This post may contain affiliate links.
That is the question, isn’t it?
Ugh, I have so much angst right now that I feel like I should go spend a year in Europe finding myself.
Let me back up a minute.
Back in March on my trip to Israel, I met Heather, formerly of Dietitian on the Run, and now heathercaplan.com. I have to tell you, I’m kind of in awe of this beautiful chica. First of all, she hopped on a plane to Israel just 2 days after her wedding! That alone makes her a serious badass in my book. But more to the point, she is healthy, in great shape, and an awesome runner.
Heather is a registered dietitian and a running coach. She trains and coaches using the “Maffetone Method,” which I’d never heard of prior to our meeting. I love this description of it from her coaching team, Team Amazing Day:
…[The] Maffetone Method [is] a holistic approach to endurance training that involves training at a low heart rate, but also controlling inflammation in the body through sleep, proper nutrition, recovery, and stress management.
I’d also never heard of heart rate-based training (more on that in a minute) prior to my Israel trip . Heather really didn’t talk about it much, but for some reason the little I did learn stuck with me after I got home. I did a little bit of googling, read a couple of articles, even did a little research about heart rate monitors.
I was intrigued. And then last month, while picking through a clearance endcap at Target, I found this:
A Polar USA FT1 Heart Rate Monitor, marked down from $59.99 to $17.98. It was a sign. (Side note: A lot of my “signs” happen at Target. Interesting.)
So let me stop right here and give a quick explanation about heart rate-based training. I’m NOT an expert by any means, and I’m sure this will be an oversimplification, but here are the basics (as I understand them).
In HR-based training, heart rate is used to determine the intensity of the workout. You can determine this with a heart rate monitor or (for the gadget-avoidant) by taking your pulse. Most HR-based training plans involve finding your resting heart rate and maximum heart rate, and then targeting different HR zones (based on percentages) for different types of workouts or runs. That might sound a little confusing, but Beth at Shut Up + Run explains it really well HERE.
The Maffetone Method is different, though. It does NOT involve targeting heart rate zones. Rather, a formula is used to determine your maximum aerobic function (MAF). This number is your ideal maximum aerobic heart rate and in most cases should not be exceeded.
The formula is called The 180 Formula, and it’s really simple:
1. Subtract your age from 180.
2. Modify this number based on the following categories:
a) If you have or are recovering from a major illness (heart disease, any operation or hospital stay, etc.) or are on any regular medication, subtract an additional 10.
b) If you are injured, have regressed in training or competition, get more than two colds or bouts of flu per year, have allergies or asthma, or if you have been inconsistent or are just getting back into training, subtract an additional 5.
c) If you have been training consistently (at least four times weekly) for up to two years without any of the problems just mentioned, keep the number (180–age) the same
d) If you have been training for more than two years without any of the problems listed above and have made progress in competition without injury, add 5.
So for example, I’m 40 years old, and 180 – 40 = 140. Then if I subtract another 5 points for having asthma, that gives me a maximum aerobic heart rate of 135. Maximum – meaning that while running, my heart rate should (almost) never exceed 135, especially during the first several months. The goal is to build my “aerobic base,” or to train my body to run faster & harder while using the same (or less) amount of exertion.
I’ve been experimenting with this type of running for a couple of weeks now, and here’s what I’ve learned so far:
1. Running slower than your natural pace is harder than you might think.
2. My aerobic base sucks.
In order to maintain a heart rate of 125-135 (Dr. Maffetone recommends a range of 10 beats lower than your maximum aerobic heart rate), I’m having to run an average pace of 15:00/mile. In comparison, my Galloway training pace (averaging run-walk interval times) is around 12:00/mile.
Off the top of my head, I’d say that during a typical Galloway training run, my run intervals average around 9:00-10:00/mile, while my walk intervals are around 14:00-15:00/mile. So running a 15:00 mile feels very slow. Actually, it’s nearly impossible to do much running at that pace. If I try anything harder than a light jog, my heart rate shoots right up to 150. So in order to slow my heart rate down, I’m spending a lot of time walking – which of course I do during Galloway training too.
Which leads me back to my original question: to Galloway or not to Galloway?
My local Galloway marathon training program starts up again in two weeks. And I’m still on the fence about whether or not to sign up.
There are a lot of things that I love about Galloway training. But the more I read about the Maffetone Method, the more I think it could be the right choice for me right now. And even though both methods involve low-intensity training and a “run slow to go faster” foundation, I’m wondering if they are mutually exclusive.
Maffetone = low, steady heart rate
Galloway = constant speeding up & slowing down of heart rate during intervals
From The Maffetone Method (Dr. Philip Maffetone, 2000) :
The most important part of your schedule is the aerobic base, the time you’ll need to spend to build your aerobic system. During this period of time, you’ll perform only aerobic exercise; there will be no anaerobic training. This aerobic base period can last three to five months, sometimes longer. (page 48)
The most difficult obstacle during [the aerobic base] period may be interference from other people, which may lead you to question yourself. “Is exercising this slow really going to help me?” is a common question. “Run with us just this one time” is also a common trap. [It’s] vital that you be very strict in developing your aerobic base. (page 111)
At this point, I think it’s fair to say that I’m committed to giving the Maffetone Method a genuine shot. What worries me is whether I’m committed enough. I’ve never trained for a marathon (or for anything, really) without the support of a group and the structure of someone else’s schedule. My longest solo run so far is 14 miles. Can I go it alone for almost twice that?
The natural choice seems to be a happy compromise – train mostly on my own but do my long runs (12+ miles) with the Galloway group. But won’t this be counterproductive to MAF training? Switching back & forth between training styles isn’t exactly being “very strict” in developing my aerobic base.
I’m genuinely torn.
Care to weigh in? I’d love some feedback.