet – I felt so dumb, I’d been using that orange squash for years as a sports drink!

For my most recent sprint-triathlon (60-90mins) my pre-race meal was:

  • Black Coffee – to stimulate metabolism and wake me up in the morning
  • Smoothie – 2 eggs, 1 green banana (lower GI than a ripe banana), beetroot and raspberries – for a source of a little fat/protein in the eggs; useful nutrients and carbs in the banana; low GI carbohydrate in the berries.
  • Porridge oats with blueberries and sultanas – high carbohydrate but high fibre to ensure slow-release energy with blueberries for low GI carbs, and the sultanas for an extra little sugar (high GI but offset by the fibre in the oats…I hope).
  • Sip on water and a carbohydrate drink (500ml of water with a couple of teaspoons of natural honey added); it won’t spike your blood sugar but is a great source of fuel – a 6-8% carb solution is ideal.

This tends to work out at about 400-500 calories, and 50% carbohydrate, 30% fat, 20% protein.  During a normal training day, my macronutrients tend to be nearer 25% carbohydrate, 55% fat, 20% protein.

On this pre-race meal I set a new PB of the triathlon course, setting triathlon-personal bests in the swim, bike and run. I was particularly pleased with the run as I completed the 5k course in 18.02, only 6 seconds off my 5k PB of 17.56. I felt well-fuelled for the race, with plenty of energy for the race, and I didn’t feel hungry or dehydrated.  I ate about 3.5-4hrs before the race – this window seems to be appropriate for me, after using this time frame for my last few races. During the race I had 200ml of the same carb-solution I had been drinking before the race. This is what I’ve found works for me, but I’m still tweaking it, searching for improvements.  If you’ve got any suggestions, let me know!

A Note About Beetroot

A few studies recently have suggested the eating beetroot could lead to performance gains. The evidence seems to suggest that the nitrates in beetroot are converted to nitric oxide in your body, which helps increase blood vessel dilation, allowing for increased blood flow and helping your muscles work more efficiently. There is some debate over how much beetroot you need for this to have any effect on your performance, but I’ve started incorporating it into my racing nutrition – worth checking out if you’re curious!

Summary

  • Practice your race nutrition
  • Don’t spike your blood sugar if you want to utilise your fat-burning engine you’ve developed in your base-training
  • Experiment with different foods at races that are less important to you – invest time into establishing what works for you

Remember to train smart, not just hard!

Training Week

Monday: Off Swim: 4x400m (off 7mins)
Tuesday: Cycle: Over-gear commute to work  
Wednesday: Off Run: 8×400 (1min walk rec.)
Thursday: Workout: Core Cycle: 2x10mins race pace +
Run: Tempo 5k
Friday: Swim: 2×500, 1×750 Off
Saturday: Cycle: Commute to work @155bpm Off
Sunday: Run: Easy 2 miles Off

 

Weekly Totals: Run: 11miles Cycle: 53miles Swim: 5,300yds

Follow my training daily here: https://www.strava.com/athletes/4115074

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/d_haywood/

Listening to Your Body – Training Week 25

With just one week before my first triathlon of the season, I’m starting to get excited about seeing my progress from my training in the winter.  After 4 weeks of hard training, incorporating strength and power-based interval training, I’ve got to think about how much rest I’ll need before the race.  Although this isn’t a ‘goal-race’ of mine, I’d like to do well, and it’s always nice to get some reaffirmation of your training, with one of my goal-races now less than 6 weeks away, in June.

When to Rest

As this upcoming triathlon is sprint-distance, I’m not planning a big taper or much time off training. If this was a race I’d be aiming to peak for I’d take at least the day before off completely, with at least 3 / 4 days without any real hard efforts. Similarly, as this race is only likely to be 1 hour to 90 minutes, there’s no need to carbo-load or anything.  In order to perform well though, I need to establish how hard to train in the week before race.

What’s useful about the MAF method, and using heart-rate to train, is that you can compare your heart-rate information to your pace to establish how must rest you need.  For example, my longer run this week of 10miles at 155bpm, was at an average pace of 7.34min/mile.  In runs previously, at the same heart rate, I’ve been able to average a much quicker pace, nearer 7min/mile over a similar route and distance.  As heart-rate is a good indicator of how hard you’re working, I can tell that my body is tired, and the fatigue is affecting my performance – being 30 seconds/mile slower.  Similarly, my cadence was much lower than normal.  When I’m feeling fresh, or just less fatigued, I can routinely keep my cadence (strides per minute) at 172-175spm. However, on yesterday’s 10M run, I struggled to average 169. This might not sound much lower, but the difference in movements of your feet, how you contact the ground, and your leg speed between 175spm and 169spm, multiplied over the 12000-odd steps you take on a 10M run, could have a significant effect on your body, and your likelihood to pick up an injury.

I’ve learnt over the last few years to not feel guilty about missing a session if I feel tired, and that it’s better in to skip one session, then continue training the next day, than soldier on get too tired and end up having to miss several days.  If you’re training when overly-tired, with bad form then you’re much more likely to get injured. With that in mind, I took this morning off completely and will have a build in a couple extra rest sessions this week, with the day before the race completely off.

If your pace seems really low compared to your heart-rate,  or if you’re struggling to get your heart rate up on those tough runs, maybe you should take a couple of sessions off and recover.  If you continue to push on you could be progressively training more inefficiently, and more likely to get injured or get ill, no matter how epic it feels to soldier on (speaking from personal experience).

Anaerobic Transition

For the past 4 weeks, my anaerobic sessions have been mainly strength-based. This has meant that distances have been short, at max effort with a lot of recovery time between repetitions. This has allowed me to push my ceiling, and regain some strength and power that I haven’t been using during the long base-training period.  However, with just 6 weeks before my goal-races the time has come to work on some speed-endurance; the ability to drag high-speed over a race-distance.

This past weekend I tested my fitness with a 5k effort at my local Parkrun. I was able to hit a good pace for the first kilometre, and first mile, at around 5.40min/mile, but quickly faded and was running around 6min/mile by the end of the run.  My strength-based intervals have been going well but the 5k effort was a clear indication that I needed to work on my ability to drag high-speed over a race-distance.  Similarly, the 5k effort was another indicator that I needed to give my body some rest. My heart rate average over 5k was 176bpm, with a peak of 189bpm. When more well rested last October, I could average 189bpm and peak at 199bpm.  Not being able to raise my heart-rate, like I know I’m capable of, indicates I need some more rest if I’m going to perform well in the race next week.

Reviewing my training, and the 5k effort, I have decided it is time to transition from strength-based, max-out intervals with plenty of recovery between repetitions, to more race-pace efforts with a reduced recovery time. This should work on my body’s ability to deal with the lactic acid build up created in anaerobic respiration/ work-outs, whilst still pushing a hard pace.  This will allow me to carry a high-pace throughout a race, whereas the intervals I have been doing for the past 4 weeks have been about re-recruiting muscle fibres I haven’t used in months, and pushing my top-end pace.  I will adjust my training in this way across swimming, cycling and running.

To put figures to it (for running): rather than going at 4.55min/mile over 400m, with 3 minutes between repetitions, I will be running nearer 5.15min/mile with a minute between repetitions – much nearer my goal 5k pace (5.27min/mile for a sub 17min 5k – might be slightly over-ambitious!).

 

Last Week’s Training

Last week was as follows:

Monday Run:155bpm Hill Reps (50mins) Bike: 35min (+10min brick-run)
Tuesday Cycle: Commute Run: 6x600m (~5.05min/mile), 3min recovery
Wednesday Swim: 45mins Bike: Commute
Thursday Swim: Hard swim – 20x50m (off 1min) Bike: 70mins
Friday Swim: Endurance set Bike: 3x10mins at race-pace
Saturday Run: 5k effort Bike: Easy 30min spin (+10min brick-run)
Sunday Run: 70mins (10miles) REST

 

Weekly Totals Swim: 5,800yds Bike: 85.6M Run: 30.5M

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.

Racing

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: https://philmaffetone.com/180-formula/https://philmaffetone.com/180-formula/).  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,
David

 

Goals for this Season & Base Training Progress

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

Happy training!

My Start with MAF Training

I’m not going to jazz it up for the sake of my writing, my start with the Maffetone method was a decisively dull affair. I’d only decided to give it a trial, and if it didn’t work I would have only lost a few months of training, and then could go back to flogging myself round the track and up and down hills. As I strapped the heart-rate monitor on, there wasn’t a glorious sunbeam of revelation that shone on the way ahead for me, illuminating the way to improved health, training and racing. I wasn’t floating along with an angelic choir rejoicing at the discovery of a different method of training. I was just slow. In the year before I’d been running without a heart-rate monitor and would claim that I felt comfortable running at 7.30min/mile and would label my runs accordingly on fitness tracking sites like Strava – ‘easy run’ – when secretly it was actually quite tough. As most of my runs that year had been at target race-pace, of 6.52min/mile, I guess the 7.30min/mile pace would have seemed relatively easy. Having read up on Maffetone and his method, I headed out for this first run feeling enthusiastic about the performance benefits that his method claimed to offer. His books and other material had told me I would be running slowly at my MAF heart rate of 155bpm, so I went out prepared to look like a jogger, rather than the prime runner I would of liked to consider myself to be. Maybe this slow jogging would be 7.45min/mile, perhaps even below 8min/mile – oddly I felt that I’d have to title my run with some excuses if it was this sort of pace, letting the Strava fans know why I was running much slower than normal.

So in July 2015, I completed my first MAF run – 2 miles, at 9.04min/mile at 151bpm – a slight reality check.  This pace felt so easy – I didn’t feel like I’d been for a run when I got back home. Normally after a run I’d have aching, tired, heavy legs, but I didn’t after this one. It was a very peculiar feeling.  It made me question what I was doing. Is this Maffetone guy really suggesting running at 9min/mile for a few months was going to improve my ability to run at 6min/mile and set new 5k PBs (which stood at 18.40, 6.01min/mile)? To say I was sceptical would have been an understatement. Everyone I knew trained going out and doing intervals, repeatedly smashing out above-race pace runs, bikes and swims – why was I thinking I could beat them all by training so slowly? When confronted with these thoughts I thought back to the issues I’d had the previous two seasons, with injuries, the disappointment of missing sessions and not racing as fast as I knew I could. Reflecting on the pain of these experiences, I persevered with the MAF method, which had assured me that I would be much healthier training this way.

The next few runs were slightly better, with a 3 and 4-mile runs at 8.35min/mile pace and 155bpm and a 5miler at 8.51min/mile.  Disappointed with my times, I investigated Maffetone’s diet advice too. In a nutshell, he suggests cutting out a lot of the high-sugar foods and replacing them with good quality fats. This confused me as we’re always being told by the media and scientists that fat is bad and will cause you to have strokes and heart attacks – bad things. However, when I learnt about how fat works in the body, how it helps reduce inflammation and is important in hormone production, and how some carbohydrates quickly spike your blood sugar causing spikes and drop outs in energy, and is often stored as body fat anyway, I decided to commit to the MAF method, and change my ways. This meant I ate more good fats, like eggs and fish, and cut down on the cereals, white bread and white pasta.

I don’t know whether it was dietary changes, or just my body adjusting to the new workout regime, but within two months of doing a few bike rides and a few runs a week at my MAF heart rate, I was able to run for an hour at 7.59min/mile, over a minute per mile faster than I started. I was pretty pleased with my progress.  I even managed one 5k at 7.34min/mile.
To support my easy base-training in swimming, biking and running, I scheduled two strength and conditioning sessions a week in the gym. Sessions were focused on injury prevention and maintaining some strength, as I was sure that my legs were wasting away despite the improved times I was running at.

After 3 months of base-training, I went out for a long-run of about 10 miles, got lost and ended up running a half-marathon distance. However, as this was all at 155bpm, it felt really quite easy, and I was pleasantly surprised to find I’d run 13.1miles in 1.44.16, at 7.57min/mile.  Considering that a little over 90days ago I only did couple of miles at 9min/mile I was astonished with my progress.  I was really excited to see where I would get to by the New Year, when I would start intervals and anaerobic training again.
However, injury and illness were not done with me just yet. There was a bug going round at university at the time, and a few too many late nights out left me struggling with a chest infection. Despite radically changing how I trained, I still managed to get ill. Looking back, I can see that I was probably over-training and over-loading my body. As the workouts seemed easy, I crammed more of them into my schedule and was training twice a day, almost every day. After 6 weeks of being ill, I had my end of semester exams, and then did some travelling in New York City over Christmas, then in Canada in January, not training too much and eating terribly. By the time I came home in mid-January my run pace had dropped and I was back to 8.36min/mile over 3miles.

I had my first race of the year in late February 2016, a half-marathon, so got back on the training. I still wanted to break 1hr30 for that race. I did one more month of base training, before adding one anaerobic interval session a week back into the schedule at the beginning of February. The week before the half-marathon I tested my fitness by running 5 miles round the athletics track, to see how my pace was on a flat surface, with each mile easily comparable. I ran with an average pace of 8.22min/mile at 155bpm. I wasn’t particularly looking forward to the race that week as I knew that’d managed to get my 155bpm-pace almost 40seconds a mile quicker in October 2015, so I wasn’t in peak fitness. Surprisingly, the race went well though. I set a new personal best of 1.30.46 – not quite what I’d hoped for, but I was excited – if my MAF, 155bpm pace was 40seconds a mile slower than it had been before, and I still set a new PB, what could I have run had I been as fit as I was in October?
With renewed enthusiasm, I did another base training month in March before doing 4 weeks with a couple of anaerobic sessions thrown in before Southampton Half Marathon in April 2016. I was excited about this race as I had tested my fitness around a track again at 155bpm, and managed 7.56min/mile, 22 seconds a mile faster than a couple of months before. I was dreaming that I might even break 1hr29 after the 4 months of consistent training I’d managed. The day of the race came and I smashed all my expectations. I recorded on my watch a 1.25.40, (although the chip time said 1.26.01 due to some confusion as to where the actual start was!). I was blown away. In a few months of consistent training I’d managed to take my half-marathon pace from 6.55min/mile, to 6.34min/mile and find 5 minutes. That was a massive improvement. It was truly shocking, and so very exciting!

Being aware of overtraining, I went into my triathlon races with renewed vigour and was the fastest finisher from my university at the British and College Sport Sprint Triathlon Championships. From here I went on to place second overall in the Grand Shaftsbury Sprint Triathlon in June, and by October, smash my 5k to 17.56, 44 seconds faster than I had managed just a year before. I was so pleased after this season that I decided to stick with the MAF method for another year.