Review: The Big Book of Endurance Racing and Training

Over the past week, I read Dr. Phil Maffetone’s book, The Big Book of Endurance Racing and Training. I’ve kind of tried doing MAF/heart rate training in the past, but in a half-cocked manner. After finishing the book (well, most of it), I can’t say that I’m going to change too much about my approach, but I have some new things to consider.

TL;DR review: Training section good, nutrition section iffy.

There were whole sections of the book that I skipped for now, but will refer to when they become more relevant. I skipped the racing part because I won’t be racing until April. I skipped the injury part because I’m not currently injured, knock on wood. I looked askance at some of the pain and injury suggestions. I can’t just take it on faith that cleaning up my diet will reduce injury. You better believe when I have menstrual cramps, I’ll be reaching for the NSAIDs, Dr. Maffetone.

I had to laugh when he shared some anecdotes from runners who couldn’t believe they had to run so slow under his guidance. OMG an 8 min pace! So slow! Like crawling on hands and knees! How horrible for these poor people. I suppose part of the reason this training appeals to me is because I’m already slow.

I definitely wanted to run right out and do the MAF test to get started! The MAF test involves a very specific warm-up, followed by a 5 mile run at max aerobic heart rate (mine is 142), and then a specific cool-down. The paces for each mile should slow with each progressive mile, and over time, the overall paces should increase as aerobic fitness improves. I wasn’t sure how this was going to work for me, since Duluth is so hilly, but I can do the test on Park Point. Then I remembered I don’t have a heart rate monitor at the moment (Suunto is sending me a replacement since the first one went kaput about 6 months into use) so the test is on hold.

I’m a little concerned about putting the training into practice in the winter. Dr. Maffetone mentions that weather can impact the heart rate significantly, especially a combination of cold and wind. I live in Duluth, and it’s winter. It’s cold and windy. I know last winter I tried and kind of gave up, because I was having a tough time staying warm. I’m going to give it another shot, but I might also have to give it a rest until spring.

I found the training aspects of the book very helpful. The gist of it is online and available for free, but I appreciate the depth of the book, as well as the readiness of the information. I don’t want to click around a bunch of articles and blog posts to find the information piecemeal.

While I’m sold on the training aspects of the book, I’m on the fence about the nutritional aspects. I know I need to make changes to my diet to improve my overall health. I am not sure I am willing to make the changes suggested in the book.

The book clearly was not written for someone like me, i.e. someone who is overweight and actively trying to lose weight. It’s more addressed to someone who is already at a decent weight. Or, at least, that’s what it seemed. I really can’t stand when people say counting calories doesn’t work. I believe counting calories is a necessary step for most people who are trying to lose weight. Counting calories without making any other changes in lifestyle, diet, or attitude is what does not work, at least in my opinion. Counting calories was an eye-opener to me, as far as how much I was actually eating. It’s a useful tool, but I am not slavish to it, I’m not trying to eat as few calories as possible, and it’s not the only thing I’m doing to try to lose weight.

I’m just not interested in giving up carbohydrates entirely. I’m not even ready to give them up for the duration of the “Two Week Test,” which determines carbohydrate intolerance. Which is… ugh, that term. It just seems so silly. If I’m eating too much sugar or too many refined carbs, I’m eating too much junk. That doesn’t mean I should never eat rice or beans again because I’m “intolerant” of carbohydrates. I probably experience more “symptoms” from leafy greens, which Dr. Maffetone sings the praises of, than I do from a baguette.

Part of me is tempted to do the two-week test because apparently weight just drops off people magically despite not counting calories (and possibly increasing caloric intake) because of the awesome powers of fat burning. Apparently he’s seen people drop 20 pounds in 2 weeks! Which isn’t unhealthy at all!

I will probably have to do some additional reviews of certain sections of the book as they become applicable. I was planning to transition to a more minimal shoe with my next shoe purchase, and I will use the racing, MAF test, and nutrition sections as they become relevant or as I make changes to training and nutrition. I am glad to have read the book, but some aspects seem a bit extreme for me, especially since I’m not an elite, overly-dedicated runner, and because I like to eat dessert sometimes.

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