Training slow to get fast

By May 24, 2015 November 8th, 2017 Exercise

Training slow to race fast really does work. Just ask ultramarathoner Tracy Hoeg who uses the MAF plan to set personal and course records.

In late 2014 the 35-year-old endurance athlete and physician/scientist was once again injured from her speed-focused training regimen. She took up 180 Formula training and just eight months later shattered the women’s record at the Gold Rush 50K by a whopping 39 minutes. Her time over the rugged course, which includes includes 2,383 feet of elevation gain in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada in Northern California, was 4:36:55. Recently new to Sacramento, California, after living and working in Denmark for seven years, Hoeg is no stranger to ultra-distance runs. She ran on the American trail ultra running team in 2013 and qualified to run on the Danish trail ultra running team 2015. Additionally, she has worked both as a race physician and athlete consultant for almost a decade.

She said she was battling with a nagging case of plantar fasciitis when she heard about Larisa Dannis’s success with Dr. Phil Maffetone’s 180 Formula on Ultrarunner Podcast. She found almost immediate success with Phil’s methods and began blogging about it. She had already been following many of the dietary recommendations for some time so that aspect of her fat-burning program was already in good shape.

Subsequently Dr. Maffetone contacted her and helped fine-tune her training even further.

Now she doesn’t run intervals, has cut back drastically on her racing and is as strict as possible about keeping her heart rate within the MAF training zone. The result has been training times that get faster and faster at her MAF heart rate, and three personal records in races.

“Now it seems like every time I race I can easily beat my previous records,” she says. “It has completely changed the way I train and I feel more energetic.”

And what’s even better — the injuries are gone.

“I hadn’t expected it to work this well. I was scared about not running intervals — like a lot of people are — but I’m thrilled because training is fun and I’m getting faster,” Hoeg says. “I can’t remember the last time I have been injury-free for so long and this is probably the major reason MAF training works for me.”

For more about Tracy’s success with the 180 Formula and MAF program, visit her blog at

By Hal Walter
MAF Senior Editor


  • Fred says:

    Hi, I’m a Mountain Biker new to MAF training and to keep my HR at my recommended level of 126 I’m only riding my road bike on a dead flat course, so how after say, 6mths at only MAF on a flat track flat will I be able to climb hills on a 100k MTB ride ? I imagine I will struggle badly to get up them with no hill work in my legs…also how I understand it, unless I race or ride at my MAF level I will be burning glycogen rather than fat ? so whats the point of burning fat for 6mths prior ? when it gets thrown out the window first race….I’m a bit confused.

    • Fred:

      Let me back into this. When the aerobic system is healthy, and the body is relatively stress-free (from excess exercise stress or otherwise), it takes very little strength and power training to produce dramatic increases in power. So, the point here isn’t to train only at your MAF HR, but rather enough that the stresses associated with anaerobic training don’t start adding up. So, by training a generous proportion of your training at or under the MAF HR, you’ll be able to get much more bang for your buck out of your hill training.

  • Hussein says:

    Hi, please advice how to conduct MAF test .

  • Shehys says:

    1) What is the MAF schedule like for a week? Do we go for distance or time or else how would the schedule look like?
    2) Would it be counter-productive if I run at MAF on a daily basis say with only a day rest if I can afford it?

    3) I just started to switch to MAF yesterday and looking forward to complete 4-6 months cycle.
    Once I have build my aerobic strength, do I go back to my normal semi-marathon plan that can be found aplenty on internet say 8-weeks plan etc which include interval, hill run etc? Or sticking to MAF would give me an improved personal best time for my race and MAF is all that I need?

    I just want to get the concept right for my training journey.

    • Shehys:

      We don’t have a schedule, because everyone has different training needs. So the best thing to do is to train a good amount—whatever that means for you—but not so much that it increases your stress levels throughout the day.

      That said, we recommend that just about everyone take at least 2 consecutive days of rest a week. High-performing athletes are the ones with the knowledge and experience to know whether they are exceptions to this rule.

      Since the half-marathon is an overwhelmingly aerobic race (95% of the energy is provided by the aerobic system), we suggest that people train in a correspondingly aerobic fashion. However, some people (myself included) need intervals, hills, and strength training to stay stimulated and invested in training. That’s OK. That said, you’re not going to see much benefit for the half-marathon beyond one or two speed workouts a week (about 10-15% of your training).

  • Swire says:

    I’m 38 so my MAF is 142. Training for my first 50 miles Ultra. I’m averaging a pace of 11:30 on my weekday “city” run. For my weekend long run I usually go and train in the mountains to train for the up hill climb. I’ve found that almost all up hills I can only power hike at best for not going over my 142 MAF. Did Tracy Hoeg trained and race at her 145 MAF?

    What would you suggest I do to train for running uphill?

    • Swire:

      She did. However, training is a little different than racing. For example, racing a 50 miler is best done about 5 BPM under MAF. A 100 miler would be about 10 BPM under MAF.

      80-85% of your training should be at MAF unless you are ill, injured, overtrained, recovering from any of the above, or exclusively base-training (in which case, you should do 100% at MAF). So, you can use that 15% of your training to train long hills, for example.

      Does this help?

  • Aaron says:

    Hi, I am just starting training with MAF. I am 40 so training with HR below 140. When using the MAF method is there a suggested heartrate that should be used when competing? I am trying to get an idea of what my target should be when running a marathon.

  • Colin says:

    I have been using MAF training to improve my kayaking, so far good with increased MAF speed. I have considered cutting back my daily kayak training on the river to incorporate running. Perhaps alternate days. I have one double day and a long kayak at the weekend. A plan similar to that as in 1.59.

    As I am training my aerobic system. Can cross training actually improve my kayaking or running whilst actually doing less sports specific training?

    Interested to hear thoughts on this.


  • Wali Shareef says:

    I would like to know how often and how long should I be running while doing MAF training. I ran a 7:30 pace in my last 5k and my last half marathon I ran a 8:15 pace. My MAF is 125 with me being 50 years old and coming off a IT band injury earlier in the year. I have to run no higher then a 17 – 18 min pace to keep my heart rate at 125 – 130. Currently, I’m running MAF 4 days a week with 3 one hour runs and a 90 min run on Sunday.

    • Wali:

      That sounds about right. When you feel like you’ve barely worked out after a week of running (and you don’t have any mental stress), you may want to consider increasing the time a bit.

      • Wali Shareef says:

        I just want to update all on my MAF training. Since September I have only been running MAF paces except the 5K races I’ve run in Sept (1), Oct (1) and Nov (2). I have seen my MAF paces rise to an average pace of 15:22. I run a 9.01 miles course on Sundays and have seen the time drop from 2:37:12 to the most recent 2:18:22. I have also tested my HR during my last two 5k’s. I averaged a 180 bpm on Nov 14 while finishing with a time of 23:20. Today’s race I finished in 22:46 with a HR average of 175bpm. With more MAF training is it possible to run the same time with 150 bpm HR? I’m 50 years old and my MAF is 130 bpm. Thanks Phil for showing me the way!

        • Wali:

          Perhaps. I’ve known people to bring down their pace more than 3 minutes per mile at their MAF heart rate if they take all the right steps, but it’s impossible to keep increasing our speed indefinitely.

          That said, the MAF heart rate is a training heart rate. For shorter races, you want to increase your heart rate, because you can afford some anaerobic function (commensurate to the length of the race). So, a 5k heart rate will almost always be more than 30 beats per minute above your MAF heart rate.

          In other words, you don’t want to try and run every run, including races, at a MAF heart rate. Rather, if enough of your training volume is at the MAF heart rate, you can be reasonably certain that your body is prepared for the stresses incurred from racing at a higher heart rate. (As long as you live a reasonably low-stress lifestyle and

  • Claudia Taboada says:

    What hard workouts (if any) should I squeeze in between 2 marathons that are 4 weeks apart ? Ran Montréal Marathon on Sept. 20 and will run Lisbon Marathon on October 18. Montréal was supposed to be my PR race but I had to use at as a training run as my training got derailed this summer. I didn’t do any speed workouts or short races, I only ran 3 tempos at marathon pace and one 16 mile long run. What I did do was a LOT of miles at my target aerobic MAF rate – no higher than 138-140 bpm. I ended with my 3rd fastest marathon time ever, holding my marathon goal pace until km33 !

    Lisbon which was supposed to be my ”for fun” race is now my PR race. I rested all of last week and I’m now fully recovered. I’m wondering what to do now . Technically, I should be on taper mode but I’m wondering if there are any workouts (aerobic, anaerobic, high impact or low impact) that I could do in the next couple of weeks to help me hold my goal marathon pace for longer than 33km in Lisbon. My goal marathon pace is 6 min/km to finish in 4h15min. My current pace at my MAF is 7min15sec/km. I’ve been reading about the MAF method for a while now and been doing it on and off since March 2015. Lisbon will be my 14th marathon. My current marathon PR is 4h18. I live in Montreal.

    SORRY for the long and (probably) incoherent message !!!

    • Claudia:

      Generally speaking, none at all, other than perhaps one 4 mile run at race pace and another at tempo pace, each well spaced out from the other—just something very short to remind the body of where its edge is supposed to be. Tapering for the next marathon should start about 10 days out. I’d say do MAF training all the way, and reduce it as you taper—that’s the best way to ensure that your aerobic engine is in top condition for the marathon. (As you probably well know, the aerobic system should provide 99.9% of the energy for your marathon run).

  • ken says:

    I am 68 and run for 10 years. MAF would be 112. I am using 129 to 135 HR for long run. with my age and running be in line or would I need to go back 112. I am just starting to follow HR instead of pace. thanks.

Leave a Reply