‘MAF’in It’

I’ve been running for about 10 years. With zero athletic background prior to that, the beginning of my running was pretty sad. Mostly, I was just walking as I graduated to baby jogging and then a walk/jog combo, over several years, before actually running. I have only identified myself as a ‘runner’ for the last five years.

Melanie Blenis Article MAF

As a runner, the last several years have been challenging. I badly sprained one ankle and just as it was in full service again, I sprained the other. Those literally affected my run for two years! Sigh. Many runners can relate to being sidelined by an injury. Admittedly, I did not take the time off that I should have. In the midst of that, I did the Spartan Vermont Beast – twice! I also had two crazy ‘flus’ that took me out for several months. But, the biggest thing that has affected my running has been Crossfit.

Initially, I began Crossfit as a way to get stronger and be a better runner. Pulling back on the running, due to the sprains and sickness, meant that I was self limiting, without really thinking about it, my daily activity load. For the past 6 months, I have been perfectly well and injury free. So, I have been going full throttle, doing two a days and loving it until this summer – meaning, running 6-10 miles most every day and doing CrossFit WODs. I began to break.

I began to notice that my running times were stagnating and that my weigh lifting was going nowhere. I was battling frustration. I was considering quitting CrossFit. And, I was pushing hard running, with most runs at 80%. In hind site, it is all so clear. But, of course! Here’s the deal: I love doing all of it. I want to do all of it. It is fun!

barbell orm

But the reality is…I cannot do it all, at least not every day and certainly not well. What was I thinking? I wasn’t. I was just living in the moment.

To make a correction, I now have a running coach. In just a short time, about two months, I can see a difference. I have actually set three PR’s with a strong dose of tough love and through pulling back on everything some. This means looking a the CrossFit WOD ahead of time and skipping METCON days in favor of running programming. It means letting go of the need to focus on things at CrossFit that are not necessary for my goals, like double-unders. It means that strength training takes priority over extra cardio. Also, it means that as a runner first, I may not be able to kill it at CrossFit and that’s okay. I also must understand that, as an endurance athlete, the norms of weightlifting may not necessarily apply to me. Standard one rep max charts may not work for me. I may have muscular imbalances that need addressed. One day off per week is now mandatory.

Most importantly, coaching has brought more variety and specificity to my run training. This means not just going through the motions of a daily, moderate-intensity run. Sometimes, I run as fast as I can, but I’ve also been coached to do a lot more easy runs – both recovery runs and “MAF” runs.  Essentially, MAF runs are heart rate based runs designed to develop the aerobic system. The formula is 180 minus your age and then plus or minus 5-10 beats based on certain personal variables. You can figure out your heart rate zone here. This is slow running!

heartrate orm

MAF may be boring at times, but I credit MAF runs with my ability to set new PR’s at forty-seven. I had no idea what MAF running was a few months ago… and, boy did I detest it. After my first MAF run, I was nearly in tears as I slammed the car door after I had finished. Running slow enough to reap the benefits of easy running requires a big ego check. It took a month of diligently attempting MAF until I actually settled into it – just another mental exercise in discipline. Now, I understand that MAF running is like making deposits that allow the ‘fast’ days to happen.

Thanks to these MAF “deposits”, I’ve gotten to experience the thrill of running faster than ever before (for me)! I have spent years running at 80%. Running faster is crazy addictive, but I would never have experienced it if not for MAF. The daily grind of running at 80% eventually leads to chronic fatigue and performance plateaus, but a balance of easy days and faster days leads to continuous progression. MAF is a forced easy day. For me, MAF means watching my heart rate monitor and not letting it over 140.  It takes practice and patience to begin running faster within your heart rate zone. MAF training incurs many benefits, but at the end of the day, you have to run fast to run fast. This is why tempo work and high-intensity workouts are still extremely important! I was simply going too hard too often.

slow1

Lastly, as a way to counter over training, I understand that a day off, at least one per week, is essential. This is, perhaps, the hardest aspect of being coachable, for me. Just knowing that on my off days, I am ‘allowed’ to take a walk makes it palatable. couch1While I am no elite athlete, I still face similar challenges just on a different scale. Accepting that and slowing down, just a tad, is making a huge difference in my life and in my performance.

And…my lessons in running and taking on more than I should apply to life because who we are in one area reflects who we are. There is nothing wrong with working hard, every day, and pushing personal limits – those are great qualities. It is, however, important to be mindful that we don’t have super powers – unfortunately!