Fitness: Heart Rate Awareness on the Run, by Patty Scott
As a long time runner and athlete, I thought I had awareness of my body. I knew that running a short distance in snow boots caused ankle pain, a lack of sleep caused heavy legs during a run, and a lack of electrolytes caused a headache.
After a training cycle last fall left me fatigued, injured and far short of my running goals, I decided to try the Maffetone Method (MAF).
The idea behind MAF is that in endurance events lasting 2 or more hours, 99% of effort comes from the aerobic system, which in many athletes is poorly trained. When building the aerobic base by finding your maximum aerobic heart rate, determined with the 180 Formula, there is less stress on the nervous system and eventually the athlete is able to go faster, but with a lower heart rate. It takes patience and dedication to stick with the slow running (and a bit of walking) long enough to see results.
Not surprisingly, the first few weeks with MAF were difficult. But by paying close attention to my heart rate, I learned how to lower my heart rate simply by avoiding shallow clavicular breathing and, surprisingly, by relaxing while running uphill and periodically unclenching my hands. But as the weeks went by, I started to see results from MAF. My first MAF test was at a 6:12/km pace, the 2nd at 6:07 pace and the 3rd at 5:57 pace.
I started running trails shortly before starting MAF training and that, too, was a struggle. Battling hot and humid temperatures, the slower pace, swarms of mosquitoes and the constant fear of tripping almost made me go back to the roads permanently. It got easier with the slow pace and cooler weather to explore the natural beauty that exists just minutes from my home. I grew to love seeing the brilliant colours of autumn leaves, the pale winter sunlight sparkling on the frozen white wonderland, while listening to the soft sound of my breath and eyes on the winding path beneath my feet.
In addition to his health and fitness research, Dr. Maffetone is also an accomplished musician and composer. He recommends using music as relaxation therapy pre- and post-workout, as he believes the high-intensity music that many people prefer to listen to during exercising can have an adverse effect on the nervous system. This statement spoke to me, for as a pianist, I gave up listening to music while working out several years ago, preferring to be more aware of my surroundings – to other participants during a race, and to the natural sounds around me during a training run.
The upcoming spring race season will show whether or not Maffetone training has a positive effect on lowering my race times. Regardless of the outcome, MAF has taught me that running is not always about the pursuit of fast times, and that tuning into your heart rate, your body and your environment can bring great satisfaction.
Patty Scott is a mom and piano teacher based in Burlington, Ontario. She is a 9-time marathon and 20-time half marathon finisher and always strives to be fashionable at races in her signature running skirt and coordinating manicure. Her running adventures have been profiled on Runner’s World and MSNBC.