"MAF" vs running uphill

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  • #4554
    ttbudd
    Participant

    Thinking about fat burning levels of activity versus being able to run uphill:
    Generally if you’re going at an Aerobic level of exertion – for sake of argument lets use the Maffetone protocol – you have an HR which you should not be exceeding in order to train for “fat burning”.

    When going uphill, this generally means that you are resorting to walking, as running uphill very quickly elevates the HR to somewhere north of the “right” level.

    Now – I can walk uphill. I know I can do that. I’ve been doing that for years, and there is a speed that walking can get me to – but no faster. In order to be faster uphill, I would imagine that I need to learn to run uphill better… and the best way to do that is, indeed, to run uphill.

    The problem, of course is this – in order to train “aerobically” I need to keep the HR down, but in order to practice actually running up hills I need to elevate the HR somewhat.
    I guess the answer would be “find a hill that you can run up at your MAF level, then, when you can do that, find a steeper one, and so forth….” would that be about right?

    However, is there a point when the hill gets very steep, is it basically impossible to retain Aerobic levels of HR, and anaerobic levels simply have to overtake?
    Am I massively overthinking this?
    thanks,
    tim
    (fellrunner, rather than mountain runner, but when all is said and done, its much the same thing).

Posted In: Mountain Running

  • Keymaster
    Scott Johnston on #4577

    ttbudd:

    My replies are below in BOLD

    When going uphill, this generally means that you are resorting to walking, as running uphill very quickly elevates the HR to somewhere north of the “right” level. Those with a high aerobic capacity can in fact run up hill below their Aerobic Threshold. The fact that your HR shoots up indicates that you do not yet have sufficient aerobic capacity to manage that feat.

    Now – I can walk uphill. I know I can do that. I’ve been doing that for years, and there is a speed that walking can get me to – but no faster. In order to be faster uphill, I would imagine that I need to learn to run uphill better… and the best way to do that is, indeed, to run uphill.
    You can already run uphill. You ‘know’ how to do this. You don’t need to ‘learn’ this skill. What you need to do is to be able to metabolically support this up hill running effort with a higher percentage of fat vs carbs.

    The problem, of course is this – in order to train “aerobically” I need to keep the HR down, but in order to practice actually running up hills I need to elevate the HR somewhat.
    I guess the answer would be “find a hill that you can run up at your MAF level, then, when you can do that, find a steeper one, and so forth….” would that be about right? That is exactly correct. Find a lower angle hill that will allow you to run.

    However, is there a point when the hill gets very steep, is it basically impossible to retain Aerobic levels of HR, and anaerobic levels simply have to overtake? Yes, but this will vary massively between individuals. One big problem with running steep hills is that running is not very economical on steep terrain so energy costs go up very rapidly. We all will be forced to switch to walk at some point for this reason.
    Am I massively overthinking this? Not at all. Its great that you are thinking deeply about this and trying to figure it out.

    Scott

    Participant
    ttbudd on #4578

    Thanks Scott.
    I think the key phrase in all of that is ” to be able to metabolically support this up hill running effort with a higher percentage of fat vs carbs”

    “Cruise reps” are something that I have heard mooted – finding a fairly steady gradient and heading up it at target HR for a number of reps.
    I suppose the question would be when do you know you are efficient enough for a steeper hill?

    In classic MAF training you get faster, and the only variable is you and your HR. Yes, we’re looking for HR efficiency, but here, the second variable is the steepness of the hill… at what point do you say “yup- I can run this 10% hill at this HR in this speed… therefore I’m now going to push onto a 15% hill”?
    Is it an arbitrary point/speed? I would imagine it is, but thought I had better ask the question just in case there is a really obvious cut off point that is evident to others.

    Another thing – not everyone has a hill of constant steepness. If there is one nearby that varies between 5-15% and I can climb in 11 mins at race pace (very much not aerobic), shall I just start running the bits I can run @aerobic pace, and walk the bits I need to and see how I progress, or is it better to practice running at MAF on the bits I can run in order to increase efficiency and not worry about the steeper sections?
    Does that make sense?

    Moderator
    Scott Semple on #4673

    I may have misunderstood, but I would stick with HR as the measurement of intensity. Adjust your pace (and walking versus running) accordingly.

    Another thing to consider is cadence. A shorter-stride, faster-cadence might help bridge the gap between walking and running.

    Keymaster
    Scott Johnston on #4677

    ttbudd:
    As you are not doubt aware; we mountain athletes do not have the luxury of using pace or power like more conventional sports do. We are stuck with HR as our only meaningful measure of intensity beyond our perception. HR is an imperfect metric at best. There are big economy differences between walking and running. We see this in progressive treadmill tests when the subject transitions from walking to running.

    Most mountain trails are not going to have steady grades so you will likely be needing to shift gears: Walking when very steep, an elongated ski stride on moderately steep, a higher tempo/short stride run like Scott S mentions above and finally a more normal running gait on moderate grades.
    Having competed in many mountain running races over the years I can say from personal observation that the ski stride is the fastest and most economical walking technique on terrain too steep to run. XC skiers tend to really do well on the uphill portions of many mountain running races because they spend so much time in this ski mimic technique. See the video on this website if unfamiliar. If you are wondering if you should walk rather than run, you almost for sure need to ski stride.

    If your AeT/MAF HR is within 10% of your AnT or Lactate Threshold (LT) HR then you should by all means introduce some high intensity hill running. The term Cruise intervals or reps came from famed running coach Jack Daniels. The intensity is equivalent to what others call Tempo pace. Between these two thresholds. Its a fine way to introduce higher intensity into your plan.

    Scott

    Participant
    ttbudd on #4681

    Thanks Scott and Scott.
    Im trying to reconcile speed with endurance in Fell running – (though I’m entered in the TDS this year as well, hence the focus on much longer than normal endurance).
    Without really meaning to, most of the longer runs I am doing tend to be in the AeT HR zone, simply because that is the intensity I know I can keep up for the duration of a number of hours.
    Shorter races tend to max me out – as you would expect.

    I’m figuring that putting in a solid hill based Aerobic block now, supplemented by strength work will pay off dividends, not just in this year, but also going into next.

    However, as I mentioned, Maffetone really discourages anyone from doing any work outside the specified HR at any point – and if I do that I fear I’m going to lose out on the sharp end of the speed spectrum. I know this is not a problem in Alpinism, but considering the wide ranging lengths and times of fellrunning, it seems like it might be something that will need to be sacrificed in the short term for long term gain. Would that sound about right – especially if – as Scott J mentions – my AeT HR is NOT within 10% of my anaerobic. (more like 20…)
    Keep practicing AeT til it is? and then build in speed again?

    Its a challenging one as Mountain running isn’t really the same kind of training as your roadie type stuff, its not the same as Alpine training.
    Or maybe I’m making the classic mistake of thinking that the sport I’m involved in is in some way “special” and “different”, and in fact, what I need to do is just go and run up hills as fast as I can until I either get faster or break. (ok, now Im being facetious…)

    Moderator
    Scott Semple on #4682

    In my opinion, MAF training is useful in two contexts: 1) the athlete does not have specific knowledge of their physiology (~2mM-, ~4mM-, MLSS-paces, etc); or 2) they’re recovering from some type of profound stress that needs to be managed very conservatively.

    Unfortunately I have the t-shirt from the latter, and MAF paces worked well for me as a kind of physiological therapy to put me back together so that I could begin training again.

    Outside of those two contexts, I don’t think MAF training is particularly useful. It’s too generic. The idea that (180 minus AGE) would be appropriate for all people is as laughable as (220 minus AGE) for maximum heart rate. Like actuarial tables for life expectancy, it probably works for most people most of the time, but in serious training we need athlete-specific strategies to squeeze out the best training adaptations that that athlete is capable of. Generic formulas will never do that. Maffetone has built a career on this one idea because it’ll work for most people most of the time. To paraphrase Charlie Munger describing John Bogle, “He had one good idea and rode it hard.”

    It’s the difference between an n=1000000 sample versus n=1. For really effective training, the focus needs to be on the latter which demands customization.

    Also, as you suggest, MAF training is especially ill-suited to events with any serious intensity. The idea that a sprinter could train effectively using MAF is silly. They need a high anaerobic capacity, and MAF will never stimulate that response. Maffetone’s favorite example is Mark Allen, who supposedly used MAF training to be the winningest Ironman in history. In events of that length, minimizing anaerobic capacity is desirable, so MAF training would probably work reasonably well.

    If you want to be really specific with your training, get a lab test done. That will take all of the guesswork out of your intensities.

    P.S. To be fair, from what I’ve read, Maffetone doesn’t prescribe MAF intensities exclusively. Somewhere he wrote about using MAF paces until the MAF pace no longer increases, then doing some speed work, then going back to MAF. However, “some speed work” is a little vague…

    Moderator
    Scott Semple on #4683

    Here’s the same with less-rant-more-help… 🙂

    1) Get a lab test done;
    2) Train under AeT until AeT is within 10% of AnT;
    3) Start adding some speed work.

    What kind of speed work? That’s a complex question which I’m not qualified to answer. It’s the magic mix that great coaches create, and it varies with the length of the event. (What Bob Bowman did for Michael Phelps is different than what Jan Olbrecht did for Luc van Lierde.) Steve Magness’ book will help.

    Participant
    ttbudd on #4685

    Scott S- thanks muchly for that.
    It confirms a lot of what is going through my head!
    Funnily enough I ready Steve’s thesis before he ended up turning it into a book, so Im pretty well up on that.

    The rant version was most entertaining, and still pretty succinct.
    The non-rant version is a great round up.

    Keymaster
    Scott Johnston on #4690

    ttbudd:

    By whatever name you call it and however you want to determine it: Training to increase the aerobic capacity; maximize speed at Aerobic Threshold should be the main goal of the base period of any endurance training program worth its salt. This is why periodization is useful. By elevating your AeT pace to within 10% of your LT/AnT pace you have done a credible job of maximizing your aerobic capacity for this training cycle. This is what Maffetone was doing in what he called his Patience phase. The MAF HR may be crude but generally is conservative in its estimation of AeT. I sought Phil out in 1985 when I was struggling with serious overtraining and still have my notes from our time working together. Lab tests and portable lactate monitors were not something most of had access to back then. I do credit him for opening my eyes to the metabolic basis of endurance. The No Pain, No Gain philosophy was what most people were using.

    Once that basic aerobic work is done and at a high level then you can do all the exciting and race specific training soooo much more effectively. Until you have that base as big as possible you are more limited by your aerobic support system than you are by your anaerobic top end.

    Both you and SS point out the race specific training matters. Absolutely! But as a supplement to the base not as a substitution for it. However, in practice you may not get your AeT up sufficiently in time to add your specific training and race. The you may be forced to shorted the base. 🙁 This is less than ideal but but you do need to do some race specific work so will have to compromise if there is not sufficient time.

    I’d much rather have an athlete with a great base and less specific race prep going into the race season. They can race them selves into race shape. Once the race season starts in most sports at a high level you can not continue to build the base. That money better already be in the bank.

    High level athletes will have their AeT high when they START their base period so they will be doing earlier and more frequent Specific workouts. The more Specific work you do (on top of the base) the faster you will race. When popular magazines and websites list the sexy specific workouts that so and so did leading into winning such and such race or setting some record they dupe the public into thinking that it is those specific workouts that produced the result. In fact, the result came because this athlete had the aerobic capacity to benefit from all that hard work. But talking about that boring base training does not make good press.

    All endurance events over 2 minutes long have essentially the same basic metabolic requirements. So they share the emphasis in the base phase. MILES! This is why 800m runners (an event that takes a world class man 1min and 45 seconds!) log 60 plus miles a week in the base phase. Peter Snell (3 Olympic golds in 800 and 1500) was doing 100 mile weeks. It is not too much of an exaggeration to say: You cant have too much base!

    It is why runners, XC skier or cyclists put in such huge volumes of training. During the specific phase then the subtleties come into play. If the event very intermittent like XC skiing where the athlete can recover on the down hills or is more steady state like like a cycling time trial. Fell or mountain running training will look 95% like these other sports’ training.

    I got a bit long winded.

    Scott

    Participant
    James H on #4740

    Scott Semple – whilst I agree that MAF training won’t work for all scenarios – for most mountain pursuits (which inherently take place over many hours – similar to the Ironman) it works incredibly well. Also there is the adjustment factors for MAF unlike the traditional 220 – age calculations.

    Participant
    Aaron on #4989

    So helpful these thoughtful questions and responses. I’ve been struggling with steep walking vs running and the video you mentioned was very helpful. 16131524

    Inactive
    Anonymous on #6072

    Tuning in a little bit late, sorry for that, but I have been using MAF training in mountain (ultra)running for some time now with good results. Initially this meant that I had to walk everything uphill, and even had to slow down walking to stay within HR-limit. I decided to stick with it for 4 months to see what would happen. Not only did my uphill walking efficieny (from 18min/k to 10min/k), but I can also run uphill (15-20%) for 2 hours within MAF HR-limit. Most of my training is well below MAF max. HR (zone 1?) and I only do one very hard, but short training a week for strength.

    Inactive
    Anonymous on #10577

    This is all really good info thank you guys. I think if I can apply this better I can get injured much less.

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