Hill Running with MAF?

by Magnus
(Helsinki, Finland)

Hi! Love your page, thanks for all the good advice. I am a 54 year old male, have been doing MAF since September 2022, running approx 3 times a week. Ran a half maraton in May at 1:50. I love MAF and it has really saved my running "career". In late September I'll participate in a 30 K race in Sweden with an elevation gain of, roughly, 500 meters. I have a track in my home town that is perfect for training for this but the problem is that I still have to (mostly) walk uphill (or run really, really slow). My time is not really improving on this track (with MAF pulse limit), but when I run flat runs I seem to get faster still. For example today I ran 10 K with 60 m elevation gain at 6:01 / km. When I started MAF my pace was about 7:30 / km. Maybe my questions are stupid but here goes:
Do you see any reason why I'm not improving on the hilly track, while at the same time I am improving on flatter routes?
How can I best train for the hilly race in September? Just feel it's not worth the time walking up the hills on the track in my hometown? (Maybe I'm wrong there?).
Thanks in advance!

Nicole's reply:
Hi Magnus, thanks for your question.
You sound like you are doing really well with your MAF training which is great! Your questions are not at all stupid and in fact hills are one of the biggest frustrations for many runners when doing MAF training.

Running up a hill requires a lot of effort and energy expenditure compared to the flat. To improve on the hills you need to have a really solid aerobic base AND you need to have sufficient body conditioning which will include body posture, coordination, strength of your muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints... Remember though that there are some hills that few people are never going to be able to run at or below their MAF HR.

You sound like you already have a very solid aerobic base but since you are still improving, it looks like you could get even better! Maffetone suggests creating a solid aerobic base over a 3 - 6-month period before introducing any anaerobic training into your exercise routine.

Since your race is 3 months away you still have a bit more time to keep on building that aerobic base. I know you feel that it is not worth walking the hills during training but believe me it is. The more you build your aerobic base, the more you'll be able to run strong in the race.

I would suggest you keep on walking the hills if necessary but try upping the pace (even shuffling) when you can. If you go a few beats over, don't worry but don't do it too often. Also start incorporating strength training if you haven't already. Another good option is to introduce downhill workouts and aerobic intervals. Try this ex-hill-arating-workout

You could also experiment with your cadence. Try going for a faster cadence with shorter strides, almost like your are walking on hot coals.

Don't forget that in your 30km race you are going to be using primarily your aerobic system so the stronger it is the better. However you don't need to stay in your MAF zone as a race is a "race". I don't know how steep the inclines will be, but you may be forced to walk them anyway, along with everyone else.

I recently ran a 13km race with 500m elevation. I ran the flats and the downhills and walked every steep incline. I started in the back half of the race and by the end I had overtaken a lot of people who had been in front of me at the start. I finished in the top 40% of females in spite of being the second oldest female in the race (I'm 62 ;) ). I do feel that my 'fast walking' the hills during training certainly gave me an edge and MAF training enabled me to power up them efficiently.

Keep on doing what you are doing and hopefully you'll have a great race!

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Jun 29, 2023
by: Magnus

Hi! Thanks for your nice and inspiring answer. Yes, I will try all that you suggest. Love MAF so I have no motivational problems, except for the walking up the hills. But I do realise I just need to "get over it"...! And I will. Thanks again.

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