Do you have an aerobic base?

Starting the journey over is never easy

Starting the journey over is never easy

You might not, even though it might seem impossible to you. I thought I did until I started crashing early in marathons and started digging into the whys of that. I mean, I could run 22 milers in training, I could chat with my friends while running, I could do tempo work and track work spot on to the numbers I was seeking, and I even ran a strong half marathon this spring. But I had skipped that essential component of true aerobic base building and when push came to shove in a marathon, I got shoved, hard.

And now I am making up for it all with my MAF training. I got myself into this predicament when I returned to running a couple of years back after a layoff from injury. That would have been the perfect time to build a true aerobic base, but instead, I pushed myself to get into marathon shape for Boston. (side note–don’t ever return from injury with a race deadline hanging over your head). I could focus on the “could’ve, should’ve, wouldn’ves” but that’s a waste of time. The important thing is that I am doing it right now.

Why is an aerobic base important? For so many factors. Overall health, for one. With a good, solid aerobic base, you’re not damaging your body the way you might be if you are running primarily in an anaerobic state. You’re less likely to get sick and less likely to get injured if you have a true base underneath you. For training purposes, an aerobic base means that your muscles have more capillaries and thus more oxygen to work with. Your body also can tap into fat for fuel, something we all have endless supplies from which to draw. If you work primarily in an anaerobic state, your body will depend more on glycogen and that’s in much shorter supply.

How can you determine if you have that base? A few hints that you don’t include frequent injury, fatigue, and illness. Another clue is the unexplained bonks like I had in longer distance racing. But if you really want to know, work out your desired aerobic heart rate according to Phil Maffetone’s method, and then go out for a six or seven mile run with a heart rate monitor/GPS strapped on. See what pace you are keeping. Is it far slower than what you expected? Is it far slower than what you normally run, even for your easy runs? That is likely your answer right there. When I did this, it was one serious rude awakening, believe me.

Even with this information in hand, you may not want to train at the low heart rate, and believe me, I get it. I put this off for a long time, even though I knew it was the best thing for me. The only thing I can say is that I am seeing great progress and that’s so encouraging. The bottom line is that I will be a healthier me at the end of this road, and even if the race paces don’t fall into place (and I believe they WILL), I’ve done myself a favor with this training.

So tell me–do you think you have a good aerobic base? Are you brave enough to find out? 

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  1. says

    went for a 27km(16.8miles) run this last weekend and kept my HR below 140 while it was flat I was easly running at 4:30/km (7:15/mile) so I think I’m going OK…

    I always try and remember that easy is easy… and I try and tell the guys that but I’m only the coach and what do I know!!!
    Coach Dion recently posted..THINKING OF OTHERSMy Profile

  2. MJ says

    Now it’s so hot and humid there’s no real good way to find out outside (would really affect me since I run on my treadmill and not be a test of my normal). Running outside, which I try to do once a week, but don’t always make it, is a very different experience for me (I tend to run faster outside). I will say that on for my runs, esp my long runs (at long run pace), my HR tends to be much lower than it used to, so I think that’s a good sign. My RHR is lower as well. Getting ready to start my training plan for fall race!

  3. says

    When I started running again after baby #2, one of the things I wanted to focus on was rebuilding my base. Post baby was a good time because I wasn’t planning to seriously train for any races while I was still breastfeeding. I haven’t done any heart rate training to test this theory, but I think the gradual return to longer runs and higher mileage has really helped me avoid injury. I’m still nervous about a fall marathon because in my previous marathons I hit the wall – and hard – after mile 20. One thing I’m definitely going to do this time around is stay FAR away from the ‘bank time’ trap and try to run more even splits. Your MAF training has been really fascinating to read about – thanks for sharing!
    Nicole @ Work in Sweats Mama recently posted..Quest for the Perfect Sports BraMy Profile

  4. says

    I definitely have some fat to shed. I still weigh about 15 pounds more than I did when I got pregnant 5 1/2 years ago. I’d love to lose it. I think with as many miles as I run and the other workouts I incorporate I would be in better shape at this point. So this is telling me that I probably don’t have the best aerobic base. Ever since you first started talking about MAF I’ve wanted to try it. I need to invest in a HRM.
    Britt @ BrittsRunningStyle recently posted..Too Much Fun = Delayed Long RunMy Profile

  5. says

    I keep trying to push my mileage without a sufficient base and guess what I keep getting hurt…shocking. So I’m done with trying to short cut the base building and I’m going to take however long it takes me to have a strong base to work off of. No short cuts, no getting caught up in wanting to train for races. Just patience…gulp
    Amanda recently posted..Back at Square OneMy Profile

  6. says

    I have a really high resting heart rate and always have. I couldn’t even fathom running at a HR off that formula. I’d be like power walking haha – any form of exercise throws me into the 170’s (and running into the upper 180’s). I guess it depends on your goals though…I’ve come to terms with the fact that due to this, I really won’t ever run fast and I just need to focus on tolerating the movement. I’m really in awe that there are people who can control their heart rate to that degree!
    Carly D. @ CarlyBananas recently posted..Super Simple Banana Bread RecipeMy Profile

    • says

      Hey Carly, I can speak from experience- you can turn this around if you want too. Before I started with MAF training, anytime I ran, my HR was easily in the upper 180’s to low 190’s and that was at a 12+ min mile. My resting HR was also in the high 60’s-70’s range.
      Since I’ve been training by MAF, my resting HR has dropped into the low 50’s, sometimes dropping as low as 48 (when I’m not stressed from work). And my overall pace has improved significantly. I can now run in the high 9’s to low 10’s and my HR will only reach mid 180’s… and that’s when I’m all out racing. (not a fast pace by most standards, but fast for me for sure).
      It can be very frustrating at first and may (will) involve a lot of walking in the first few weeks. But that improves as your body learns how to work at this lower HR. It’s a commitment, but so very very worth it. The improvement I’ve seen is something I never dreamed I was a capable of, and I’m still base building!

    • April says

      I too have a high resting heart rate… If I don’t move it’s in the 80’s, but as soon as I stand up and walk I jump into 110-120’s. I run at a very slow 13 min/mile and my heart rate is usually in the 180’s to 190’s. At a fast walking pace, I’ll easily hit my maximum hr of 145. I’m sure it doesn’t help that I run in Florida where it’s now very hot and humid. I’ve been running off and on for about 2 years now. I’ve never been able to improve my pace and have been assuming it’s because of my asthma. Maybe it’s because I don’t have an aerobic base. I guess it couldn’t hurt to slow down and see.

  7. says

    I definitely do. Aerobic is my specialty. I only run really fast in races. I don’t do a lot of speed work or faster paces in training, and use shorter distance races (up to 1/2 marathon) to get in some speed work. I’m definitely more an aerobic trainer then anaerobic and it’s worked for me in the long run. I’m a true believer in this method of training for longer distances.
    Robin recently posted..Barrie Half MarathonMy Profile

  8. says

    What you said about not coming back from an injury with a race date looming over your head is SO TRUE!!!! I don’t think I will ever have a race date in mind coming off of an injury again. I honestly think it sets you up for failure.

    I don’t think I had a good aerobic base when I was training for Windermere- that was obvious. Pre injury I did have a good one. I am definitely going to do the 6-7 mile run sometime soon. I am very curious!
    Tasha @ Healthy Diva recently posted..My belated exciting announcmentMy Profile

  9. says

    I did a lot of reading on MAF training after your last few posts and it was such a good reminder that we have base building phases of training for a reason! I spent much of the last two months cross training and running easy miles so I think I’m where I want to be, but I want to try this heart rate test to find out!
    Laura @ Mommy Run Fast recently posted..5 Superfoods I eat every weekMy Profile

  10. says

    I know that my aerobic base is seriously lacking now after injury. I’m coming back very slowly, and in the heat, so that should help me. I’m less likely to speed through a workout while it’s 90 degrees. I notice that when I’m in aerobic shape, photos of me from races often show my mouth closed – I’m not even breathing heavily enough to breath through my mouth. That’s a good indicator to me of aerobic fitness.
    Gracie (Complicated Day) recently posted..Making running friendsMy Profile

  11. says

    It’s crazy how mathematical and scientific a simple run can be! I’m studying to be a fitness instructor and am learning so much about how to optimize the body’s functions. I need to go out try that aerobics test!

  12. says

    You’re getting to be the master MAF expert – I love it :).

    I can’t wait to get back to some MAF training after Leadville. Never thought I’d EVER say that 9 months ago. Haha. I’m super tired, burned-out, and fatigued from all the vertical climbing….some nice, flat long runs are just what’s in order.
    Jill recently posted..Boise Half Ironman, A different kind of RR…My Profile

  13. says

    I dont have a good base , I want to try this but I hate to admit alittle nervous to give it a try. Keep tell us about your progress. Love hear all info you are giving us.

  14. bob says

    My eyes glazed over looking at that Maffetone formula, and how to put it to work. Don’t know if I’m brave enough to find out if I have a good aerobic base, but suspect I am too lazy.

  15. says

    I’ve often thought that this was the right way to do things but having races on the horizon makes it never the right time. I should give it a go in the off season – once Melbourne is over.
    Char recently posted..Wedding Of The YearMy Profile

  16. says

    I did heart rate training last year and it was unbelievably frustrating and rewarding. I couldn’t believe how slow I had to run, even had to take tons of walk breaks to keep my heart rate where it needed to be, but slowly slowly I started to be able to run faster while keeping my heart rate down. My resting heart rate also dropped significantly. After several months of it, though, I started getting annoyed with having to wear the heart rate strap. It caused awful chafing so eventually I stopped watching my heart rate. I know it’s the best way to train, and after reading your posts lately I think I’ll throw that baby on again :)
    GreenGirlRunning recently posted..Primal Update & Catching UpMy Profile

  17. says

    So, based on what you’ve said, I’m guessing that I don’t have an aerobic base. I know that I was very excited to get back to running and being active after my surgery and while I was careful in coming back initially, I’m pretty sure I pushed it too much. It would be a good explanation for why I’ve been sick and achy and constant nags and injuries. HMMMMM.
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  18. Janae says

    I’ve been wanting to try to MAF training since learning about it from your post but I’ve started doing crossfit a few months ago and I’m wondering if it’s not ideal to do while building the base since the workouts are mostly high intensity.

  19. says

    Super interesting, I know that having a base is important, and I’d love to say that without a shadow of a doubt I have one (I know I used to!!), BUT, I’m lazy, and I actually hate training, so I often run when I want, attempt to kill myself in goal races and I crossfit regularly (all anaerobic) sooo, I’m going to guess that my base is lacking even though I don’t show many of the symptoms. I have never done any heart rate training, this has piqued my interest, a HR monitor may be making it’s way onto my amazon wish list. My husband will send you a thank you note 😉 Note to Janae–I don’t think having a base would cause any harm to crossfit, actually it would probably help you out on longer METCONs. Having a solid base helps endurance, which a lot of crossfitters lack (see last year’s triathlon at the Games).
    MegG recently posted..A political noteMy Profile

  20. says

    Nope! I doubt I have one. I pretty much ran myself into the ground after my January marathon and then fought one injury after another, which has now culminated in plantar fasciitis (both feet) that will NOT go away. So now I’m doing MAF thanks to you! So glad I’ve continued to”lurk” on your blog and see what you’ve been doing. Very encouraging to see your results, and I hope I have the same results too.
    Allison Johnson recently posted..April-May Recap and Heading EastMy Profile

  21. says

    I’ve been intrigued with MAF training for a couple of years, but haven’t tried it. For the past couple of years, I continue to have articles about “racing” marathons damaging the heart. It continually makes me question my passion each time another article pops up.

    Cue the SI injury, cue Misszippy’s excellently timed trial, the health concerns and I’m on board to give this MAF thing a try when I return to running.

    thanks, as always, for sharing your journey. I will go into this “test” much more aware of the mental challenges (slow paces) ahead – thank you !
    ginny recently posted..SI Joint IssuesMy Profile

  22. Jill says

    I’m loosely trying to do heartrate training. I have a long list of injuries and I am just coming back from a 6 month injury layoff. The one issue I have with this method is I’m not sure it accounts for people who have very high maximum heartrates, so I’m skeptical to use the 180-age formula. My maximum heartrate is in the 200’s and my resting heartrate is 45.


  23. Alicia says

    I have just started heart rate training, and it was definately eye opening for me. I figured I didn’t have an aerobic base, as running has overall been difficult for me and I never understood why I wasn’t improving. Now I know why! I’ve already seen some results, and it is encouraging! Thanks for all the info, and sharing what you’ve learned!

  24. says

    I stumbled upon your blog a bit ago and saw your MAF training post. So much of what you said struck a chord with me. I have been taking a big look at my nutrition thinking that was the culprit (which I still think it plays a part), but after reading your post, I realized I should take a look at my HR/aerobic base. I was shocked! Now, I’m trying to stay patient and celebrate even small progress. Thank you so much for your posts!!
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