Training, Racing & LCHF Fueling For Skating And Endurance Sports
As I’m getting more into the running side of things again, I thought I’d have a look at comparing and contrasting the two training methods that I am most familiar with, namely MAF training and Jack Daniels’ VDOT.
As you might know this is the approach that I normally use.
MAF is HEART RATE based, and training by this method is easy as pie – you use the “180 formula” to determine your maximum aerobic (ie fat-burning) heart rate, then stick a heart rate monitor on and make sure you stay within 10 beats of this number.
It’s simple and it works. I’ve done it for the last 2 years and have seen regular progress in both speed and endurance, without ever feeling knackered, overtrained or burnt out.
Calculation of my MAF heart rate:
180 – 38 + 5 = 147
Therefore, the prescription is simply to maximize training time spent between 137 to 147bpm to build the aerobic system.
The other part of MAF methodology is regular self-assessment using a sub-maximal testing protocol such as his 5-mile MAF test to make absolutely sure that you are progressing in the right direction.
The relevance of MAF to race performance is that the level to which you are able to oxidize fat for energy is the biggest “long term limiter” in endurance sports. Your “pace at MAF” is highly predictive, so if you know your how fast you run at your maximum aerobic heart rate, it will give you a very good estimation of how fast you can expect to race at any given distance.
Jack Daniels’ approach is the de facto running plan for many serious runners. Rather than using heart rate, PACE (ie mins/mile or mins/km) is the currency of Daniels’ VDOT system.
Having read his book Daniels’ Running Formula I have to admit that initially I was not very impressed with it. I found his philosophy of regimented training plans and highly structured workouts a big turnoff. It’s purely a book about running, and he has nothing at all to say on the bigger picture of health, diet, and lifestyle. However, there is no denying that he knows his stuff, and some of what he has to say must have rubbed off on me, because I now find myself using the VDOT calculators all the time.
The VDOT system is simple – you take your most recent race performance and plug it into the online VDOT calculator, from which you are given a VDOT rating, which is a simple numerical value. Larger numbers indicate a better ability to process oxygen, reflected in faster pace and better race times. It’s takes into account both your body’s maximal oxygen carrying capacity (VO2max) and your running economy, as well as other possible factors such as pacing judgement and race execution. VDOT scores have been calculated for all common race distances up to marathon distance.
The beauty of the VDOT system is that it is once you know your current VDOT score, it also becomes prescriptive – telling you how fast you should be training at for the following workouts:
The various intensities represent a classical training pyramid – with most of your running done at the Easy pace, and less and less at the higher more anaerobic paces.
The Easy Pace (E) is the primary zone for maximal aerobic system development, and most Daniel’ training plans typically prescribe 70-80% of your mileage to be done at this pace.
Very importantly in Daniels’ system, recent race performance is used to determine your current training pace (many people do not understand this), ie VDOT tells you what pace to train at given your current performance level. It does not mean you should train at the suggested pace for a target time you want to achieve in your next race. Daniels doesn’t tell you how to train to reach a target race time – he tell you how to train to improve from where you currently are – if you want to train faster, you must first prove it by racing faster.
Maffetone’s approach is “get healthier and develop endurance and speed is the byproduct.” Daniels is purely about doing the right workouts to get faster – his approach is “get faster and your additional speed with carry through to longer distances.” The two are approaching the subject from very different angles.
So can there be any common ground between them?
Let’s work out my VDOT…
Taking my recent half marathon time of 1:46:47 and plugging it into the VDOT calculator gives me a VDOT rating of 41.8. Given the course and conditions on that day, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that I could have gone 3 or 4 minutes faster on a better course, so let’s say my true VDOT rating is 43.
A VDOT of 43 prescribes the following training paces are:
– Easy Pace 09:45 – 09:12 (9.9 – 10.5km/hr)
– Marathon Pace 08:10 (11.8km/hr)
– Threshold Pace 07:40 (12.3km/hr)
– Interval Pace 07:04 (13.7km/hr)
– Rep Pace 06:39 (14.5km/hr)
For the purposes of this article, the component that I care about is the Easy Pace (E), as this is the one that is targeting the aerobic system: 09:45 – 09:12 min/mile (9.9 – 10.5km/hr). Remember, this is the “base building” zone that Daniels prescribes for as much as 80% of your running and the one most similar to Maffetone’s MAF zone.
Now for my MAF…
From very recent training runs and treadmill tests, I know that my pace at MAF heart rate (the 1st mile after warmup) is:
137bpm – ~10:45 (9.0km/hr)
147bpm – ~09:30 (10.2km/hr)
So (and here’s the bit you’ve been waiting for), comparing them we get…
As you can see, despite their wildly differing approaches, we can find common ground where the higher end of the MAF zone handily overlaps with the lower end of the Daniels Easy pace zone.
Caveat: If training by heart rate (MAF) then pace will drift (ie fall off) as your run progresses. On the other hand, training by pace (Daniels), it is heart rate that will drift (ie rise) as a run progresses… the overlap will tend to decrease as the length of a workout progresses, so choose the flavour of your poison.
Even giving myself the 180 formula’s discretionary +5, there is no getting away that using MAF works out slightly more conservatively than Daniels; for others they might find the reverse is true. We know that Maffetone tends to be is very conservative, given his clinical background, in comparison to Daniels’ experience mainly with elite level athletes, so this should not be a great surprise.
Whether you are training by pace or heart rate, the window of aerobic development is probably bigger than you may realise. Don’t get too hung up on a particular methodology… Daniels and Maffetone are largely saying the same thing, albeit in very different ways.