Saturday, 5 December 2015

My Brief Flirtation with the Phil Maffetone Method.

1. Apologies for the lack of pictures - couldn't think of anything relevant.
2. I advise you to skip 'what I ate' as it is pretty samey... I originally wrote mostly for my own reference.... it was just quicker to copy and paste and add explanations rather than re-write the whole thing.

My interest in the Phil Maffetone Method came through reading Natural Born Heroes by Chris McDougallauthor of the well known bestseller Born to Run.


Both of these books contain a story (sort of true story, but I suspect with quite a lot of creative licence) as well as advice / info about running and an attack on the marketing industry (the marketing of running shoes in Born to Run and of sports drinks and the like in Natural Born Heroes).  Both books are worth a read. In each case, I had to have a couple of efforts to get into them, but once I did, I couldn’t put them down.
 In Natural Born Heroes, Phil Maffetone is introduced, and an outline of his methods to build a strong aerobic base by running slowly (aerobically) and burning fat as fuel rather than relying on carbohydrates.  I’m not going to go into the theory of it here – the info is all there on Phil Maffetone’s web site – click here.  


In particular, click here to read about theory and instructions for the 2 week test that I describe my experience of below.  This is a fortnight without carbs.  Phil Maffetone believes that many (even most) of us suffer from some degree of carbohydrate intolerance.  

To find out about Maffetone’s method of running to build a strong aerobic base to encourage fat-burning for endurance exercise, click here. Given the formula, I worked out that I should exercise, mostly at HR<128  (ie, 180- my age. No additions or subtractions for any of the factors given).  This calculation seems as vague and ridiculous as “max HR = 220-age”, but ok, I was prepared to give it a crack.

As you will see if you’ve read the info on the 2 week test, my first task is to write down any symptoms, however trivial, that I experience (physical / mood / mental / emotional / general functioning) at the beginning of the test so that I can see if any improvements occur when I cut out carbs.  So, from here-on-in, this post is a day by day account, that I wrote daily when doing the test. Notes added in this colour and italics are reflections I’ve added now.  You may just want to skim read, because I’ve probably repeated myself- I was initially just writing it for my own reference.
Two Week Test – Starts Monday 12th October 2015
Weight at Start:  10st 7lb. I’m not particularly doing this for weight loss, but the instructions say to get weighed at the start of the 2 week test. I can only imagine that I will gain weight, with all that fat and cream!
List problems / ailments at the start: 
1.             Tired in the mornings
2.             Often experiencing physical symptoms of anxiety in the mornings, despite not feeling particularly stressed – pins and needles in mouth, raised heart rate
3.             Bottoms of feet (soles) ache most of the time
4.             Bottom (soles) and sides of feet are red
5.             Right whole ankle area has pain that I’ve accepted as ‘normal’ most of the time and especially in the mornings until they loosen up
6.             Feet and ankles and legs ache after being on feet a lot (eg. Pottering about the house and garden / standing ironing / standing presenting at work).  Sometimes a swelling and a twinge on the posterior tibialis tendon from injury earlier this year.
7.             New pain on bottom of right foot, behind little toe and next toe
8.             Ache behind left knee when sitting
9.             Whole body stiff when getting out of bed in the morning, especially lower legs and ankles
10.         Procrastination / Poor concentration
11.         Work sometimes seeming like very hard work – a massive effort.
12.         Often feel hungry or fancy eating ‘rubbish’

Sunday, 11 October 2015 – decision.
I started reading about Phil Maffetone (Maffetone Method) and it appeals because it’s a different approach and is about endurance running. (See links above)  Most of the eating is counter-intuitive because I’m so used to basing my diet around carbohydrates, including some simple sugars. This one includes more protein and fats, cuts out simple sugars and limits carbs in general.  Most of the running is counter-intuitive too!  But I can see the sense. It’s all about building a strong aerobic base and using body fat as fuel instead of relying on carbs, which can become a bit of an addiction.
Today, I bought a load of eggs, some meat, sour cream, double cream and butter.  I have to cut out carbs for a fortnight and then gradually re-introduce them (2 week test).
Monday, 12 October 2015 – Day 1
What I ate:
Breakfast: Salad, olives, feta, olive oil, coffee with cream!
Lunch: Salad, tuna, boiled egg
Snacks: Nuts
Evening meal: pork, vegetables. (no spuds!)
That’s my first carb-free day, done.  I feel OK
How I ran:
5 miles.  Competed the MAF test, on a 5 mile run down through Roxton Woods towards Immingham. I’m compiling the results on a spread sheet.  I’ll be documenting all the facts and figures.  It’s hard to run so SLOW! One hour 2 minutes to run 5 miles!

How I felt:
Focused.  I just feel very focused and ready to set my mind to something.
Tuesday, 13 October 2015 – Day 2
What I ate:
Breakfast: Olives, feta, olive oil, coffee with cream
Lunch: Salad, tuna, boiled egg, olive oil on it
Snacks: Nuts
Evening Meal: Omelette with cheese and ham. Veg, butter.
How I ran:
Ran about 4½ miles. I do feel I need to get my heart rate zones tested properly though. Running with HR <128 BPM is really SLOW!  Oh my goodness – I can’t believe that I was already complaining on Day 2!
How I felt:
I had a slight head ache whilst running. Think I was a bit hungry. Had some water and then felt better after eating! 
Wednesday, 14 October 2015 – Day 3
What I ate:
Breakfast: Olives feta, hard boiled egg, coffee with cream
Lunch: Salad, Chicken, olive oil on it
Snacks: nuts
Evening Meal: Waldorf salad
How I ran:
3.6 miles. I worked late today and needed to call at the shops on the way home so it was gone 9pm when I got out for a run. It was dark so I just ran round the village twice. 
How I felt:
I had been itching for a run all day.  I was surprised and frustrated by how quick my HR leaps above 128, even when I feel I haven’t quickened up.  I found myself annoyed with the watch and found myself swearing and ranting at it! Obviously that was stressing me out and wouldn’t help to reduce my heart rate at all!  So I reframed it in my mind, made friends with the Garmin and started saying ‘thank you’ to it when it beeped to remind me my heart rate was too high.  That made the world of difference.

Thursday, 15 October 2015 – 4
What I ate:
Breakfast: Olives, Feta, Coffee with cream
Lunch: Waldorf salad and a chicken breast
Snacks: nuts, olives
Evening Meal: Prawns, avocado, omelette & salad. Olive oil.
How I ran:
Nearly 5 miles. I ran with CRC at Market Rasen.  I ran at the back of the pack initially, thinking that would keep my HR down.  However, it was soon in the 130s and 140s.  So I decided to run with Sarah, Jayne and Kath.  It was a nice steady run and felt lovely to be just running ‘properly’ again. I took the monitor off as the watch was beeping constantly.  Once we got to a point where we were heading back and I knew the way, I decided to pick up the plan again and aim for HR < 128 again.  As always, it just felt so slow and I had to walk occasionally to get my HR down.  Today’s run is not in contravention of the plan.  I have to aim to run 80% of my training with HR< 128 so if I look at the run on Strava, I can see that there’s 2½ miles where I wasn’t ‘doing it’.   So, as long as I run a total of at least 12½ miles this week, I will have run 80% at the prescribed level.  Happy days – just checked Strava and I’ve already run 17.7 miles this week.  I didn’t realised I’d clocked that many up.  Perhaps in future weeks I need to plan more and then I can choose where I will allow myself to run differently.
How I felt /feel:
I feel both excited and frustrated.  I’m sure I need to get over the challenge of running slowly and try to enjoy how easy it is on me in terms of breathing.  I definitely want my VO2 max testing though so that I can get personalised data on what my aerobic zone is. I can’t believe I have to run THIS slowly!

Friday, 16 October 2015 – Day 5
What I ate:
Breakfast:  Olives & feta with olive oil on it. A slice of beef!
Lunch:  Hard boiled eggs with sour cream and chives. Grated cheese, salad
Snacks: Nuts.  Hard boiled egg (after run)
Evening Meal: We were out at a ‘do’ with a fish and chip supper, so I just ate the fish out of the batter. Didn’t eat the chips or batter. Bought a pack of nuts to keep me going.
How I ran:
I walked a mile to warm up, then did 6 miles trying to keep below 128bpm.   It was difficult to keep below that and I had to do quite a few short walks to get it down.  Then a mile walk to cool down – although I wasn’t really warm! 
How I felt /feel:
After running for about 2 miles, I had a slight head ache around my eyes but it soon went off.  Day 4 or 5 of no carbs is supposed to be the day you might feel awful, but I seem to be OK. No different.  The only problem with running this slow though, is that when I get back from a run, I’m ready for another run!  Dare I say it, “a proper run!”  It’s just not quite scratching the itch.

Saturday. 17th October 2015 – Day 6
What I ate:
Breakfast: Hard boiled eggs.  Nuts.
Lunch: Chicken.
Snacks: Nuts
Evening Meal: Steak, vegetables, .... accidentally ate one small new potato!  No, seriously, we had company for a meal and I put the spuds and veg on the table, so that everyone could help themselves. I just put everything on my plate on auto-pilot and I ate one small spud before I remembered!  Eeek! Just left the others on my plate.  I’m giving big praise to myself though today because I made a delicious looking selection of desserts and didn’t have any. Actually, I didn’t even really fancy any.  I had some nuts instead. Cashew nuts taste quite sweet.
3 glasses of dry wine.  (2 red, one white).  The only alcohol permitted on this carb-free phase is dry wine and some spirits.  Our company was here from 7pm through to 2.30am and my 3 glasses of wine lasted all the time, with much water drunk in between.  I didn’t like the white wine and probably won’t repeat it.  Could try a spritzer with soda water, I suppose.
How I ran:
No run.  Today was a rest day.  We were marshalling at the Gruesome Twosome and it was gone 2pm when we left.
How I felt/feel:
I felt great at the Gruesome Twosome and have even entertained the idea of entering next year.  I realise this is because I was watching people at the finish and it’s easy to get carried away.  Ha ha ha – I can’t believe I nearly got carried away and agreed to enter!  My resolve has returned and I will continue to marshal this one!  Couldn’t possibly let Neil and Nicola down.  [ link to tape to tape http://www.tape2tape.co.uk/ }

Sunday, 18 October 2015 – Day 7
What I ate:
Breakfast: Scrambled eggs. Sliced tomato.
Lunch: Salad, quorn stir-fried with peppers and spring onions, home-made mayonnaise
Snacks:  nuts
Evening Meal:  nothing because lunch was so late
How I ran:
Today was another rest day. I was keeping it optional but having had very little sleep, I am making it another rest day.  It makes no sense to me to run when I feel like this –see below!
How I felt/feel:
Eugh.  Rubbish!  So ropey.  I think this is mostly tiredness as I didn’t get to bed until 3.20am.  At breakfast (about 11am) I didn’t feel like it, but thought I’d better eat.  I am unsure why I feel so bad.  Going to bed so late might be part of it (but I felt fine last night and had such a lovely evening that the time just rolled on).  I guess the 3 glasses of wine may have contributed, but they were spread over 7 hours.  I doubt the one small potato I ate last night has unbalanced things that much.  It could also be the carb-withdrawal slump.  There were some left-over cakes from yesterday and when I saw them I could have quite fancied one.  This is the first time, I’ve felt like that. It’s not a strong urge and my resolve is so strong there’s no way I’ll ruin it now.  At lunch time (AKA 4pm, due to the day starting late today!), I felt hungry but just didn’t know what I fancied.  A very strange day.  Bed before 10.00pm
Weight today:  10st 4lb That’s a loss of 3lb! Can’t really believe it as I’ve had several coffees with cream daily as well as butter on my veg and olive oil on my salads!

Monday, 19 October 2015 – Day 8
What I ate:
Breakfast: Hard-boiled egg. Tomato. Home made mayonaise
Lunch:  salad, quorn boiled egg
Snacks: nuts
Evening Meal: peppers, cheese & onion omelette & salad
How I ran:
Didn’t run today. 
How I felt/feel:
Felt very tired from the weekend. This morning felt very shaky and so tired at work I thought about going home. I guess I’ve hit the slump? Decided not to run. Save it for tomorrow.

Tuesday, 20th October 2015 – Day 9
What I ate:
Breakfast: A few nuts. Wasn’t hungry but thought I’d better have something.
Lunch: Egg. Quorn. Salad.
Snacks: Nuts. Not many. Haven’t felt hungry.
Evening Meal: Wetherspoons mixed grill (minus chips, minus peas, minus sausage plus salad)
How I ran:
Warm up and then 40 minutes along the prom. Not feeling so frustrated with it now. Think I’m settling in.
How I felt/feel:
Better. I think my slump must have been Sunday and yesterday.  The only thing I’m really missing is my morning cup of tea.
Wednesday, 21st October 2015 – Day 10
What I ate:
Breakfast: Hard-boiled egg, tomato
Lunch: Tuna, salad, boiled egg.
Snacks: nuts
Evening Meal: Chicken, waldorf salad (with soured cream)
How I ran:
One hour of running round the village after working til 8pm – 4 miles. This went well. I feel like the beeps were less frequent, so perhaps I’m learning to gauge my pace a bit better. I could have run for hours and hours. My pace is getting slower at this heart rate though. I’m not overly concerned. I guess my glycogen reserves must be just about depleted by now so maybe it’s another transition.
How I felt/feel:
Brilliant. Apart from first getting up in the morning, I’ve felt great all day today.  Felt full of energy – a bit wired (but in a good way), probably from too much creamy coffee this afternoon! Since mid afternoon, I’ve been feeling like going for a run. Even though this is my late night at work, it felt easy to get ready and run. I didn’t feel at all tired.  I could have easily done another hour, but wanted to have my tea,
Thursday, 22nd October 2015 – Day 11
What I ate:
Breakfast: A few nuts
Lunch: Salad, chicken, homemade coleslaw made with homemade mayo
Snacks: nuts
Evening Meal:  Cheese omelette and salad
How I ran:
About an hour with CRC – with Jayne and Kathryn B.  I seem to actually be running slower at this HR
How I felt/feel:
The run felt easy.  Feeling a bit frustrated.I’m committed to carrying on, but becoming less convinced that 128bpm is right for me. Too general  I will be very interested to get properly tested.

Friday, 23rd October 2015 – Day 12
What I ate:
Breakfast: Tomato, egg mayo
Lunch: missed lunch!
Snacks: nuts
Evening Meal: Wetherspoons mixed grill, minus chips, plus salad.  One bottle, plus an extra glass of red wine.  Yippee – I’m allowed dry wine and I’ve found out which red wines are dry!
Supper: Lamb kebab! Unfortunately, (due to the quantity of red wine inside me) I forgot myself and ate the pitta bread.
How I ran:
I did a 2 hour run to Limber and back on a 7½ mile route.  This usually takes me 1:10 or about that! I did quite a lot of walking. The longer the run went on the harder it was to keep my heart rate down. I did about a third of this run on the grass verges as I have committed to a couple of off-road races next year – including a 30 mile ultra!
How I felt/feel:
I enjoyed the run even though it took so long and included so much walking. I’ve started calling it Snail-Running!  I got in touch with Lincoln University to find out about getting my max heart rate and training zones tested / identified.
Saturday, 24 October 2015 – Day 13  -  Carbohydrate Re-entry!
What I ate:
Breakfast: A few nuts first thing. Then Wetherspoons breakfast without bread, hash browns, beans.
Lunch / Evening meal: Quorn and veg, home made arrabiatta sauce.  1 oz of wholewheat pasta.
Snacks: nuts
How I ran:
I ran parkrun.  This was my treat.  I’ve done a load of Snail-running this week so that has ‘bought’ me a run at whatever pace I like. I did a ‘warm up’ lap of the lake, but it was a bit too quick and I felt quite worn out before I started! Nevertheless, I completed in just under 30 minutes and my final mile was the quickest. It felt very odd. I had no concept of pace and didn’t know how quick to go. Pleased with the result.
How I felt/feel:
I felt great. No hangover, which is a surprise given I haven’t been drinking much and really hammered it on Friday!
Sunday, 25th October 2015 – Day 14
Weight today:  10st 3lb That’s a loss of another 1lb making a total weight loss over the fortnight of 4lb. 
How I ran:
Rest day.
How I felt/feel:
I’ve spent some time reflecting on the whole process.  I felt, and still feel that I am determined and mentally strong enough to persevere with things that seem difficult, if there is an important goal I’m aiming for.  Sticking with the carb-free fortnight was much easier than I expected, probably because I could always see the end to it.  After the first few days, I didn’t miss bread, which surprised me as I love a good sandwich.  I didn’t miss cakes and biscuits at all, perhaps because I was allowed lots of nuts and cream in my coffee.
The most difficult thing has been running with a heart rate of <128.  It involves so much walking and even a run of a relatively short distance takes so long.  I can kind of still see the principle of running at this MAF pace (maximum aerobic function) in terms of building up a strong aerobic base.  Again – click here to go to more of the technical detail about Maffetone.  What I struggle with is believing that I am at a good aerobic level as this very slow pace and low heart rate. Some of my runs were 12, 13 or even 14 min miles.  I can walk faster! My understanding of moderate aerobic exercise is that it’s enough to increase my breathing rate (a little breathless) but still able to carry out a conversation in short sentences.  The pace I’ve been running, I had enough breath to sing the whole of ‘Come On Eileen’ (those who know me well already know that I can recite the words of the whole song).
So, on this basis, I booked in at Lincoln Uni to find out more accurately what my max HR is and where my aerobic / anaerobic windows are.  I will write about this in a future post.
Conclusion following the carb free fortnight.
At this point I am supposed to return to my list that I wrote at the beginning and see if anything has changed. I haven’t been paying much attention to whether any changes have occurred because I’ve been busy making sure I stay carb free and focusing on running slow.  So I’ve actually forgotten what I wrote in my list.  I’m sceptical. I can’t really see how cutting out carbs is going to make a massive difference to anything. So I’ll just cut and paste the original list here and make a note of anything that is different.
Revisiting: 
1.      Tired in the mornings – No change during the carb-free fortnight. I possibly think I had more energy throughout the day, but I still felt like crap in the mornings. On reflection, this is very different in the summer when the mornings are brighter. It’s much easier to get up.
2.             Often experiencing physical symptoms of anxiety in the mornings, despite not feeling particularly stressed – pins and needles in mouth, raised heart rate. No change.
3.             Bottoms (soles) of my feet ache most of the time. Ah, now that’s interesting.  That has stopped.  Hmmm, strange.  Surely that can’t be down to cutting out carbs?  I wonder if some of it might be down to the fact that I’ve been running so slowly and therefore it’s less high impact? But then again, the actual duration of running has been more because every run takes so long, so I’ve actually been on my feet more.  Strange. Must monitor this as I return to more carbs.
4.             Bottom (soles) and sides of feet are red.  See 3.  Same story.  Bottoms of feet are more ‘skin coloured’ now, not red.
5.             Right whole ankle area has pain that I’ve accepted as ‘normal’ most of the time and especially in the mornings until they loosen up. This actually seems to have improved.  There’s still some ache during and after running but not pain.  Ankle still needs flexing a bit in the morning before I can stand on it.
6.             Feet and ankles and legs ache after being on feet a lot (eg. Pottering about the house and garden / standing ironing / standing presenting at work).  Sometimes a swelling and a twinge on the posterior tibialis tendon from injury earlier this year.  No change.
7.             New pain on bottom of right foot, behind little toe and next toe.  That’s gone.  However, I don’t think that’s anything to do with the carb-free diet.  It started to hurt when I ran in my PROTM race shoes, so I think it struck up due to new shoes and has gone because I’ve not worn them again.
8.             Ache behind left knee when sitting. No change.
9.             Whole body stiff when getting out of bed in the morning, especially lower legs and ankles. No change.  It’s always up and down.  Probably just because I’m no longer in my 20s!
10.         Procrastination / Poor concentration. No change.
11.         Work sometimes seeming like very hard work – a massive effort. No change.
12.         Often feel hungry or fancy eating ‘rubbish’. Once I got past the first few days and knew what I was going to eat, I was never hungry and I didn’t fancy anything sweet.  Since re-introducing carbs, I now find that bread tastes sweet. I used to love bread, but I’m less bothered now.  I reintroduced carbs gradually and in moderation and by and large have stayed off simple sugars.  This will change over the  Christmas and New Year period, because I believe in indulgence! 
What Next?
Since all this, I’ve been to the University of Lincoln Sport Performance department and had lactic acid testing to establish training zones.  I’ll write about this in my next blog post because it has had a big impact on my training.
I may do the 2 week carb-free test again after Christmas now that I’ve got a more accurate idea of my training zones.  I am still very interested in the concept of fat burning.  It’s well documented (empirical and anecdotal evidence) that inexperienced distance runners hit a wall somewhere between 18 and 22 miles, where the legs feel heavy and it’s difficult to go on.  The consensus is that this is the point at which we run out of glycogen in the muscles and liver and have to change to fat-burning.  It is apparently the mile where we are changing from carb-burning to fat-burning that feels hard.  The long training runs help us to ‘practice’ getting into fat-burning mode, but the idea of running aerobically and changing the diet in favour of fewer carbs, is that we can teach our body to use more fat (body fat) for fuel for the outset, therefore sparing carbs for a push later in the run.  I find all this interesting so I want to experiment with it a bit more. I find it relatively easy to be strict about what I eat when I’m following a plan for a reason.  It was the snail running I didn’t like. Now that I’m running at a more realistic pace (but still aerobically) I’d like to have another crack and see what the results are.
I’m still wading my way through Phil Maffetone’s book ‘The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing’ and finding some of it interesting, but feeling increasingly frustrated with it.  He is a physiotherapist, coach, athlete and his title is Dr but I’m unclear if he is trained as a medical Doctor.  He has trained in anatomy and physiology and says that he’s a scientist.  I would therefore expect that he had done academic writing.  Yet there is no list of references of bibliography to this book.  Throughout, he uses statements such as, ‘studies show that.....’ and ‘research shows....’ and so on, but without referencing the study.  This doesn’t fill me with confidence.  I’m not saying he’s wrong, but I’d prefer to have to option to review the research for myself. 
As much as I’ve tried to get my head around it, the whole 180bpm minus your age calculation doesn’t make sense to me and from what he says isn’t really based on anything.  He says it’s a figure he’s arrived at from years of experience of working with different athletes and doing extensive assessments of them ad that he eventually arrived at this figure.  In his book and a couple of podcasts he is very negative about max heart rate testing and the like, stating is doesn’t take all the factors into account.  To my mind, 180 minus my age doesn’t take all factors into account and I’d rather find a figure that’s based on what’s happening in my body rather than using a figure that’s based on what he’s deduced from other athletes, albeit a large number of them.  If I’m experimenting about what’s best for me, then n=1, with that one being me, seems the most logical option. 
Posts in the pipeline will be about:
  • -          My treadmill test at Lincoln university and the resultant change to my training.
  • -          Knickers – that will be one for the ladies
  • -          The start of my journey with the other CRC ladies as we train for our (first) Ultra – The Dukeries 30 mile (May 2016)

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