Grand Canyon 50 Mile Preparation – Embracing my Max Aerobic Function

Ahhhh, spring is here, my IT band has been relaxed for a while now and the Grand Canyon Ultras 50 Miler is just two weeks away!

Photo Courtesy of Ultra Adventures.  (grandcircletrails.com)
Photo Courtesy of Ultra Adventures (grandcircletrails.com)

After a series of injuries due to training too hard and too often over the winter I have been experimented with a different approach to training the last few months.  I had heard about the Maffetone Method from my college days of triathlon, but had never actually tried it out, favoring “hard-fun” efforts most days.  Knowing that I should take it easy to let my IT Band recover completely I thought I would begin training again using the Maffetone Method to see if I could improve my aerobic base.  Much has already been written about Maffetone so if you want to check out the background and some of the critics check out these links:

http://philmaffetone.com/180-formula (Calculating Heart Rate for training)

http://philmaffetone.com/maf-test (Max Aerobic Function Test Protocol)

http://strengthrunning.com/2015/02/maffetone-method-and-base-training/  (Jason Fitzgerald Maffetone Critique)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81Thv76gG0E (Sage Canaday Maffetone Rant)

I was initially apprehensive about the 180-Age (+/- for illness/years of base) formula for determining my heart rate, but after comparing my lab tests from last year, Joe Vigil’s heart rate formulas and the chart that Sage Canaday just put out, they all seemed to suggest I should be training around 146 bpm.

(Link to download Sage Canaday’s Key Training Zones Chart:  http://www.sagerunning.com/newsletters/key-training-zones-chart/)

Running many of the local trails a la Maffetone forced me to walk substantial parts of the uphills and I was going minutes/mile slower on the flats, but it made downhills even more of a treat since I could really pick up the pace without jumping above my ceiling heart rate.  I kept increasing my mileage without pain and was finishing my runs feeling better than when I started almost without fail.  I saw some nominal improvements from January to February, but was not entirely sure if this was the training or just my recovery progressing naturally.  By March I was fully recovered and was running substantial portions of the trails I had been power hiking earlier in the year.  By April I was comfortably running sub 8-min miles during my MAF tests on the track.

Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 7.06.40 AMSo far, my n-of-1 study has shown consistent improvement and finally feeling full-strength again I have started to add in Uptempo/Aerobic Threshold or Lactate Threshold runs every two weeks and have seen improvement in those efforts as well.  In addition to the aerobic benefits I have found with Maffetone Method running (and the indication it gave that my base has plenty of room to improve), it has also made my runs more enjoyable.  Instead of focusing on speed and being disappointed with less-than-my-best efforts I have found I take more time to enjoy where I am, am more mindful of my form and I approach running in a much more playful/adventurous spirit these days.

Going into the Grand Canyon race I am hoping to best my 8:20 from Antelope Canyon and would love to break 8:00.  The course looks to be in great shape and with a mellow elevation profile, zero sand and just a little bit of snow on the course to keep things interesting it should be a fast race for everyone.

GC 50 Elevation Profile
Looks steep, but the final 20 miles are really just 2-3% grade.

Thanks to Pearl Izumi for the support this season and the great gear.  It has been flawless transitioning between the road/trail EM series N2 shoes for track work and trails.

running-shoe-technology-pearl-izumi

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