The 40-mile week also included my regular strength training, some other stuff, and, randomly, my first-ever SUP race (1 hour of paddling hard; ouch!), so needless to say I was kinda impressed that I got through all that in one piece feeling pretty darn good. Sorta... the following week I listened to my body and run mileage decreased to 28mi total (plus all my other sports; still a 12+ hr week). Generally I'm finding without trying I am getting in 10-13hr training weeks but keep in mind in that I include yoga, all strength training -- easy functional, heavy weights, or otherwise -- and SUP, which isn't always that intense. So it is light years different than a 13-hour week the way I was training back in ~2009ish (i.e. way too much intensity, way too often). Now I'm mostly MAF -- minus the occasional fartlek or apparently a SUP race (more on that soon... but for the record, I didn't break records entering this race and instead got it handed to me lol!!!).
Anyway let's get to the point of this blog:
Downhill running MAF style and why it rocks.
If you think MAF is "boring" and slow, think again because there are plenty of ways to keep it interesting. In addition to the traditional MAF Test of 3-5 miles on a steady course (i.e. track) Maffetone is also a fan of having athletes do a MAF Downhill "Test" (or perhaps not really a test, and rather a workout with a specific downhill focus that's repeatable). It's not complicated... (although, anytime the word "test" is used all of a sudden it's this big thing lol. It's not).
MAF Downhill Test
How to do it?
Locate your downhill section (a 1/2 to full mile is enough! Grade can be -1% to -7%). Run a few miles to warmup. Finish your warmup at the start of your downhill, reset watch or set new lap, and run downhill for a period of time at MAF. Stop watch when the section is over. Some folks will now find that it's hard to keep HR at MAF without it plummeting, and this is a great exercise as I'll lay out.
The keys to making it work:
1) it's on a repeatable section of road or trail.
2) It's an ALL-downhill grade.
3) You hold MAF HR (you gotta trust your legs and go fast!)
4) You calculate avg grade for reference. (For example your pace will be way different on -1% vs -6%)*
5) You do this relatively fresh but no need to be fully recovered.
6) After a while, repeat the workout and see how pace changes at the same HR. Easy.
*I've done a couple of these tests now; one was 1 mile of a -1.5% grade, and the other also a mile at a -6% average. My avg paces were in the 7's vs. 6's, respectively (at MAF).
Now the bigger question, why the heck do this?
WHY do this test???
(in a nutshell: to train smarter, not harder)
1) Get in "speedwork" without killing yourself. Not in the traditional sense because you're still maintaining your max aerobic heart rate, but downhill running at MAF HR can replace speedwork early in one's base building phase in terms of developing a fast leg turnover and basic speed; this pays off as the season progresses. If you are on a strict MAF plan and just run flat and slow you never have a chance to get those legs really moving fast; downhill running fixes that.
2) Develop neuromusclar fitness. This is similar to #1, but taking it a step deeper. Neuromusclar fitness is training the nerves and muscles -- the brain-to-muscle connection -- and it's one of the most powerful tools to developing specific fitness. In this case, the downhill running at MAF trains the movement pattern and skill of fast running and efficient turnover, without the cost of high intensity. The benefits are great for your races in which your body will now be familiar with this faster leg turnover and speed -- because the brain knows what it feels like to move fast and knows how to "turn on" those speedy legs!
3) Build eccentric strength. Downhill aerobic running is also GOOD stress that helps you get stronger. And it can tell us some interesting stuff about your body. For example, how sore did the initial downhill test leave an athlete? Then what about the 4th and 5th time? I bet not as sore... Over time this downhill running at MAF can develop eccentric strength namely in the quads, and you reap the benefits in your racing! I remember several years ago getting back into trail running after some time off and the descents wrecked my legs with DOMS... but within a few workouts no residual soreness. Amazing how we can adapt.
4) Frequency. Again, since this is a low stress/good stress workout you can add downhill running at MAF often -- at least a couple times a week -- without blowing up. Heck, if you are like me and you live in a hilly area then downhill running is simply synonymous with running! That said, for the "test" portion I like to control the variables and bookmark those workouts as important data, not just a run that had descents.
5) Controlled motion. I find that fast downhill running is the BEST way for me to achieve total awareness and control of every moving part, and avoiding chaos. The proprioceptive benefits of this are endless. If truly running fast, you need a strong core, stable ankles, good footing, strong arm drive, chest up and looking ahead (not at your feet always), and the list goes on. Just great stuff. Especially on trail. Nothing like bombing down a steep trail on two feet.
6) More testable data. As long as you control the variables, you get another data point that we can re-test to evaluate aerobic fitness progression, strength, health and speed. In your re-tests you'll want to see improvements over time of course, but these could be subtle improvements, i.e. less soreness the next round even if pace stayed about the same. I love this for my athletes because there's a great conversation and analysis that comes from the progression of these specific downhill runs!
Furthermore, to quote Maffetone's Big Book of Endurance Training:
While building your aerobic base, you can help develop more leg speed without the need to train anaerobically by doing downhill workouts. I refer to them as such because I first employed them with athletes running downhill, but this workout can be used for many activities—running, biking, cross-country skiing, or skating. This workout allows you to go at a faster pace without the heart rate rising. The increased pace is accompanied by a quicker leg turnover, in the case of running.
For example, at a heart rate of 145, if you can run at a 7:45 pace on flat ground, then running down a hill at the same heart rate will force you to run much faster, perhaps at a 6:55 pace depending on the hill’s slope and distance. A cyclist may be cruising at 17 mph, and on a nice long, but moderate, downhill can average 28 mph at the same heart rate.
Using a long downhill that’s not too steep, you can train your brain to turn the legs over much more quickly than would ordinarily occur during a run on a flat course—all while staying aerobic. If you have a long steady downhill that takes you ten minutes or longer to complete, you can derive great neuromuscular benefits. It’s important to be sure the downhill is not too steep a grade, which may force a runner to overstride, putting too much mechanical stress on the feet, knees, hips, and spine. Even on the right grade, your stride length should be about the same as if you were on level ground.
If the downhill run is short, such as five minutes, you can do downhill repeats, walking or slowly running up the hill while staying aerobic to start your downhill interval again. Some treadmills can be adjusted to slant downhill, which is a nice alternative for runners.
I often suggest one or two downhill workouts per week, not on consecutive days, during the base period. Even though you’re aerobic, this workout does add more good stress to your body, and it’s best to assure recovery by not using the technique on consecutive days. When properly done, most athletes don’t feel much different from any other workout, but some may feel a slight or mild soreness in some muscles indicating the new activity. This workout need not be very long—runners can go forty-five minutes while cyclists up to an hour and a half, including warm-up and cool-down. These workouts will also help you further develop more aerobic speed.One more important thing to share:
There you have it!
There you have it!
I found this gem written by Lucho from 2011. Honestly Lucho gets MAF just as well as Maffetone himself. Trust me, I am a student of MAF Method, I've known Lucho since 2011 and Maffetone since 2013. I talk and collaborate with both these guys a lot (lucho weekly, maffetone at least 1-2x a month). You wouldn't believe their similarities, their approach/knowledge and their style -- just wow.
The weird thing is that Maffetone now has a beard, but Lucho shaved his off lol.