Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Physiological Testing, Putting my Maffetone Experience to bed and Future Challenges

After reading my blog about my flirtation with the Maffetone method, my mate Sue said that she was left unsure as to whether I was for or against it.  I guess this is because I'm not actually sure myself. I'll try to clarify my thoughts here.

The Diet Part of Maffetone

I am not a fan of any diet that cuts out whole food groups, even for a short time and I'm a bit cynical about food intolerance (other than genuine allergies or conditions such a Coeliac disease), so cutting out carbs for 2 weeks to see if I am carb-intolerant went against the grain.  

I did notice a few improvements, in that my feet weren't constantly aching and my ankles weren't painful - not waking during the night in pain.  However, these improvements have been maintained now that I am fully back on carbs and I think it is more the steady running and the gradual, as opposed to sudden, increase in weekly mileage.

That brings me onto the steady running.

The Aerobic Running part of Maffetone

I thought I was fairly patient, but I had to give up on the running with HR < 128 bpm.  I spent more time walking than running and it was going to be 6 months before I saw any improvement.  I never really bought into the idea that my aerobic zone was this low.  I like the principle of running mainly in the aerobic zone - traditionally training zones 1 & 2 - recovery and endurance - for 80% of my running.  I can see how this will improve endurance, encourage physiological adaptations and because it's gentler, reduce the risk of injury.  But I wanted to find out what my aerobic running zone was in HR / pace.  

So that lead me to contact the University of Lincoln Human Performance Centre with a view to finding out my maximum heart rate (HR) and working out some training zones.

Physiological Testing

I initially had a chat on the phone with the guy who  facilitates the testing, Simon George. He's clearly very knowledgeable and yet managed to explain stuff in  a way that gave me all the information I needed but didn't baffle me with science.

He explained that just testing my maximum HR would involve running to exhaustion and this test has its limitations.  It would give me my accurate max HR, but that would be the only accurate figure. From that, training zones could be worked out on a percentage basis, but the percentages are based on research that gives figures that work for 'most people', but are not necessarily accurate for every individual.  

As I was particularly keen to find out my aerobic training zones, he recommended lactic acid threshold testing.

As I have understood this (and this is a real simplification of a complex process), when we exercise, we produce lactate in the blood. At slower paces, (and corresponding lower heart rates) the body can clear the lactate so there is no increase, but at faster paces (or prolonged exercise) it starts to build up exponentially because it is producing at a faster rate than the body can deal with.  There are 2 points - called lactic-1 and lactic-2 where the level of lactate in the blood increases at a different (higher) rate.  These thresholds correspond with the training zones.

I got booked in and went for my testing on 6th November 2015.

What the test involves.

I had blood taken at the start of the test and I had to run on a dreadmill, ahem, I mean treadmill starting slowly, barely more than walking.  Every 4 minutes,  more blood was taken and a note made of my heart rate. Then the speed on the dreadmill was increased by ½km/hour. This was repeated until the lactic acid had it's second change in the rate at which it was building 


In the table above, the first column is the speed of the dreadmill, corresponding to my pace in the second column.  Each row shows my HR and lactate after 4 mins of running at that pace.  The lactate remained stable until my HR was 155, making this Threshold 1 (or lactate 1).  The lactate then started to rise steadily at an even rate until my HR was 170, after which it shot up at a greater rate, making 170 Threshold 2. At that point, I knew I was working hard!  

The change in the rate of increase in lactate is probably shown better in the graph below. Note how the blue curve, showing lactate, changes.  The arrows show the HR these changes correspond to.

The training zones were then defined. In simple terms: 

HR < 155 is Zone 1, Recovery / Endurance. This corresponds to the aerobic, or fat-burning zone - the zone that Phil Maffetone advocates running in for most of the time.  The calculation in his book, based on his experience with hundreds of athletes he has worked with, places my max HR for aerobic training at <128.  My physiological testing, based on 1 person (me), running my pace and using my blood, puts my aerobic zone at <155.  I think I'll take the results that are based on me!

HR 155 to 170 is Zone 2, Tempo pace.   

HR > 170 is Zone 3, Threshold / Interval.

The top part of the table below (the 3 lines) shows these zones and suggests the percentage of my weekly training that should be within each zone. 

In the bottom part of the table, Simon outlined the more traditionally used breakdown into 5 training zones - Recovery or Low Endurance, Endurance, Tempo, Threshold and Interval.


Incidentally, my maximum HR, extrapolated from the curve in the graph above, is 185.  I didn't exercise to exhaustion to find this out. It can be reasonably accurately defined from the tests here.  This seems much more realistic than the traditional 220 minus age, which would see me with a max of 168, which, as you can see above, is within my tempo pace!

So, how will this affect my training?

Well, 80% of my training should be in the lowest zone.  That's fine with me. Happy to do most of my training at HR <155.  So much easier than trying to run so slowly as to stay at HR <128!  In the table, it says 75 to 80% in this zone, so there is flexibility, but as I am wanting to train for an endurance event, (the Dukeries Ultra - 30 miles..... more of that in a future post) Simon suggested that 80% is recommended.

Tempo running - quicker than endurance, but not 'flat out' should take up 5-10% of my training time, although Simon suggested that up to 15% would be OK, (and less in Threshold and Interval) because endurance, rather than speed, is my priority.

Some interval work is needed for variety and to contribute to stamina. This can be speed sessions, such as our CRC Lincoln Drive sessions of Hill work like CRC Sting repeats, Round Robeys and Hamill's Hill Hell.  The suggestion above shows 10 to 15% but even as little as 5% is OK for endurance training.

And how is it going?

It is going very well.  I am doing most of my running at HR < 155, enjoying every run and (touch wood) remaining injury free despite increasing my weekly mileage from about 10-15 miles per week last October to 30 miles a week now.  Perhaps also contributing to the avoidance of injury is that I increased the mileage gradually and the fact that I'm doing a bit more off-road running now, which is apparently good for strengthening the legs and ankle.

What next? Operation-Dukeries Ultra 30.

A few weeks ago, in the club (all these conversations start over alcohol) I overheard Sarah Chapman talking about doing the Dukeries Ultra, 30 miles off road and saying that she wouldn't mind some company.  I didn't know if I was hearing things for a start.  This is the same Sarah Chapman who, after Chester Marathon, said, "I'm never doing another marathon. Done it. Don't need to do another one!"  And now, here she was talking about doing an ultra?!  Bonkers!  ......and there was I thinking, "hmmmm, there's an idea".  Later that week, I messaged Sarah asking if she was serious about it, how muddy is it and did she really want some company?   The answers were, respectively, yes, not too muddy-it's mostly trails and yes. 

So, I committed to doing it and it has grown into quite a little band of ultra-virgins who are, over the next few months going to be knocked into shape by Mr Twirly-Tutu-Boy, who was recently voted Spirit of the Club for CRC, Mike Wells.  Heaven help him! I'll be writing about our training adventures in future posts, with contributions from my fellow adventurers. It is going to be an exciting year.

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