December 30, 2019

3-3-3 Running: Done! A Recap of the Last Three Months (and moving forward...)

Well, I made it!! I ran three miles three times per week for three months.

I missed doing a recap of Week 12, and since I was already halfway into Week 13, I figured I'd just wait until I was done and put it all together.

For anyone new, 3-3-3 running (in a nutshell) is: Running 3 miles, 3 days per week, for 3 months. My friend Thomas suggested this to me when I expressed interested in running again (after a two year hiatus), but was having such a hard time committing to it. He had to take a year off due to psoriatic arthritis, and when he got back into running, that's how he did it... 3-3-3.

I chose to do heart rate training based on Dr. Phil Maffetone's 180 formula. I used his method in 2015-2016 when training for a 10K PR and it worked so well that I wanted to do it again. However, since I was so out of shape to begin with three months ago, I decided to do ALL of the runs at my MAF heart rate and no speed work at all (which is actually what he suggests--the idea is to build your cardio system by training at a low heart rate, even if it means walking.)

The data from all this is going to be screwed up a little lot, so I'll explain that as I go.

First, I started on September 30th with a MAF heart rate of 143 beats per minute (180 minus my age, which is 37). However, I listened to Dr. Maffetone on a podcast explaining that the formula can be slightly off from that for various reasons, and since I had such good results with a heart rate of 146 bpm in 2015-2016, I ended up changing it a couple of weeks into this current training period.

So, my pace was slower for the first couple of weeks due to the fact that I was keeping a lower heart rate. Once I changed the MAF heart rate to 146 bpm, I felt more comfortable with my stride and I was able to go (slightly) faster.

The biggest problem with all this data is the discrepancy regarding running on the treadmill versus running outside. The distance on my Garmin is completely inaccurate when I run on my treadmill (on my Garmin, running at 5.0 mph will show the same pace as running 4.5 mph, for example, even though I can feel a big change in the speed).

Also, I was never sure if my treadmill's distance was correct. I did a test recently, which I feel is pretty accurate based on the way I did it, but rather than correct the distance after each run, I decided to log the distance that is on the treadmill. If the test I did was, in fact, accurate, I was actually running slightly farther and faster than the treadmill showed; but to be safe, we'll just call the distance on the treadmill at face value.

The timer on the treadmill, however, is too fast. For every 10 real minutes that pass, the treadmill will show that roughly 10:10 has passed. That's a big difference! So, I used the timer on my Garmin (which is 100% correct) and the distance on my treadmill (which is close enough) for the results.

HOWEVER, making it even more complicated, I did not do that for the first few weeks. I was assuming my Garmin was more accurate than the treadmill, so I didn't log what the treadmill said; I just logged what was on my Garmin. I have no idea how far the actual distance I ran was, except that it was most likely more than what my data shows.

Basically, what I'm saying is, the treadmill data from the whole month of October is garbage 😂

I feel that the most accurate data comes from outdoor GPS runs, and unfortunately, I didn't do many of those. For some reason, I developed anxiety about running outdoors and it causes my heart rate to be higher.

Here is a chart of all the data from when I started the 3-3-3 plan (you can click to enlarge it, but it's basically a bunch of numbers that aren't at all helpful; the yellow highlighted runs are the outdoor ones):

You can tell when I started watching the TV show 24 while running because I started running more than my required 3 miles, hahaha. I wanted to finish the episodes, which are roughly 40-42 minutes long.

When I did graphs of my pace (separately for the indoor and outdoor runs, just to be more consistent) it wasn't very helpful either. There IS a slight trend of my pace getting faster, though, which is encouraging. The red line is the overall trend, and the slope downward means I got a little faster.

This first graph shows just the outdoor runs, and begins with the first outdoor run on 10/4/19. My median pace outdoors for the three months was 13:13/mile. (I thought median would be more helpful than average in this case.)

And here is my mess of treadmill data (which I started counting from 10/31, after I started logging the distance shown on the treadmill).  So, this is only the last two months of data. I'm glad to see the overall trend being faster, but I guess it's a lot like weight loss--many ups and downs due to different variables. My median pace for the treadmill was 12:50/mile.

Unless I consistently run outside using GPS, with similar variables, it would be very hard to get accurate, helpful data.

Thoughts about the last three months:

I definitely don't dread running as much as I used to. I still have the "I don't wanna" feels before a run, but it's nothing like before. Occasionally, I look forward to it! And I always feel good afterward.

I hoped to see a bigger improvement, but like I said, the data is so inconsistent that I can't really put too much thought into that. I've been reading Dr. Maffetone's Big Book on Endurance Training, and I'd completely forgotten about doing the MAF test run. I wish I'd have remembered. I'll write more about that later.

Running at such a slow pace was frustrating at times--I felt good most of the time and wanted to speed up, but as soon as my watch beeped that my heart rate was too high, I'd have to slow down. I did not "cheat" on that part at all, however. I consistently did everything in my power to keep my heart rate below MAF.

Despite the slower pace, I really enjoy using the MAF method because it's not miserable. I don't have to gasp for breath, and I don't feel like my legs are going to buckle. While it doesn't feel like a cakewalk, it definitely feels like I could keep going for a long time. Besides, it's nice to have an excuse for a slow pace ;)

Doing this 3-3-3 running plan has made me want to continue running. I didn't look at the final run of the third month as an "end" to the goal. It was the beginning of refreshing the old habit I used to have--running regularly. I feel better about myself when I'm "a runner".

Moving forward from here...

After diving into his book, I want to jump in with both feet for January as far as the MAF method goes (this includes nutrition and lifestyle). This is going to be a HUGE challenge, but I feel ready to take it on. It's going to take an entire post for the explanation, so I will do that later this week.

As far as the running goes, it will continue very similarly to what I've been doing. I definitely want to keep running, and after reading more about the MAF method, I've changed my mind about how I'd planned to do things (adding in speed work). At least for a while. But I'll still continue running at MAF heart rate (running 3-4 days per week).

I'd really like to do more outdoor running, so I'm going to try to make myself do that at least once a week. It's going to be really hard in January and February here in Michigan! I've turned into such a baby about the cold.

Anyway, I'm very glad that I did this 3-3-3 plan (thanks, Thomas!) and I feel good about continuing to run into 2020 :)

Here are all of the (mostly) weekly recap posts of 3-3-3 in case you're interested.


  1. Very cool that the end of this "chunk" of your training coincides with the new year! You've been such an example in determination on this journey; thanks for sharing with us! Can't wait to see what this next chapter of running holds for you :)

  2. What a great feeling to have achieved your goal. I'm so happy for you! I also remember you had a goal to NOT drink alcohol at all this year. Or was that last year? How'd you do on that? What did you think of not drinking--not hard at all, or pretty difficult? Happy New Year Katie and here's to making it a great 2020!


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