How Far Can Super Slow Running Take My Body?

Tim Ebl

Using the Maffetone Method to test your limits

Image by wal_172619 from Pixabay

When I started running earlier last spring, I was building a new skill from scratch. I have never been a runner, but I am a doer. I’m a goal-oriented person, and I started training aggressively to complete a 5K race.

Even though I was 51, I was acting like a 20-year-old. I was pushing hard and going for broke. I was running, doing yoga every day, and even participating in a HIIT class by virtual meeting three times a week.

I was SORE!

Not only that, but I wasn’t eating healthy enough. Especially during lock-down, my food habits were totally out of whack. I was active and exercising, yet gaining weight.

It started to take its toll on me. I was losing ground. Instead of getting healthier and running farther, I was having trouble even getting out the door.

Did it have anything to do with my age? I was worried that it probably did. I just wasn’t recovering fast enough from all of the hard use my body was seeing. It was time to change gears.

I decided to take it easy on my body and build up my running habit slowly. I didn’t want to end up injured and lose the chance to run this summer.

No More HIIT

I stopped doing HIIT. I felt like it was killing me. According to The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing, by Dr. Philip Maffetone, too much anaerobic exercise is very counterproductive to an endurance athlete. I do know that it was sucking my will to live, so it had to go.

Another change I made was to stop eating buttered, white toast for breakfast, and I quit buying Doritos. All I did was eliminate a few of the largest sources of empty carbs that I was bringing into the house. I already eat a ton of veggies, and we have plenty of healthy foods in the fridge. I didn’t feel the need to go nuts on changing my diet. I just needed to ditch a little bit of garbage.

Using The Maffetone Method

Dr. Maffetone advocates slow runs that keep the heart rate lower than you would if you weren’t checking it. The goal is to keep your body in an aerobic state rather than anaerobic. The simple explanation of this is to use the 180 Formula (180 — Your Age). It’s worth going to to get the complete report, so a layman like me doesn’t muck it up!

If your heart rate stays under that number, which for me is around 130, you are exercising aerobically and using oxygen to burn fat. If you get your heart pounding faster, you are in an anaerobic state and just burning glucose. This is less efficient, and you will hit the wall.

Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

Really Slow Running Was Hard At First

When I tried the MAF method out, I found I had to stay around a 12 min/mile pace to keep my heart rate below 140. It seemed like I was just crawling. I was glad there was no one around to see me almost running in place. But I kept it up and found out that I could run farther than 3 miles without getting tired at all.

I ended up with my personal best for distance on the first try at running this way. I went 4.55 miles in 1 hour, at an average pace of 13:12 minutes per mile. I was shocked at how easy it was. And I could have kept going.

May 9, 2020 Running Stats:
4.55 Miles, 1 Hour, 13:12 Min/ Mile
Starting Weight: 166 lbs.

I came up with this one-month running plan and did my best to follow it.

  • Discuss and change HIIT workouts with Personal Trainer
  • 1 Hour Run- every other day with a 10 min warm-up and 10 min cool-down. Heart Rate should stay between 130–140 BPM
  • Stop eating so much toast! Replace empty carbs with protein and veggies. Drink more water. Only drink one pot of coffee/ day

One Month Later. Did I Improve?

Yes! I saw drastic improvements. Right away, I found that I could run farther and farther. My pace got faster while keeping my heart rate down below 140 BPM. I lost over 3 pounds without eating less, or even thinking about it much.

With a few hills in my way, I always find my heart rate climbs fast, and I have to slow right down. There is no way for me to stay totally compliant with the HR guidelines I’m trying to follow, but I’m close.

It’s starting to become intuitive. My body is sending me signals which I’m slowly learning to recognize. I almost don’t need to check my watch to know I’m in the zone I wanted. It feels natural and sustainable.

Here are my results:

June 12, 2020 Running Stats:
6.48 Miles, Time 1:08 Hr, 10:32 Min/ Mile
Weight: 162.8 lbs.

I’m really happy with the slow-running, steady training method so far. I’m never too sore to live after a run. My energy levels are increasing. My weight is stabilizing. My distances and times are improving.

Slow but steady wins the race.

Stay tuned for my one-year-later update!

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I'm an author, yoga enthusiast, and meditation instructor. I spend a lot of time outdoors with activities like running, hiking and camping. My writing is all about the humorous side of life and personal growth, habits ,mindfulness, and outdoor adventures.


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