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10K’s and the MAF test

I ran a couple of 10K races and got more confident in my running. Also, I expand on the MAF test. What it is, how to do it best, and why it’s useful to do one on a regular basis.

On April 23rd, I ran Damme-Bruges-Damme. After that duathlon in Geluwe 4 weeks prior, I was hoping for the next step in some 10K’s in Damme and Knokke. With a few longer aerobic runs under the belt, I was looking forward to it.

I felt pretty good in Damme. Although it had taken me a whole week to recover from some serious gardening. Weather was on our side. I stood pretty far back at the start line, so I could not go off too fast. I paced it really well and crossed the finish line in 40:48. I must say I found that cobbled, slightly inclined final stretch really hard.

8 days later I toed the line in Knokke, traditionally on May 1st. Between the two races, I did a MAF-test, which said I belonged in the 41-42 min range. That wouldn’t stop me from trying to get closer to that 40 min mark. If I could just get a similar effort in as in Damme. First half, we had a tailwind, taking us ahead of schedule. I passed the 5K mark around 19:30 (can’t be more accurate). Then, the course took us into a headwind, off-road for a bit, through a hilly section. I was really starting to hurt. The last 2K I had to let my companions go. My final kick on the track was no more than 16 kph. But, I finished in 39:45!! Woohoow, confidence boost!!

As mentioned in earlier posts, MAF stands for Maximum Aerobic Function. Phil Maffetone developed the MAF test to keep track of one’s aerobic running and cycling speed. This test is a measure of one’s aerobic fitness and fat burning and shows whether health and fitness continue to progress. It’s very simple. You run a certain distance close to your MAF heart rate and record lap times. By comparing MAF test results to 10K running times in hundreds of athletes he worked with, Maffetone came up with a table that predicted what a runner would be capable of.

MAF min/mile 5K time 10K time
 10:00  23:18  48:54
 9:00  21:45 45:40
 8:30  20:58  44:02
 8:00  20:12  42:24
 7:30  18:38  39:10
 7:00  17:05  35:50
 6:30  16:19  34:15
 6:00  15:32  32:36
 5:45  14:45  30:58
 5:30  13:59  29:35
 5:15  13:28  28:18
 5:00  13:12  27:42

For the moment, my aerobic and anaerobic fitness are out of balance. Although I am able to run 10K in 40 min, my aerobic pace still is above 8:00 per mile. It means that I should only run (or train anything) aerobicly. Racing and interval training will only reinforce or worsen that imbalance. I know what I need to do in May, as I have 3 races planned in June. I hope my aerobic system will have caught up by then.

The MAF test

As with any training session, a MAF test consists of 3 parts: a warm-up, a main set (the test itself), and a cool-down. Here, the warm-up is extra important for a proper test. Our body needs 15-20 min of warming up in order to shunt enough blood from the intestines to the working muscles. Ideally, during that time, your heart rate rises slowly towards your MAF heart rate zone, which is 140-150 in my case. When I begin a warm-up, my heart rate tends to go up to 115-125 fairly quickly. I try to keep it there for a couple of minutes, before it gradually rises to 130-135. As I approach the 15 min mark and I run onto the track, heart rate in the 140s. I’ll do a wide lap of the track, before I start the MAF test at 145-147 bpm.

I use the mile test as suggested by Maffetone. I take splits every 4 laps (1600m, “1 mile”), while I try and keep my heart rate in the 148-150 range. This kind of test can be done on any athletics track in the world, especially convenient for elites. The ultimate test consists of 5 mile splits, if time and fitness permit, that is. The mile 1 split is a first point of reference. At a glance, you can see how your aerobic fitness is evolving. Whenever progression is stagnating or even being reversed, you should be wondering why. Lack of training? Fatigued? Been eating too many unhealthy foods? Emotional difficulties? Ongoing stress? Bad weather conditions during the test?

Secondly, decline in splits within a MAF test is another indication of how things are going. Decline to some extend is perfectly normal, due to a gradual build-up of fatigue in any training bout. MAF tests with no decline are extremely rare. If, say, the first mile is just as fast as in a previous test, but decline is lower (i.e. miles 2, 3… are faster than in previous test), that is a subtle sign of better endurance. If, on the other hand, decline has worsened, it may be a sign of too much fatigue. In that case, you would have to rest up, or see what is starting to go wrong.

Below, a simplified table with my MAF tests so far this year:

Date Mile 1 Mile 2 Mile 3
 March 17  8:28  –  –
 April 21  8:14  8:25  –
 April 28  8:03  8:21  8:40

Immediately, we can see the first mile split improving. Hard to tell much from the decline. Except, I find, the last test shows too much decline for miles 2 and 3. I know from previous years that this could and should be better. So, reflection time. I was tired that day, and the entire week, by the way. By the end of that run, I had to hurry for the loo really bad. To say things were not all good. Still, I wasn’t too worried afterwards. I had 3 days to rest up before the Knokke race. I knew I had the potential for a better MAF test, or in this case, a decent 10K performance. Besides, I am convinced my rising form is on the steep part of the curve.

MAF tests on the bike are just the same. Weather plays a larger role, though. A powermeter can provide more objective data next to lap times. It is important to always ride the same course. I have also noticed that lap time decline is smaller than for the run. You can check out my MAF test bike course on Strava.

Swimming is less convenient, but it can be done. I count pulse rate manually (by the throat) a lot. That way, I get a feel for where my heart rate is at for given effort. From time to time, I’ll swim a 400 of 1000m, or something in between, by feel. Immediately after, I check of my heart rate is at or below 150.

If I was a coach, the MAF test would be a crucial tool in working with my athletes. I have logged MAF tests since 2010. I can easily see when I was going well, and when fewer to no MAF tests were done. I also know very well where I am now compared to stronger times. I won’t be able to regain all fitness I once had by August 20th, but I think something nice could happen in the New Forest.

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