“Only when the foundation is strong, can the structure be stable enough to stand the test of time”……
I stole this from one of my siblings, who wrote it over a decade ago as the first line in a description of our company’s history. It’s not only a concept I buy into….it’s one I live by. At it’s very deepest meaning, to me – this is what ENDURANCE is all about – not just in the traditional “running marathons” or “completing triathlons” (although that’s certainly an exciting part of my life and what I’m going to talk about in this blog), but broader than that….to me, having a solid foundation means being mentally strong, physically fit, emotionally deep, and spiritually rich so that I may take life in stride – navigating its turns, climbing its mountains, and soaring on – or enduring with purpose.
So, as I start to wrap up another period of “foundation training” (also known as base training) in my endurance athletic efforts, I thought some may get benefit in reading about the strategies I’ve employed to build a solid foundation or base.
Running – if you’ve read along since I started this blog, or know me personally, you know that since graduating from Cornell University in 2003 (where I wrestled for two years and played “sprint” football for the next two), running has filled the empty space that was once occupied by a lifetime of competitive sports. And while I dabbled in endurance running as early as 2005 with my first half marathon (1:31:39), I didn’t get serious about running until 2008, completing my first marathon in 3:18:50. Since that time I’ve completed at least one half marathon per year, and an additional four marathons (including the 2011 Boston Marathon), dropping my personal bests to 1:27:04 (in the half), and 3:02:00 most recently in the 2011 Marine Corps Marathon.
Throughout the process I’ve dealt with my share of minor bumps and bruises – I’ve had your typical IT band tightness, patella femoral pain, and the dreaded plantar fasciatis (still working through this one). I’ve learned a great deal about running specific workouts….I’ve done tempos, cut-downs, fartleks, intervals, hill repeats, long slow distance…and more. I’ve trained alongside (when I can keep up) a handful of professionals, been rehabbed by some of the best….and coached by a National Champion and 2012 Olympic hopeful. Maybe needless to say….I’ve learned a lot….and with all these incredible resources at my finger tips – one thing remains consistent – a solid foundation sets you up for future success.
So in 2010 I was introduced to a (new to me) concept known as the Maffetone method (developed by Phil Maffetone) by my brother Mike – an Ironman triathlete and self-proclaimed “endurance geek” who is always looking for new ways and research that will help “up his game”. Maffetone, a famous endurance coach, is most known for his work with 6x Ironman Champion Mark Allen. Simply put, Maffetone found in his research that if athletes focused on building a solid aerobic base by training at (traditionally lower) intensities (as measured by heart rate) where the body uses oxygen to metabolize fat as it’s primary energy – the aerobic system would get more efficient and effective throughout training – allowing the body to perform at higher running speeds without necessarily increasing one’s heart rate….and thereby allowing the athlete to remain in the aerobic zone and continue to go for longer periods of time (some estimates state the typical body has enough stored fat to fuel you for hours or even days). Sorry about the ridiculous run-on sentence there!
It should be noted however, that as an athlete transitions to higher intensities (as measured by heart rate), he or she will then rely primarily on the anaerobic energy pathway – where the body creates ATP for energy by glycolysis…or the breakdown of carbohydrates….the bi-product being that nasty lactic acid. And while the anaerobic system is incredibly good at what it does….relying primarily on carbohydrates (glycogen) for energy is only a short-term solution without supplementation (this is one reason why endurance athletes take gels, gu’s, sports drinks, etc. while racing).
So…..duh….why not see if you can get to your “race pace” while still remaining in the aerobic zone? And that’s just what I’ve attempted to do for the last couple years as part of my “foundation” or base training. Using Maffetone’s “180 formula” (where he found through comparisons to physiological evaluations like V02 max testing, etc.) that if an athlete were to train at a heart rate of approximately 180 minus age, they would be training near that max of their aerobic zone. Read more about this method here or Mark Allen’s take on things HERE.
Of course, as a Health & Fitness professional, and being the skeptic I am….I didn’t totally believe this would work (even though the methodology totally made sense to me) until I saw my results. Day 1 training at 180-age (150bpm) I was having to run a 9:30 / mile pace to keep my heart rate low enough……day 50…..consistently can run 7:30-7:45 / mile pace! 10 more days to go for me (I’m only able to do 8 weeks this go around b/c my next event, the 2012 Boston Marathon, is less than 2 months away!
Want to know more – I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Maffetone, and published it as part of Pro-Activity’s monthly “Elements” newsletter. Click on the “MOVE” icon for February.
Stay tuned next week for Day 60 “Almost Vegan” results!