In 2020, triathlete and runner Chris Khoo started on the Maximum Aerobic Function (MAF) Running method initiated by Dr. Phil Maffetone. As its name describes, it focuses on aerobic running with a simplified formula to calculate your starting point or heart rate (HR) range.
Rushing to pursue bigger numbers in distances and smaller numbers in minutes per kilometer in running is often not sustainable. A lot of runners often pick up injuries and quit running too soon.
The MAF website states that the method is based on 40 years of clinical and scientific research to help walkers, runners, cyclists and elite athletes of all ages and ability to build a well-functioning aerobic system. This will lead to burning fat for fuel, increasing energy and endurance, running faster for longer and preventing injury and disease.
ToughASIA spoke to Chris Khoo to discover the benefits he has reaped from his personal experience running with the MAF method.
ToughASIA: Why did you choose the MAF running method?
Chris: It was after my IRONMAN triathlon race in 2019 where I was feeling the immense boost from the experience that I still pushed my body training when I should actually be resting and recovering. This resulted in me busting my left hamstring and was told to not run or bike for 2-3 months by my physiotherapist. The stubborn me still tried running, however I failed massively as the pain got worse.
Soon, I came across a YouTube video by Kofuzi and Seth James Demoor. More importantly, the one that won me over was Floris Gierman’s extensive interview with Dr. Phil Maffetone himself where everything was explained very logically and backed up with a lot of scientific data and study.
However, I was still very sceptical about the whole “run slow to run fast” concept. But I didn’t have anything to lose anyway as I was returning from injury anyway.
So why did I choose the MAF running method? Basically, there are these benefits:
- Very low risk of injury
- Almost zero recovery needed, always feel fresh at work the next day.
- Fat burner. I personally have fat genes and put on weight very easily. With MAF, I’ve been able to maintain 11-12% Body Fat Mass as compared to previously struggled to get below 15% BFM.
- One of the most sustainable running methods available.
ToughASIA: How long did you train with MAF and what was the progression or result which you achieved?
Chris: I started training with the MAF running method in January 2020 last year as the “new year new me” movement came about. When I first started, there was almost no one in Malaysia which I knew of that was actually doing the MAF regime. Most people I knew were doing polarised training and majority of the club runners were doing the usual weekly ‘go big or don’t go home’ style of training.
At that time, I started running solo after work as usual at Bukit Jalil, Kuala Lumpur and the usual people whom I always see started giving me the funny look when they saw me literally walking. Ego always took the best of me and I would end up trying to run and making my training session unproductive.
When I first started, the first 3 to 4 months were all about heart rate conditioning whereby your body learnt to adapt and run at a much lower heart rate. At that time, my pace suffered dramatically whereby I was literally walking at 11-14min/km to maintain my heart rate within the MAF HR range.
Slowly but surely, it did improve to about 8-9mins/km within 4 months of knocking myself around trying to learn this alien method which no one else was doing. This result was really a confidence builder as I felt really fresh after each session, and there was a steady progressive improvement over time.
It was between month 4 to 6 where I started to ramp up my training volume and build some strong base because it was the MCO and there was really nothing much we could do anyway. This was the period where I saw the biggest improvements come into play.
From my usual 8-9 min/km pace within MAF zones, I was able to hold 6-7 min pace very sustainably whereby a lot of sessions I was able to peep just below 6 mins.
This was the moment where I told myself to set some targets to which I smashed in the 4th quarter of 2020 with MAF training.
Current Personal Best (PB):
- 5k @ 0:20:21 > Previously: 22:34
- 10k @ 0:43:10 > Previously: 48:21
- 21k HM @ 1:44:23 > Previously: 1:51:13 Selangor HM, Sepang
- 42k FM @ 3:50:11 >Previously: 4:32:33 Twin City Marathon, Cyberjaya
Best of all, I was able to smash all my previous records, and not get injured in the process. On top of that, the progress has shown that I have not even plateaued yet. Really, the most sustainable approach to training which I’ve ever experienced!
ToughASIA: Will you be returning to this MAF running method as you progress further?
Chris: Most definitely, especially for base training. Now, I am incorporating higher cadence as I have always had problems trying to maintain high cadence and a low heart rate. I believe this will be the next step now that I am rebuilding new goals for this year.
ToughASIA: In your experience, did you apply the same method to other sports that you are doing, like cycling?
Chris: Yes, for the first 3 to 4 months I only trained within my MAF HR zone. This is so that it would not affect the very important HR Conditioning aspect of this training method.
Doing any HIIT or aerobic activities that go beyond the MAF HR range during this period will be like trying to install software in your pc while trying to play some demanding video games and expecting the same results.
ToughASIA: Besides the running method, what other tools, plans, recommendations or programs of Phil Maffetone do you follow?
Chris: Personally, I’ve always liked to keep things as simple and sustainable as possible. I still eat the same as always, however now I do ensure I get my full 8-hour sleep which I find is very important for recovery.
ToughASIA: What inspired you to create the group for MAF Runners Malaysia on Facebook and when was it founded?
Chris: It was the new year, and I decided that I want to give something back to society in 2021. So, I started sharing my MAF journey with a few running groups across Facebook.
However, what I did not expect was the rebuttal from some running groups to which some of my posts were removed and I was banned from due to “misleading members of the group and / or trying to promote something that will never work” well at least that was what they believed true.
As my posts became more viral, and the topic of MAF heated up, I began to receive a lot of PMs in my inbox, and on top of that friends requests of repeating questions like “WHAT IS MAF?” or “How do you do MAF Running?” or “Why MAF?”.
Subsequently, on the very auspicious 21/1/21, I decided to start the MAF Runners Malaysia group on Facebook. This would enable me to share my experiences on the method and reply to everyone’s questions at the same time.
Along with this idea, I decided to get a few people whom I believe to have the same alignment in values in the effort to “multiply me” to help grow this training method in Malaysia.
ToughASIA: How many members do you have now? Can any runner join the group?
Chris: As of 17th February, we have over 11,500 members in less than a month and it is growing rapidly. Yes, any runner can join; however, posts are moderated and any runs posted in the group must be accompanied with your HR Data.
This is what differentiates us from the other groups where people love to just show their blazing speeds without showing how much of potential damage they are doing to themselves constantly running at VO2Max.
ToughASIA: What are the top 5 most beneficial discussion topics that the group has shared?
Chris: This is very important for people going through the MAF running method as it helps them become aware of these factors.
- Introduction of what is then MAF running method and why is it beneficial to pick up.
- Overview of the MAF Method and the different factors which the MAF training regime takes into account.
- “How to do a training plan” – Dr Phil Maffetone actually says that there isn’t a fixed one, however this is a good start for runners on how to manage their training programmes.
- Benefits of having higher cadence.
- Different methods to lower your HR and how different environmental factors such as stress, heat, hydration can affect your heart rate.
ToughASIA: Do you have any goals or plans for the group?
Chris: Not at the moment. I am just astounded by the amount of positivity in the group and the growth rate is beyond what I have ever imagined. For now, I intend to do what I can to maintain that supportive positivity within the group which I find to be most unique to this group.
In the near future, we will find ways to award the most supportive members of the group and perhaps things like Most Improved Member of the month / quarter / year could also come into play with keeping the members motivated.
For now, hopefully we can be the beacon or example of sustainable running in Malaysia.