I've been training based on the MAF system for almost a year now, and I really believe in the principles of training this way. Except for a shoe-based calf tear, I haven't been injured at all. That's quite a huge accomplishment for someone who used to never go more than eight weeks without being in an orthopedist's office.
That said, now that I'm not bouncing from injury layoff to injury layoff, I've been able to finally experience how training should flow on a macro level. The MAF book talks about having two aerobic periods per year alternating with two race periods per year. Essentially, an athlete spends 2-4 months building an aerobic base, 2-3 months racing, 2-4 months back in the aerobic base, and 2-3 months racing, repeat yearly. There are a lot of good reasons for this, but the biggest reason is because racing actually chips away at your aerobic base. From what I've read, different coaches have different ideas about how much anaerobic work you need while training by MAF, but it seems like the consensus is that you just sprinkle a little bit in before your race happens to wake up the slow-twitch fibers. If you race often enough during your race period, you may not need any anaerobic work outside of those races. So you race for a few months and lose a bit of your base, and then you train aerobically until you have to run 3 minute/mile pace to get your HR out of the basement and hey presto! It's time to race again.
So, this is my blog and obviously I'm going to talk to how it applies to me, because that's what we bloggers do.
Looking back at my year of MAF, I can see that I spent December, January, February, and most of March creating a big fat aerobic base. I had very little work that went above my MAF heart rate (152). As we got closer to my half marathon and then my 70.3, little sprinkles - like 20 minutes hard at the end of a long run - showed up, but for the most part my work was still aerobic. After my 70.3, my training was all IM-focused, again for the most part aerobic but instead of having a general endurance ride where my HR could be whatever it wanted as long as it was under MAF, I had much more IM-pace specific work. So we'll call April, May, June my race period, even though I was still mainly training aerobically.
Following CdA I should have been spun back into an aerobic phase, but instead I took the month off and just went all easy all the time. The easy was good, and I'm quite sure everything I did was aerobic for the month, but my volume wasn't high enough to hang onto the huge base I had created in the spring. I stayed active which was good for my muscles but the low volume chipped away at the base.
When I started training again in August, a lot of things happened. I went back to work, and suddenly had significant life stress to balance against training stress. I also went from a few hours a week of easy activity straight into 70.3 build volume, and it made me pretty cranky right off the bat. Instead of a gradual build towards tired, I kept feeling like I woke up one day and was suddenly in a hole. My taper for Cedar Point started a bit early, and it only took about two days of easy recovery work before I felt ready to go hard again. I raced, recovered, and when I look at my schedule and the work I've done, I know that logically I shouldn't be in a hole right now. But the other piece of the puzzle, the piece that didn't affect my training as much through the first half of the year, is life stress. And I've had quite a bit of it recently. The biggest way it's affecting me is that one day my legs will feel strong and bouncy and I have a great training day, and then only two days later I feel like I'm in such a deep hole that I'm afraid to push any more and risk injury. And looking at the pretty colored boxes, I have no reason to be in this hole, I'm not weeks into a build. On Saturday, I made a pretty severe error in nutrition which cut my ride short, but when I got on the bike to start the ride, I already felt like I was four hours into six. That's not right, that's not how a long ride coming off a moderate week should feel, even after a poorly-executed soul-destroying 5K.
Trying to figure this out has been moderately exhausting, and I'm glad to have Sonja on board to point out the obvious signs of what's going on and remind me that there needs to be balance. It was only a month ago that I was excited and happy to be headed into a fall racing season, and now all I want is for big fat easy aerobic workouts to show up on the schedule. I know that when race day shows up, I'll be happy and excited to tackle the day, but every time I see the words "frickin hard" show up in the pink box, I sigh, just a teeny tiny bit. On the flip side, the instructions for my long run last week said, "nothing that will make you cranky," and I had the most enjoyable long run I've had for about as long as I can remember.
So I know that it's not the motivation that's lost, I'm still enjoying the work, it's more like listening to what my body is telling me (I HATE it when people say that) so I don't end up back in that ortho's office, sobbing my eyes out because I have a half marathon in six days and can't walk without pain. I don't feel overtrained, or burned out, I'm just struggling a little bit for balance, I'm trying to learn how to fit in training against a different schedule against a marriage I actually care about preserving. When it comes down to the line, I know how to rank those things, I know what is most important, but knowing what is important and actually fitting everything into your life are two different things. I'm also learning where my breaking point is as far as stress is concerned, and it's nice to have that so clearly defined for me. There was a time in my life where I was afraid of drawing a line in the sand, where I tolerated far more than I should have as the expense of many far more important things in my life, and that is mistake I will not make. Not here, not now, not ever again.