MAF running for recovery

I wrote so many articles about the applications, modifications, uses, positive and negative consequences of the system of limited heart rate training, that I am not going to explain it here in debts. The MAF life system is complex and the scale is heavier on the health side, than on the training/running side. However we talk about running and training here. The base of the structure is your 10beats zone of (180 – your Age) and (180 – your Age – 10). For a 35 years old guy it would be 145 to 135 beats per minute. After a proper warming up and before a proper cooldown, all of your runs should be done in this zone for a period determined by your body and brain. Later on with a goal in mind and by using great self observation, you can derail from this towards a high intensity controlled training cycle, before you revert back to this MAF method. Hill sprints, diagonals, downhill sprints and runs can be all part of the base.

If you wanted to know more, by the books:

  • The big book of endurance training and racing
  • 1:59
  • Endurance Handbook
  • Million Dollar Marathon
  • Healthy brains, Healthy Children

Listen to the podcasts:

  • Endurance Planet
  • Primal Endurance
  • Marathon training academy

Traditional approach + MAF

For very healthy individuals willing to improve, especially in shorter distances or more dynamic type of racing like trail running and mountain bike XC or cyclocross races, a too long MAF build is not enough demanding, nor it is necessary.

The work of Jack Daniels, Brad Hudson, Joe Friel, Renato Canova or Arthur Lydiard is important and very useful. They build up whole seasons based on high intensity intervals, including base. It is hard ! It is demanding ! It suspects excellent health, technique and self-knowledge. They even suggest that for some elite runners, filling runs like recovery runs and easy runs might be suspended for a while. Only moderate, or hard runs are present between intervals, tempo runs, long runs, threshold runs. No jogging around at all ! 

We can however bring the two systems effectively together. The question is how ?
So when people go out for a run by feel recovery, moderate or hard run, maybe even for an easy jog, heart rate changes a lot ! I mean a lot ! Even if the highest heart rate was under 140 for a 25year old runner, it might move up and down constantly between 100 and 140 for the 75 minutes they are out. This is one source of stress.

The second negative effect is the high heart rate. The average heart rate might be very low, like 120bpm, but because of some hills, lack of self control, another runner, head wind and so, the highest heart rate is close to threshold or up tempo range. Maybe 155 or even up to 170 bpm for a younger runner of 25. They won’t even realise ! – Yeah coach I was out on an easy run, my average pace was 5:45/km ! 

The benefits of the MAF heart rate workout is not only the low heart rate, but the constant heart rate, the monotony and the correct range. For a 35 year old runner with a MAF range of 135 to 145bpm, the benefits of messing around for long periods at 115 or 125 is non-sense. Better to go to the gym and lift or sleep in. Of course, a great head-clearing morning speed walk has it’s own recovery purposes ! We don’t talk about that here.
When the coach recommends you as a fit individual, to go out and run easy, this MAF inclusion can be a great way to put your training. When you have to run easy, it doesn’t mean jogging around and abandoning proper running and correct form, posture or cadence. Jogging and shuffling can be a small part of the beginning of your warming up., but surely not the entire run. It means you run, run relatively fast, run with a purpose but with ease in the mean time. A MAF-10 heart rate is a very accurate measure of this. For extremely fit pro runners a MAF – 15 even would be very fast ! When the coach tells you run a moderate run, you go and do a run at MAF – 5 ! When he says run relatively hard keeping your goal in the aerobic recovery realms, go and run at MAF. Normally he will adjust time appropriately.


  • Sunday 
    • Warming up of 5minutes Speed Walking + 10minutes running + 10min drills & strides
    • 45 minutes of MAF + 5 x 1500 @ marathon pace
    • 10min cooldown
  • Monday
    • Warm up + 45min @ MAF – 5 + Cooldown
  • Tuesday
    • Warm up: 20minutes of running + 20minutes of drills and strides
    • 6 x 200 @ 1500pace + 3 x 1600 @ half marathon pace + 4 x 200 @ 1500 pace
    • Cooldown
  • Wednesday
    • Warm up + 60min MAF – 10 + Cooldown
  • Thursday
    • Warm up: 25min
    • 3K progression + 5km @ marathon pace + 1000 @ 10K pace 
    • Cooldown
  • Firday 
    • AM: Warm up + 40min MAF – 10 + Cooldown
    • PM: Warm up + 40min MAF + 5 x 10sec hills + Cooldown
  • Saturday
    • Warm up 15minutes
    • ((15min MAF – 5) + (15min MAF – 10)) x 3
    • Cool down
  • Sunday
    • Warm up 15minutes + 10minutes drills
    • 60min @ MAF + 5km at half marathon pace
    • Cooldown

This little example is just to show you, how it can look like. MAF runs are at a constant heart rate. Keeping an eye on the heart rate every 20 to 30sec is a bit annoying at the beginning, but you’ll find great benefits. The recovery aspects of this type of approach is enormous. Check your heart rate during a very even paced tempo run. You’ll see that in case of speed, the pace was even, but in case of heart rate, it slowly creeps up, but have a lot of drops and changes in the meantime. This is a source of stress. Your goal was to run by feel for sure, but the recovery aspects are totally diminished unfortunately ! Pacing by heart rate will still give you enormous effects in case of fitness, but keep your recovery in bay.

I am not into post workout analysing for myself. I know how I feel, I know what I have to do. What is behind, it is behind. A workout is in my mind for hours or days before. I prepare for it, like it was a race. I know what I have to eat, how I have to sleep and how I have to feel, beforehand that training session. I put my focus where it has to be during the workout itself. When it is done, I reflect on it for 5 seconds, I write it down to my diary and that is it. 

However in case of heart rate, you can see great progression or regression, what can be very motivating. I recommend you to time to time, have a look at your pace during your MAF sets. Normally, as time goes by, years fly by, your pace at MAF hr should come down to faster and faster. Or if pace doesn’t drop, maybe you get more even and the speed drifts decreases ! This is a sign of efficacy. A sign of health and fitness.

I recently went through a tough 4months training block with 2 successful races. 3rd place in the tune up event and finished 1st in the A race. Followed it by a week of very easy recovery. My MAF – 10 pace, 3 weeks into the 2nd cycle of the season is still a little bit too slow comparing it to the previous cycle. Consequently, I space out my HIIT workouts more to recover better or on the contrary, add more sessions, but greatly decrease the load of each single set. My fitness is increasing and I am hitting the splits I have to hit ! 

I hope it helps MAF runners and 80/20 runners too, to focus on even heart rate on easy , moderate and hard runs ran by feel, instead of PACE. Your recovery will improve between workouts and your focus will also get to where it has to be, when smashing out 1000s on the track !



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