I Was Young And Carefree
Nine Months With the MAF Method and Beyond
For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it.
I hope you make the best of it.
I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.
This is the first out of a three part series of articles on my extremely positive and continuing experience with the MAF method developed by Dr. Phil Maffetone. Part 1 focuses on the concepts and ideas that are the most important aspect of the whole story and ultimately lead to Part 2 and 3. Part 2 is more about my background and practical aspects of the MAF method such as diet, functional training etc., with Part 3 being “about the numbers” (MAF Tests and practical tips particularly for cyclists) and has a more concrete character. I find the numbers extremely boring and a source of stress on quite some occasions; the difficult part was making sense of it all (Part 1) and figuring out the practical aspects (Part 2) afterwards the numbers just followed, as such I highly advise you to read the series in sequence.
In the 23+years I have been involved in sports (currently cycling) and by far and I mean by a HUGE margin the greatest ‘Wow!’ moment can be summarised by (paraphrasing) the opening paragraphs in Dr. Phil Maffetone’s Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing.
Having two feet to run and walk and the ability to burn fat to fuel our long journeys and a complex brain and nervous system to govern it all as well as highly robust ability of our bodies to naturally heal themselves – it all crystallises in one word – endurance. It is something we as humans ALL have. Only recently we have made it a competitive endeavor and started calling it triathlon, cycling, etc.
Unfortunately with boundless skill and creativity we make it all too complicated and have strayed and largely lost our connection with this very unifying human feature.
What the MAF Method Is About
For me, the MAF method represented and to this day exemplifies the missing link that put everything into place and resulted in tremendous enlightenment. It was my real and total entry into what is wrong not just with endurance sports and in particular with the coaching establishment, however with what is extremely misguided in our society and the world in general.
We have vast impatience to get things done, though at the cost of personal health and well-being. We love quick fixes, band aids and patches that cover our wounds – mental and physical. Yet for reasons aplenty we do not go to the root the cause so the problem(s) keep coming back, until no patch is big enough.
We put tremendous importance competing with others in all spheres of life, while largely ignoring ourselves in the process. We do it on a daily, if not hourly basis, urged on by the constant onslaught of notifications and reminders from (social) media coupled with ‘motivating’ slogans such as the infamous “no pain, no gain.” We are led to believe that it is only through extreme suffering we can achieve any goals worth attaining. Day in and day out we push at it, while the goal slips further and further away, adding frustration to discomfort and in the end we are left a broken mess. While in all truth, goals and aspirations should make your PRESENT better – they should inspire, motivate and drive you. When that goal actually has the possibility to become real, that big event comes, whether you make it or not or have an amazing performance or not – it is just 1 day, maybe a week – you would have had the positive experiences all the other days. It should be fun, otherwise why are you doing it????
Comparison is the worst form of violence against yourself.
In the end we have given all of our powers to others and had become abysmally feeble, weak, uncertain and co-dependent. Not to ignore that the power you have given is quite often to others that value profits rather than your wellbeing. Just remember that half truths are still lies. In the end, you have your best interests, nobody else. I believe knowing ‘Why?’ rather than ‘What?’ deeply motivates you to search for the pure essence of everything and reach true health and wellbeing. To get most out of (athletic), it takes complete awareness of your actions.
Furthermore, the definition of normal has changed – being on medications (yes plural) and falling apart as you grow old is the new black, a part of life, something that everybody has to accept. Just look around and see the number of hunched over, limping and overall dysfunctionally walking people. Gut problems like diarrhea and constipation are ‘what everybody is having’ and no worries “there is a pill for that.” Being hangry (angry because-hungry) is so common and as a consequence people pound coffee after coffee just to make it through the day and when flu season rolls around everybody gets 2-3 bouts of it. It’s the way things are. Where the hell did it all go wrong?!?!?!?
This is where the real tragedy begins. Like a Fitzgeraldian character we fool ourselves it is all fine; we put on a mask of well-being and happiness while a horrid tragedy boils inside…until it is often too late and it all comes crashing down. We don’t have the courage to stand in front of mirror and honestly and objectively say – this is not okay and it must change. Instead of having an (athletic) life worth of a 9-10/10 we keep giving everything a seven at best – a phony rating – a one in disguise.
The MAF method is the constant search for truth and conscious self-improvement and taking charge of yourself. If that happens to include athletic pursuits and even better great victories, it is an added bonus. It is a process that takes place in every hour of every day until you leave this world, hopefully with a smile on your face. Because in the end the truest and one of the most challenging of all pursuits:
True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.
With that being said,
What the MAF method is NOT About
The MAF method is not training at 180-X heart rate for a Y number of hours while eating Z for any number of weeks. It also is not building an aerobic base for 3 to 6months and at 3-6months and one day you pull all the stops and you blow away the competition. No, it really isn’t.
It most definitely is not about training slow and staying completely away from high intensity workouts. You are slow and you should avoid anaerobic training mainly because if you have been following the popular “no pain, no gain” approach as well as eating the currently (as of 2015) typical western diet based on carbohydrates – your body has simply become aerobically deficient – it doesn’t know how to burn fat efficiently yet so you have to start slow – you have to learn to walk before you can run.
I hear you thinking that the above ‘prescriptions’ indeed work wonders. However, by doing all of the things I just mentioned in the previous paragraphs, you are just very good at following instructions, you become a living robot. It is the equivalent for showing up to a job you despise and don’t care for, so you get a paycheck at the end of the month. All of the numbers, are an absolutely great place to start, a guideline – something you can fall back on. Blindly following them and just clocking the hours/miles (because “that is what somebody did with good results”), is not a conscious way of doing things, and as soon as something deviates from the outlined path/number you end up in a stupor, freaking out what to do, instead of being able to search for solutions and eventually figure out the answers – in short you know what you are doing, however, you don’t know why you are doing it. Which is not to say you should give up, quite the opposite, you should constantly question and search until things make sense – it is a lifelong pursuit. This is how Dr. Maffetone got to it all – it was a process in search of health and wellbeing for himself and other athletes and yes that eventually crystalized in the 180 formula, fat burning, etc.
In short you have to become student of yourself and your sport, understand the big picture, you need to be….
Making Sense of it All
Personally, it took me some time to put it all together, thought in the end the best way to summarize it all is via a fundamental training and coaching model. You can read the full details about it in my article. Below I have included the condensed version
The three primary elements are : Mind, Body and Environment. Together they create the principle of Awareness.
Probably the most ignored aspect of training and totally dismissed by 99.9% of the coaches out there. I separate it from the brain (more on that below). Paraphrasing Sir. Kenneth Robinson, all mammals have a brain, yet we are the only ones that have the Olympic games, write literature, compose music. The mind possesses boundless creative ability. Unfortunately this multi-layered complexity represents some of the greatest roadblocks for a good number of people. This is where the ego resides. Too often it is the ego gets in the way; for example by equating good results to happiness, one cannot help but sway between the extremes of elation and more often depression.
The Mind, would not exist without…
The body is the physical expression of how we carry ourselves in the world. The structural foundation that is the skeleton, fascia, muscles, etc. depend on the many biochemical processes that constantly go on and are responsible for everything from breathing to the billions of neural transmissions that even are responsible for the wide array of emotions and conscious human function.
Since ultimately it is the body that we have to use in the various (athletic) activities, it is the most obvious choice on what to improve by training; and that is perfectly fine. However, there are two very important aspects that rarely get a mention – health and functionality. Without addressing them, you are possibly losing 75% or even more from your training benefits in the long run.
Quoting Theodosius Dobzhansky:
Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.
We are not separate from the environment and we evolved to deal with it in the best way possible. Evolution is a slow and steady process since when survival is on the table, quick fixes and hastily patched up solutions rarely represent sustainable solutions.
Another quite important aspect is that adapting to your environment as well as changing it to better suit your living and athletic needs requires both mental and physical energy. The current highly technological and fast pace society is vastly different than the African savannah where ‘we grew up’ and as such you should be overly vigilant not to let it overcome your extremely robust adaptation capabilities. This is one of the reasons why top level professional athletes can train at high volume and intensity (whether that is productive it another story…), while the aspiring ones of you are sometimes all too painfully familiar with overtraining. The highly debated field of diet and nutrition falls into our environment.
The culmination of the above principles of The Mind, The Body, and The Environment is in the principles of awareness. I strongly believe total and complete awareness is paramount for successful (athletic) life. Therefore I conclude this article with a quote from Moshe Feldenkrais’s book Awareness Through Movement.
We act in accordance with our self-image.
This self-image—which, in turn, governs our every act—is conditioned in varying degree by three factors: heritage, education, and self-education.
The part that is inherited is the most immutable. The biological endowment of the individual—the form and capacity of his nervous system, his bone structure, muscles, tissue, glands, skin, senses—are all determined by his physical heritage long before he has any established identity. His self-image develops from his actions and reactions in the normal course of experience.
Education determines one’s language and establishes a pattern of concepts and reactions common to a specific society. These concepts and reactions will vary according to the environment into which a person is born; they are not characteristic of mankind as a species, but only of certain groups or individuals. Education largely determines the direction of our self-education, which is the most active element in our development and in more frequent use socially than elements of biological origin.
Our self education influences the manner in which external education is acquired, as well as the selection of the material to be learned and the rejection of that which we cannot assimilate.
Of the three active factors in the establishment of our self-image, self-education alone is to some extent in our own hands.
Stay tuned for Part 2 and Part 3 of my Experience with the MAF method and cycling.
The title of this post was inspired by one of cycling’s greats – Laurent Fignon.
Me and MAF Series
- Part 1: I Was Young and Carefree: The Concepts and Ideas Behind the MAF Method
- Part 2: Me and MAF: My Background and Practical Aspects
- Part 3: The Numbers: MAF Tests and Beyond
For further information check the ever-increasing Reading List
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