Well, after a few weeks of working on getting back to running, one thing has become remarkably clear. I am very, very out of shape. In fact, I am probably in the worst shape I have been in since I started running 15 years ago. I had some good running under my belt in the early part of 2013, but since then I have been really sporadic. I have also gained a lot of weight. And, I am at an age where fitness just doesn’t come bouncing back like it did when I was younger.
Now I could just push through a few more weeks of workout and be in "good enough" shape to get by, but that is not really what I want. It is only fun and motivating for me when I can be competitive. To do that, it is going to take more than a band-aid approach to repairing my fitness. What I need is to completely rebuild my aerobic base.
Rebuilding an aerobic base involves more than most runners think. It involves miles and miles of easy running gradually stretching out the distance. A truly strong aerobic develops slowly over months and years of running. Different experts have different ideas about how long is optimal. For example, Pfitzinger in an article in Running Times says the minimum is six to eight weeks, but that longer is optimal. He recommends 12 weeks, twice a year. Arthur Lydiard, whose training advice I have often relied on in the past, recommends at least three months.
So now that I have established that this is what I need for the next several months, I am turning to a method that I have not used for a long time, not since I first started running: the Maffetone Method. Phil Maffetone, in case you haven’t heard of him, is a very interesting individual, truly a modern Renaissance man, who among other things is an applied physiologist and endurance athlete coach. He has coached many famous athletes, especially triathletes, with his most famous being Mark Allen when he won his Ironman titles. He has a holistic approach to fitness and athletic performance that involves a combination of appropriate diet, exercise, and stress management.
Maffetone is probably best known for his work with heart rate monitors as a tool to monitor exercise performance and enhance aerobic development. He advocates training slowly, at a heart rate that keeps a person in an optimal fat burning state and which encourages the optimal development of the slow twitch muscles and the heart and lungs for aerobic activity. At the same time, athletes are encouraged to change their diets to eliminate sugar and refined carbohydrates. If this sounds interesting to you, you should take a look at the brief explanation on his site: What is the Maffetone Method?
If after you look around you want to explore it further (or try the approach), I strongly recommend that you get his book The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing. The reason I recommend this, when there is so much out there on the Web about his approach, is that there is an awful lot of misinformation out there. For example, you will read that if you use the method, you never get to run fast, which is not true. However, the one thing that is not exaggerated is how slow you do have to run initially as you are building the base. This is the aspect of the program that most people find most difficult.
I will be using his approach as I rebuild my base over the next six months. I have dragged out my heart rate monitor, which I did pack and bring with me in the trailer. (At one level, I knew what I needed to do, but was in a state of denial. I wanted to just come back quickly without all the tedious work involved.) The Maffetone Method begins with calculating the aerobic heart rate and then conducting a test of aerobic fitness, which I did today and which I will be talking about in a post later in the week.
George Sheehan, who was also a follower of Maffetone’s principles and who wrote the introduction for one of Maffetone’s books, once said “We are each an experiment of one.” Well this is my experiment with the Maffetone Method in my quest to regain fitness and possibly even to reach new heights with my running -- Maffetone says it just might be possible, even at my age. I hope you will follow along over the next several months to watch how it unfolds.
(As an aside, Bandit loves the Maffetone Method. It seems that he needs to rebuild his aerobic base as well.)