Day #55: If you could ask any coach any question….


If you could ask any coach any question, what would it be??

I have the honor, tomorrow morning, of interviewing noted author and respected fitness guru Dr. Phil Maffetone. His accolades include authoring many books including “The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing” and his coaching of Mark Allen, 6-time Hawaii Ironman champion. To put it plainly, Phil Maffetone has a proven credibility. He is a coach’s coach – full of nuggets of wisdom and insightful, commonsense training methods backed by years of research and medical practice. He is, perhaps, my “any coach” in the If you could ask Any Coach any question….

“Maffetone is one of the most powerful, probing minds in endurance sports.” ~Chris McDougall, author of Born To Run

So – I put it to you, reader/runner — what is that burning question about endurance training, fitness, racing or diet which you have been waiting to ask? Now’s your chance! And if you come up with a really great question, we may all be able to enjoy an answer when my accompanying next episode of “A Runner’s Podcast” launches this weekend.

Before you answer, let me provide a bit more insight into Phil Maffetone and his noted “Maffetone Method.” At the core of his training philosophy is the idea that, first, we should train holistically – looking at our whole body, metabolism and mind as we work out our training plan. With that whole organism mentality in mind, Dr. Maffetone emphasizes targeted heart rate training which aims to teach the body to burn fat. All too often, Maffetone argues convincingly, we train using only carbohydrates for fuel. Related, we run too anaerobically, with an overemphasis on an effort = racing speed and fitness mentality. Instead of this “no pain, no gain” mantra which has been ingrained in us like our unconscious yearning for the elusive American Dream, we should “slow down to speed up.” When Maffetone urged Mark Allen to slow down to an 8:30 pace in his training – to maximize fat burning and aerobic base building – the future Ironman great responded, “I can’t train that slow; people will laugh.” Maffetone urged him, then, to train at night if need be. Fortunately, Allen listened — and had the last laugh…

“[The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing] details the training philosophy I have used throughout my triathlon career.” ~Mark Allen, six-time Hawaii Ironman winnner (from the forward)

In conclusion, I must admit that if Dr. George Sheehan were still alive, I might go to him on the way to Dr. Maffetone’s office — just for a little balance in the training advice:) It seems, though, that the late doctor and greatest modern philosopher of running had great esteem for Phil Maffetone. After all, he wrote the following words originally as the introduction for Dr. Maffetone’s first book In Fitness and in Health:

Dr. George Sheehan: My Perspective
From “The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing,” originally written as an introduction to In Fitness and In Health.

By teaching “Maximum Aerobic Function,” Dr. Philip Maffetone is following the philosophy that has come down to us from the ancient Greeks. Their emphasis was on the cultivation of the self. The maximum function of the body was part of their “art of existence.”

We read in Seneca that we should spend our lives learning how to live. Primary to this was the training of the body. Everything a person did was important — exercise, diet, sleep, climate. Even the architecture of the house was thought to have an influence on health.

The emphasis on the care of the body is seen again and again in the works of philosophers since the Greeks. We are called upon repeatedly to have a sound mind in a sound body. The great Herbert Spencer in his treatise of education writes, “If you wish to be a success in this life you must first be a good animal.” And this thought is reiterated by Emerson. “Be first a good animal,” writes the sage of Concord.

How best to do that is being constantly amended and refined. As recently as 1972, a poll of Canadians asking about the rules of health elicited these three items: a balanced diet, a good night’s sleep and regular visits to the doctor. These are obviously not enough. A return to basic principles and personal responsibility is necessary in order to live the athletic life.

This book, it seems to me, does not teach us how to be athletes, but rather it teaches us how to teach ourselves to be athletes. Ultimately, we must become our own individual coaches in this common goal. But first we must be convinced of the importance of everything we do — to or with our bodies. Our bodies are us. Our lives are our bodies in action. So we must live at the top of our powers.

There is no better time to start than now.

— George Sheehan, M.D.

So, send me your questions… and please tune in for episode 3 of “A Runner’s Podcast” and let’s glean some great training tips together.


~Coach Reed

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