Thursday, March 17, 2016

An update on (and explanation of) 80/20 Running

I was putting this post off until after I see how well I do for my goal 10K next month, but I realized that regardless of how I do at the race, I have made some very serious progress in my running--so it's worth posting now. Several people have asked me lately exactly what I've been doing to get faster, so I'll try and explain it here in a nutshell.

I'm basically doing a combination of 80/20 Running and MAF training, which I'll explain below.

80/20 Running
First, a quick explanation of 80/20 Running--I read the book 80/20 Running by Matt Fitzgerald, and the gist is that MOST recreational runners (even competitive ones) tend to do their easy runs too fast and their hard runs too slow. (Note: I don't recommend the electronic version of this book, because you will do a TON of flipping back and forth between pages). Based on an overwhelming amount of data, particularly from elite runners, there is a formula that is near-perfect for most runners: do 80% (or less) of your running at a low intensity, and 20% of your running at moderate or high intensity.

The big question is what does "low intensity" really mean? Most runners will say they went for an "easy run", but in reality, their heart rate was high enough to be considered a "moderate run". The best way to keep yourself from going too hard/fast is to use a heart rate monitor. Fitzgerald has different ways of figuring out the best heart rate to train at, but in general, he says your heart rate on your easy runs should be roughly 77% of your maximum heart rate.

(Note: the 80/20 ratio refers to TIME spent running, not distance)

MAF Training
MAF training (developed by Dr. Phil Maffetone) is something I tried before in 2014, but I just wasn't patient enough to really see it through until I got results. MAF stands for "maximum aerobic function", and it's a training method that builds up your aerobic system. MAF is done with a heart rate monitor, and you never train above a particular heart rate (here is a link to the 180-formula that is used to find the correct heart rate for MAF training).

To do MAF training, you do lots of aerobic workouts (it doesn't have to be just running, but in my case, that's what I use). You never go over your MAF heart rate (mine is 146 bpm). Over time, you are able to go faster and longer without exceeding your MAF heart rate. For example, when you first start MAF training, you may be doing 14:00-minute miles; after several months, you may be doing 12:00-minute miles at the same heart rate. Seeing that progress means that your aerobic system is improving.

The Combination
What I've been doing is combining the two types of training--I'm using the MAF heart rate for 80% or more of my time spent running, and then 20% or less of my time spent running is on speed work. So, in a nutshell, I'm following the 80/20 ratio, but keeping my heart rate low (per MAF) on my easy runs.

This isn't right for everyone, of course. Lately, I've been trying to follow my intuition with a lot of different aspects of my life--including my diet and running. The MAF training by itself felt too boring and I didn't think I'd be able to progress my running quickly enough for my goal race. I did like the low heart rate running, though, because running at such a slow pace is enjoyable for me. I LOVE the 80/20 ratio (keeps me from being bored, and it's very effective). By combining the two methods, I get the best of both--lots of slow, easy running, but enough hard running sprinkled in to get faster and keep from being bored.



Moving on...
When you calculate your MAF heart rate (or even the heart rate that Matt Fitzgerald suggests for his 80/20 Running method) I can almost guarantee you that the number you get will be much lower than the heart rate you've been training at ;) Mine certainly was! I am guilty of doing my easy runs too fast. (If you don't have access to a heart rate monitor, you can try to use other methods of keeping it easy--you should be able to talk easily while you're running. But the best way is to use the heart rate monitor, because people still tend to underestimate how much effort they are putting into their runs.)

When you do your easy runs, you are not supposed to go over that heart rate at all--even if that means you have to take walk breaks. Your body will adapt over time, and you'll be able to maintain that same heart rate while going faster. When I was just going out and doing an "easy run" last fall, I was running a 9:30-ish pace. My heart rate was regularly in the 150's and 160's, which is too high for an easy run. Once I calculated my heart rate, and saw that I was supposed to keep it under 146 bpm, my pace slowed to 11:30-ish! If I ran any faster, my heart rate would get too high. So, as hard as it was to make myself slow down (it feels awkward and embarrassing at first to run at what feels like a snail's pace compared to what you're used to), I did it anyway. 

There are lots of reasons for doing this method, so I would suggest reading about the MAF method and 80/20 Running for all those details. Basically, you're training your body to require less effort for the same result. There are all sorts of physiological adaptations that happen when running at a low intensity; the ultimate goal being to condition your aerobic system. (And, by only doing 20% of your running at moderate or high-intensity, you are able to hit your goals for those workouts much easier!)

I didn't "officially" start doing the 80/20 Method until mid-January, but I was unknowingly doing it starting around December 24th. At that time, I started following a plan that gave me a recommended heart rate for my runs. I decided to go ahead and follow the plan as written, and take the easy runs very slowly, keeping my heart rate under 146 bpm; and then when I had speed work, I would give it my all.

It has worked out so well, in so many ways! After about six weeks of training that way, I was able to PR my 5K time (on November 26th, my 5K time was 27:00; by February 6th, my time was 24:51)--something I never dreamed would happen. 

I also fell in love with running. I used to dread my runs every single day; even though I felt great after the runs, I always hated the actual running part. Once I started doing the heart rate training, I actually REALLY enjoyed my easy runs! I was able to run slow enough that I wasn't at all out of breath, and it felt similar to just going for a walk. Now, I really do look forward to my easy runs--even the long ones.



It's been very interesting to see my easy pace gradually get faster, too. I always keep my heart rate under 146 during easy runs, but now it takes more effort to get there. Before, I was running an 11:30-ish pace at that heart rate, and now I'm running a 10:30-ish pace at the same heart rate. The effort I put into my easy runs is the same; but the pace is just naturally faster, due to the aerobic conditioning. 

This could be totally coincidental and/or irrelevant, but according to Dr. Maffetone, running at a low heart rate burns more fat. There is a ton of info about this online--some people say it's a myth, some preach it--but I have never really paid much attention to that (and honestly, I don't care at this point). However, it just so happened that when I started doing the low heart rate training, I lost more weight, bringing me 10 pounds below my goal weight--and my body fat is now under 18%. I wasn't actively trying to lose more weight, but it dropped down fairly easily. Again, it could just be a coincidence, but I thought it was worth mentioning.

Ultimately, the goal is to continue to keep my heart rate low, but my speed will continue to increase. I'll become more and more aerobically conditioned, and able to run faster without using more effort. Once I'm finished training for this 10K (hopefully I'll hit my goal!) I'm going to continue with the low heart rate training and the 80/20 method. 

Here are some sample runs from my log:

First three-mile self-proclaimed "easy" run on Oct. 1st, after six weeks of no running due to stress fracture:
3.00 miles
HR 165 bpm
9:35/mile pace

First three-mile low-HR run (same course, Jan. 8)
3.00 miles
HR 138 bpm
11:22/mile pace

Most recent three-mile low-HR run (same course, Mar. 9)
3.00 miles
HR 141 bpm
10:24/mile pace

Yesterday's run:
5.03 miles
HR 143 bpm
9:58/mile pace (while keeping a low heart rate, I dipped into the 9:00's for the first time!)

RACES:

5K race on November 26:
3.11 miles
171 bpm
8:41/mile pace

5K race on February 6:
3.11 miles
172 bpm
7:56/mile pace

Race-pace training run on March 8:
3.50 miles
174 bpm
7:50/mile pace

It's so exciting to be able to train slower but get faster! I am doing speed work, but less than 20% of my time spent running is at a moderate or high intensity. Most people can run fast for a short duration--but to run fast for a long time, we need to build our aerobic capacity (endurance). I wish I'd have listened to this advice a long time ago and had the patience to work on it the correct way ;)

I'm hopeful for my 10K on April 10, but even if I don't hit my goal of sub-49:23, I am confident that with more training, I'll do it sometime this year for sure! 

30 comments:

  1. Very interesting post Katie. Could you share what running watch and HRM you are using now? I have a Fitbit Surge with the built-in HRM but it seems to rather eratic.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I use the Garmin Forerunner 620. There is a link on my "Favorite Things" page :)

      Delete
    2. Mish, if you are truly interested in heart rate training, I recommend using a chest strap as they are more accurate than the optical heart rate monitors built into watches and activity trackers such as the fitbit

      Delete
    3. Great point by Ramblin Man! The wrist monitors aren't nearly as accurate--make sure you get one where you have a chest strap (I'm not sure if the Surge has a chest strap or not, but the chest strap is much more accurate).

      Delete
    4. I read the book and just finished my week of slow.... Wow is it slow! Yesterday was a beautiful day and I ran a 5 mile course at an average of 11:35. Last year, I ran the same course in the snow at 7:40 (obviously much higher HR.). You mention using a Garmin. How do you set the zones? Because of the jump from zone 2 to zone 3, you really need 6 zones in order to have the 5 in the book.

      Delete
    5. I know, the slow pace feels ridiculously slow at first--but now, I really love running at a slow pace (although it has gotten about 90 seconds faster at the same heart rate). I don't set "zones" on my Garmin, but rather just a "high heart rate alert". When I do my easy runs, I have an alert to sound when my heart rate reaches 146, so that I keep my easy runs easy. Then, for my speed work, I don't bother with heart rate, but rather perceived exertion. Fitzgerald mentions it in the book--the different ways of measuring easy/hard. I think the HR is really important for easy runs, but not so much on on the speed work. (But you're right about needing six zones--I tried setting it up that way, and it was frustrating!)

      Delete
  2. Thanks for this! I've been "kinda" doing some 80/20 running since you had gotten into it, but I was merely slowing my treadmill pace down and seeing how my average HR looked after workouts. I was keeping that in the 70%s instead of 80%s.

    The MAF number has me at 137. I'll turn on my HR alarm and start doing my easy runs even easier and see how that works for me. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It will feel ridiculously slow at first--just try not to let it bother you. You will probably enjoy the running more, and you WILL see improvement if you give it a chance! :)

      Delete
  3. This heart rate training is extremely interesting. I have very low fitness as I have run off and on for the last year and a half and haven't been active in sports and whatnot. I never thought I would see much improvement in my slow pace of 11:30 min/miles. However, after nearly a month of 80/20 running per Fitzgerald's recommendations and low heart rate training, I have seen major improvements. My zone 1 warm up has gone from a 13:30+ min/mile to today being under 11:00 min/mile and zone 2 or under 151 bpm at 10:35 min/mile. I also saw a jump on my interval training from 9:40 min/mile at 167 bpm to today being 8:25 min mile for the same heart rate.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. WOW! That is some serious progress! Let me know how the training continues to pan out for you. It's pretty new to me as well, and I'm loving it.

      Delete
  4. Great post Katie! I too tried MAF and got bored, so I stopped. I hadn't done it nearly long enough to make any progress. I really like how you have taken the elements of these two plans and mashed them together into something that is clearly working for you! Once I can start running again I am going to try something like this :) thanks for being an inspiration!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They recommend at least three months of MAF training (NOTHING over your MAF heart rate) before adding speed work--that's a long time to run at a slow pace! I never thought I'd enjoy speed work, but it really does help keep the training interesting.

      Delete
  5. Hi Katie! Thanks for this post, which is very instructive :)
    I have a question about the easy runs: while you do them, do you ever get the feeling that it's tiring you out more, not less?
    I'm asking because I've been trying to do more easy runs, but every time I just felt so sluggish, like my metabolism isn't really getting started - my legs started to feel heavy and I just wanted to lie down and go to sleep... So of course I've been avoiding it by doing more moderate/fast runs!
    I'd be very interested to know if you've been through this, and if it's worth pushing through anyway.
    Thanks :)
    Sarah

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Interesting! No, I've definitely found that the easy running makes me MORE energetic. It seems that maybe you weren't seeing progress quickly enough, so you started doing more moderate/fast runs, which are actually what is wearing you out? I would try doing the 80/20 ratio (or even 90/10) for a few weeks and see if you feel better. The only time I was tired was that week where I tried the actual 80/20 Running plan, which has 8-10 runs per WEEK. I am a 4-6 runs per week kind of runner, and more than that makes me very tired. I need at least one or two rest days each week to feel my best. I usually do rest days after my speed work days.

      Delete
  6. I have so many 'thank yous' for you!

    Thank you for this post! I bought 80/20 Running after you mentioned it a while ago and I finished reading it last weekend. I've been using his talk-test to figure out my perceived effort (and noting my heart rate, as instructed), but I'm glad you shared the MAF link. Turns out my easy-pace HR is right where I thought it should be (147!).

    Thank you for just suggesting the book. I start triathlon/marathon training May 30th, and it was eye opening to read 80/20 Running and be assured that ALL aerobic training can be done using these principles to get good results. It assuaged my worries to know I don't have to spend all summer absolutely killing myself in the pool, on the bike, and when I run.

    Also...I have 12 weeks until the 5k I want to PR - I signed up for the extra medal if you PR your race as an incentive to actually *do it* after taking time off for some bad tendinitis. Reading your post has convinced me that I can do it if I stick to this method.

    In conclusion...thank you thank you thank you!!!!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thank you for this post, Katie. It is very informative. Years ago I got a HRM (mostly because I wanted to know how many calories I was burning during my workouts), but then I stopped using it and it's been gathering dust since. Maybe I ought to pick it up again!

    ReplyDelete
  8. I'm printing out this post and will read it again and again so that it sinks in for me. Thank you Katie for your explanations of the 80/20 and MAF training methods. I feel like I have a basic understanding of what I can do to try and increase my aerobic capacity. I thought I was doing my easy runs "easy" enough. Now I know differently. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Thank you!!!!!!! Such a great post!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Thank you so much for this fabulous post! Just one question: what if running at all puts you above the threshold HR as determined under the MAF test? Do you then just walk briskly, as opposed to running and taking walking breaks?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good question! Yes, if any sort of running puts your HR over your determined MAF heart rate, then you just walk. Eventually, you'll have to walk faster and faster to reach that heart rate. And then you'll have to run to hit it :) It could take a few weeks, or several months, depending on your current aerobic fitness level.

      Delete
  11. That is very exciting! And that's a little more insight into your (what seems to me) mystery extra weight loss the last few months! But that makes loads of sense! The lower heart rate information has been around for years. It's even programmed into most cardio machines. That's super intruiging. I'm going to have to sit on that thought a bit!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Thank you for this post, Katie. I am reading through the 80/20 book, credit to your review, and I started heart rate training last week. I SO needed to read how you've improved your pace as I was getting frustrated with my new extremely slow pace. So, so slow and annoying! I ran 5 miles today and for the first time, I don't feel like I need to crawl in the fetal position and hibernate for 3 days! I count that as a step in the right direction. An 11:30 pace is brutal but your progress is keeping me going. I will be back at 9:30 in no time with a lower heart rate to boot! Thanks so much, Katie! <3

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You'll be amazed when you start seeing the numbers as proof that you're improving!

      Delete
  13. Thanks for this -- I started 80/20 running after hearing your thoughts on it and the pace is soul crushing...12 min/mi??

    But...I also ran five miles and felt fantastic after, when I'm normally pretty stiff and achy. I'm going to try to trust the process because I feel pretty ridiculous trotting that slowly.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your pace will improve pretty quickly! Give it a month or two, and you'll be surprised :) I felt like I was taking a giant step backward in my training, but it has worked SO WELL. Just trust it!

      Delete
  14. Thank you for sharing your plan and your thoughts on it! I'm interested in buying the book - does it lay out training plans? Like "this week on Monday and Wednesday to an easy run for 45 minutes, and on Saturday do this speed workout" sort of thing? Also, I'm a fairly new runner (less than a year) and have noticed I'm starting to dread my runs! I always feel great after, but rarely during. So this might help that!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It does have training plans, but they are VERY complex when you look at the book! I spent a couple of hours rewriting one of the plans onto a spreadsheet, because of the way the book is written. You'll have to do a ton of flipping back and forth, which is why I don't recommend the digital copy of the book. Since you're a beginner, I would find a beginner program and adjust the ratio so that you are doing 80/20. Just add in some easy running and/or eliminate some moderate or hard running to get that ratio. HalHigdon.com has great plans!

      Delete
  15. Sounds like a great plan. I think the "mash-up" of the two should be call the RFC Plan. ;)

    I calculated my MAF and came up with *gulp* 141. In comparison, the lowest average HR I've maintained during a run was last week with JJ for one mile: 154. I'm going to try to do 141 on Friday before Saturday's 10-miler. Should be interesting!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I always notice on Garmin Connect how high your heart rate is, and it makes me wonder... if you were to do MAF training, and get your low HR pace to, say, 10:00 per mile, I wonder how fast you'd run at your current heart rate? I bet you'd be running sub-7:00's! (And the effort would feel the same as it does now, when you run 9:45 or 10:00)

      Delete
    2. Same for me: According to the MAF Method, my HR should be 133 but I can hardly get that low without speed walking with short jogs inbetween. It's quite interesting though, because I've read multiple stories about MAF, but not the mashup of the two methods - which I think is a fabulous idea. I LOVE the slow runs. Like, really really LOVE them - I feel so great afterwards and don't hurt at all. Adding in a day of speedwork sounds like the perfect way to not get too bored. I haven't noticed anybody saying it doesn't work, so I'm holding out to get faster, have fewer injuries, and burn more flab. I'm really doing this for the flab effect more than anything - I'd like to see it go away.

      Thanks for another wonderful post. I read this in the spring, but I'm just coming around to incorporating this into my own training - so thanks for sharing your story with us!

      Delete

I'd love to hear from you! I read all of my comments, and if you have a question, I do my best to respond; sometimes, however, I get busy and forget to go back to reply, so if it's important, just email me! :)

Recent Posts

Blog Archive

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...