Book Review: The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing

The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing

by Phil Maffetone

I’ve been training hard for quite a while now, and learned to cruise at 165 bpm heart rate. I have to go fairly quickly on the stairmaster to accomplish this, max’ed out the elliptical way before that, and can only run fast enough to accomplish it at an elevation of 6% or so on the treadmill.

Some recovery issues have prevented me from weight training very seriously for a few months now. As well, my continuously decreasing pace for the last few half-marathons and marathon. Based on the reviews for this book, and several top ranked triathletes having successfully used this training format, I decided to give it a shot.

The book is laid out linearly, in categories, so you can skip whole sections and not miss anything. Since I have long been free of most sugars and simple white carbs, I could skim those sections for tidbits but not get bogged down. If you still depend on them, then please, do read it.

Why is a book on training and racing talking about sugar? In a nutshell, the aerobic system needs only a trickle of sugar, depletes our massive fat stores, and is more easily recoverable. The anaerobic system consumes sugar, and in spite of any loading plans, runs out fairly quickly and takes longer to recover.

Standard training wisdom is to train like a sprinter, and work very hard to get your heart rate ever higher, but the point of this book is to help you increase your speed at a very low heart rate that will allow you to maintain that speed for a very long time with very little energy expenditure.

There are a lot of ideas for how to go about this, some self-tests to assess your current state, a lot of information on eating and fat reduction, as well as foot health – he’s a “sensible” bare foot advocate. I’m not really all that interested in barefoot running since I’m a big old guy who’s worn the wrong shoes for most of my life. It would take years of rehab to overcome all that, and honestly I really can’t give up training to learn a skill that isn’t likely to have all that much value. YMMV.

After a week or so of reading, I decided to go ahead and try it. Based on his formula, my target heart rate zone is centered on 132 bpm. ARGH! So I messed around some to find some combination of speed, and incline that would put me there. I reset my Polar so that Zone 2 is from 130-140. ARGH!

I have been working on the treadmill and stairmaster to achieve that goal HR. Very tough. My first couple days I kept going over, and had to step off now and then to rest, but after a couple weeks it’s not that hard to maintain the right pace. Btw: stepping off is a LOT harder to do on a stairmaster. 🙂

I got to try it at 10,000′ in Colorado. Since he doesn’t mention anything about heart rate at altitude I kept my target, and plodded along. No running in CO, pretty sure I can’t run at that altitude at that low a HR. The treadmill I have access to there allows a 20% incline so I can walk to achieve my zone. He does include one of the best sections I’ve read yet on high and low pressure/altitude training, resting, and sleeping. If you’re interested, that alone is worth the price of the book, imho.

After a few weeks of training that “slowly” I have noticed a visible (like in fat loss) change, my speed at that HR is actually increasing, and it’s getting easier to stay in the zone. I’ve been averaging around 20 miles a week for some time now, and this program hasn’t changed that. I’ll try this program for a few more months and will keep you in the loop.

If you’re an “endurance athlete” (events longer than 5k, day-long hikes or climbs, training more than 6 hours a week) or even just unable to recover from your current training, this book is totally worth a read.