I watch a bit of Youtube from time to time and among the offerings that Google thought appropriate for me was a video about MAF. I found myself watching a middle-aged Canadian waxing lyrical, well repeating himself enthusiastically at least, about his running. We had a bit in common. He had once been a fairly familiar weight, he had been in and out of an exercise regime, had run a marathon even but just couldn’t get it all to stick. I had gone through that phase in my middle age, too, although I was on the way down from a more athletic youth and I think he was on the way up but not quite getting it to fly.

No matter, now he was here to tell me that he’d just completed a thousand miles of running under the MAF method, he was certainly saved and we all could be too.

I didn’t get all the way through the video but I gave him a thumbs up, anyone who runs a thousand miles deserves at least that much encouragement, and googled the MAF method.

It’s the brainchild of one Dr Phil Maffetone. MAF is short for Maximum Aerobic Function although I suspect that its choice as a handle had much to do with it being the first three letters of his idol’s name.

There is nothing particularly original in the method. It’s a combination of Long Slow Distance, sensible diet, sleep and stress management wrapped in some slick promotion. Having said that though if I was middle-aged again and inclined to run it’s a method with much to commend it.

Before getting to the core of the process I can’t resist this little quote from Dr M …

What’s the best heart rate for aerobic training? The answer to this is individual, and key to building a great aerobic body. Many are familiar with the old heart rate formula: 220 minus your age, multiplied by 65% to 85%. But this method has no scientific or clinical basis.

So for you Dr Maf  suggests training at a heart rate no greater than 180 minus your age, plus or minus a small fudge factor based on a very crude measure of your current health and fitness! What could be more scientific or clinical than that? Should your heart beat too quickly stop running and walk until it behaves more decorously.

Dr Maffetone is also a keen proponent of regular testing in the form of timed runs once again staying within the prescribed heart rate range.

The great virtues of the method, and yes there are virtues here, are that niggling injuries and fatigue are minimised and the fuel burnt will be biased towards fat. Improvement in fitness, especially if you’re coming off the couch, will show in greater pace while running at the chosen heart rate. I’m sure that greater rates of improvement are possible if you push harder, but pushing very hard is a high risk strategy. This is not a method that will generate champions but it’s better to be a mediocre runner than a former runner.

In my experience the hardest part of running is getting changed and out the door. Once you’ve achieved that the rest is easy. So easy in fact that you may become over zealous and forget that you need to do it again tomorrow.

Will I be incorporating this approach in my cycling?

By the time I’ve deducted my 71 years from 180 there isn’t enough wriggle room to get over the nearest hill. Someone would have to follow with my wheel chair. So no,  I will continue to burn a match or two on every ride.




Fast After Fifty …

If it seems that my obsessive compulsive personality is fairly obvious in my writing I am put in the shade by Joe Friel, founder of Training Peaks, elite coach and author of a number of books on training for endurance athletes. I have just read one of those books Fast After Fifty. He was 70 when he wrote it and I suspect the title should have been This is how I’m Gonna be Fast After Seventy. It’s an informative read and some of his wisdom will find its way into my training regime.

In the first chapter we learn what age does to you and it ain’t pretty  …

To go on churning out fast times in the pool your shoulders have to stand up extremely well and you need a remarkable tolerance of the view from the waterline of the inside of a pool. At least it’s weightless.

The runner on the other hand has to absorb their body weight as it hits the ground over and over. Quads and calves work to absorb momentum even as the muscles extend – eccentric contraction. In cycling muscles shorten as they contract – concentric contraction – and suffer less fatigue as a consequence.

At first glance things look pretty good for the cyclist but that graph only goes to age 64! But it seems that the niggling little injuries are fewer – just don’t come off your bike and sustain the big ones.

As well as a prescription for training Joe encourages weight lifting and discusses recovery strategies, sleep and diet.

A very worthwhile read, I recommend it.

But once again the research is into the persisting older athlete. There is little to indicate what the reforming couch potato can expect to achieve in his or her later years. No good looking backwards for answers. Before the boomers took up jogging older folk were expected to take it easy, nothing too strenuous. We are pioneers.