Keith Robertson • Panoramic Photographer

My Personal Blog

Maximum Aerobic Function • MAF #2

An update on progress… I’m finding MAF training is great so far

Snippets I’ve found online. Just passing them on here. Doesn’t mean I believe all of this, yet:

Handy to think of only two heart rate zones:

  • aerobic • zone 1
  • anaerobic • zone 2

Ok to do all your training in zone 1.

Base MAF training on time not distance.

The more time you spend at or within 10 beats of your MAF hr the better your development and improvement will be over time.

Never go over your MAF hr, averages don’t count.

Ok to leave anaerobic speed for events or competitions, or special rides with your friends. Almost no need to do any HIT if your focus is endurance and long rides.

Once past a build up phase it's ok to progress to the 80/20 ratio of slow to fast training. Either MAF slow or HIT fast. Apparently all pro Tri-Athletes train like this, not so much the non-pros who tend to do too much medium/fast work?

Anaerobic sessions always negatively impact on your aerobic base, so many days recovery often needed.

Aerobic, slow twitch muscle can’t fatigue, they can (allegedly) go on for ever, (fine in theory perhaps, but there are other things that cause me to get tired)

If you’re very slow at MAF pace ... it means you aerobic system is a bit rubbish. So train it well and make it faster.

A good aerobic system will be a great foundation for any kind of activity, even short duration all out sprints. Ok to add event specific workouts once you have this super strong foundation base.

Keep doing a regular personal MAF test so you know how you are doing. Seek progress not perfection.

Anaerobic sprinting is only designed by nature to out-sprint your mate when being chased by something that wants to eat you. It was never intended for long efforts more than a minute or two.

All time spent anaerobic can increase inflammation in the body (just like sugar and carbs). Do you really want to be fit and unhealthy? Heart attacks, Strokes, T2 Diabetes, etc are basically lifestyle choices.

Once you have used MAF for a while you are fuelled by body fat, so no need to eat at all on almost any event. Super intense competition may be different. Important to know you do always burn sugar a little bit alongside mainly burning fat. If you dip into the anaerobic zone a lot, this may deplete your own glycogen before the liver can make more, so ok eat some limited carbs in the event, but not before, or after.

Carbs before exercise just turns off or blocks your ability to burn body fat for some time, so basically a waste of time.

What I’ve noticed for me:

Perspective: I’ve only been at MAF a while. Only been riding for a few years, so I don’t consider myself a ‘proper’ cyclist. I don’t do events or any kind of formal competition. I do like to race some mates uphill occasionally!

Recovery no longer an issue at all, I can ride every day with no problem or drop off in ability. When I did any HIT in the past I’d have to rest properly for a few days afterwards, or only ride every other day.

No soreness or injury risk 🤞🏻

Already hills are getting better. I’m now able to stay at my MAF level on slopes below around 10%.

Starting to finesse slopes by increasing the cadence to ‘quite fast’. Slowing down as I approach MAF limit. Nice to at least look like a smooth cyclist rather than barely turning the pedals and almost coming to a stop, like a very old person.

On the flat I can hold 35kph easily now and still be below my MAF limit.

Downhill I’m using as a kind of high cadence training if the angle is suitable. Getting the legs used to speed will be important when not doing MAF.

Amazingly relaxing to ride like this. No pressure.

Normal loops from home take longer (there are hills). So timing the ride to finish at the last cafe near home has had to be updated a bit. Tragic to pass the cafe when it’s just switched off the coffee machine for the day.

In the past on most rides I think I was riding either very slowly / low HR, or crazy HIT intervals at max HR. Not unlike the 80/20 split of slow and fast as promoted by many coaches. But I think my 'slow' may have been too slow?

Current GPS MAF screen:

Swapped Aerobic TE for Speed

Maximum Aerobic Function • MAF #1

I’ve recently started using the well respected, but possibly not widely known, MAF Heart Rate based training system to try and get faster and stronger on the bike.

Here are some thoughts on what I’ve learnt so far and how it specifically relates to road-biking.

Note: this will only appeal to those endurance cyclists (and runners) who are fat adapted, or at least understand what that means. I’ve been fat adapted for many years, long before my interest in MAF. Simple to stay healthy and very lean.

I’ve been active in one activity or another for most of my life. Heading into retirement and of bus-pass age, I now find myself mostly riding a bike, mainly for pleasure and some exercise; locally to home here in Snowdonia, north Wales. A perfect place for almost any outdoor recreational activity.

In my past I’ve trained very seriously for specific pastimes, so I think I know a little bit about how to get stronger, but I’m still finding road-biking a ‘bit of a mystery’. Some days I feel great, other times, not so much. Progress is sometimes hard to measure, and, at my time in life, I’m not even sure how much I want to ‘progress’.

I often find myself conflicted between just enjoying some relaxing time outside solo or with mates and the urge to get faster, especially faster uphill!! We have lots here in North Wales.

MAF Training might just be the answer for me...

I first came across MAF reading Christopher McDougall’s book - ‘Natural Born Heroes’ - some years ago now. A great read, about natural athletes as well as a fascinating history of Crete in the 2nd World War. Chris ends up interviewing Phill Meffatone, who devised the MAF protocol, explaining it in some detail, fitting in nicely with other themes in his book.

I did the research, but never implemented the protocol myself, until now...

MAF is all about training your Aerobic system to be as efficient as possible, fuelling mostly from virtually unlimited body-fat, so it’s really good for any endurance type activity. My many years of reading around the subject leads me to believe that virtually all competitive endurance athletes these days are knowledgeable about the power of metabolic flexibility for competition and know that fuelling long events only on sugar and carbs won’t win them many races.

Importantly, it’s not just a training protocol, but nutrition, sleep, recovery, long-term health, injury prevention, etc, as well as out and out performance.

You can look up the details of how MAF works on-line. To summarise, you work out your own MAF heart-rate (HR) personal to you and then exercise as close to this number as much as possible, for as long as possible. Great for winter season build-up. You must not go over this number at all, but are allowed to go 10 beats per minute below this and still call it MAF training. Over time you will get faster, stronger, etc, but at this exact same heart-rate. Racing and riding with mates is not the place for this really. It’s a structured, measured way to get as aerobically strong as possible over a period of time.

A key element of the protocol is the MAF ‘Test’. It takes around 30 minutes every 4 weeks or so. Always exercising at the same MAF HR, measuring some key metric, eg distance, time, power, whatever is appropriate for the activity. The idea is to make it as consistent as possible for you. You don’t compare your numbers with anyone but yourself. Hopefully your numbers get better every 4 weeks.

I have an indoor smart bike which can measure power and all sorts of bike riding metrics. This makes the MAF Test very accurate and repeatable for me. Runners are quite jealous, a running MAF test, outside in the weather, is not quite so easy to do consistently.

My test: I just warm up for a while on the indoor trainer and when I reach the required MAF HR I press the lap button on the iPad recording my session. I ride for exactly 30 minutes, keeping my HR as steady as possible, without too much variation. At the end of the 30 minutes I press the lap-button again and then warm down. The system tells me exactly what I’ve done, how far, fast, power, etc for those 30 minutes. I’ve only done one so far, so it will be interesting to do the next one after 4 weeks and see if the numbers have changed at all. It’s a lot more relaxed than an FTP test.

I used the ‘gear’ mode, not ERG. I just tweaked the gear to vary the resistance so I could hold the required HR easily with a comfortable cadence. I guess ERG mode would also be ok, all that really matters is the HR is as consistent as possible, and repeatable for every test.

On the bike...

I’ve found it quite different trying to ride at this fixed HR.

  • Downhill is a bit pointless, my HR just drops down quickly to almost my resting HR. So I just use the time to take a break.
  • Uphill is the opposite. On any incline at all, say over 6%, my HR easily climbs above the MAF number. All I can do to stay at or near the right level, is to pedal in my lowest gear, very slowly. All a bit odd, but it’s only training, so no big deal. Over time, as my aerobic engine gets better, I guess I should be able to ride up more hills at the MAF HR?
  • On the flat. This bit I find very interesting... To get the HR number right I have to ride quite fast for me, faster than I would do normally with mates, or pootling by myself. No road is completely flat, but currently I have to ride somewhere between 30 and 35kph. So the body definitely gets a good workout.

I’m also finding it strangely very therapeutic, stress-free and relaxing riding like this, no pressure to perform at all, just go slow(ish).

Using tech to help
I’m fortunate that my winter bike has electronic shifting and a power meter, I always wear a HR monitor strap. I’ve setup a screen on my GPS like this:


A work in progress, the main thing I keep an eye on is HR. The power helps too. Noting the exact gear without having to look down at the cassette also keeps things on track. Not something I’ve paid much attention to in the past.

If my power starts to change upwards on the ride, because of the gradient of the hill, headwind, or whatever I know the HR will react in a short while later, so I can ease off, change gear beforehand, to try and limit the increase in HR.

If my power drops, I know to change up a gear, pedal harder, etc, before the HR drops out of the MAF range.

After a few rides like this I’m getting a good feel for what power range keeps me in my MAF zone. This should get bigger over time! All very handy.

I’m planning on using MAF protocol for at least 4 months over winter to see what happens.

I recently asked a mate who runs quite a lot if he knew anything about MAF - turns out he’s used it for years, thinks it’s great and definitely works, so all quite encouraging.

Recommended reading

This introduction to MAF is a free PDF downloadable from Phil's website, listed below

A bit more detail on MAF

Lots of technical detail on MAF

Lovely read on fitness generally and some WW2 history

Web links
The place to start on learning about MAF from the man himself, Philip Maffetone

One of many interesting articles on fuelling for fitness and health:

“Burning both fat and sugar is how human energy systems evolved. Relying on sugar without adequate fat-burning often leads to compromised fitness and reduced health”

Twitter Links

Google Maps Evolves

Pano2VR, the programme I use to publish my Panoramas and Virtual Tours on my website has recently been updated to work with Google Maps. I accidentally discovered that with the click of one button I could publish all of my previous projects straight onto Google Maps.

I'd tried this ages ago, but it wasn't easy. Low quality material was ok, but my large files weren't. The only practical way was to upload files to my iPhone's camera roll and then use Google's iPhone app to upload them to Google's servers that host all of their map stuff. I also had to geotag the file before starting otherwise Google wouldn't know where it was and reject it. Once was enough, never again!!

What was strange was I kept getting emails from Google saying my single panorama was very popular and had received over a 1000 visits…. Interesting… So my thinking started to change. Rather than thinking Google were freeloading corporate bullies wanting all of my high-quality content for free I could think of them as 'free hosting webspace' for my material. With the added advantage that the images would be still on their servers when I was long-gone….

So I'm now very interested in seeing how this develops.

Google used to have a number of affiliation programmes with loads of rules and things which were very off-putting.

Now it's very simple. Upload a panorama and it gets approved after a few days. Has to be of a certain quality, not too many logos, etc. Once you have 50 approved panoramas you become a 'Google Street View Trusted Photographer'. This was simple for me as I was able to upload a number of my previous projects with one click in the new button in Pano2VR.

I've been able to link some of my 'commercial' tours to the businesses' own Google account so it appears when searched for in Google or Google Maps. All very interesting.

Google has basically opened up their API to all and sundry. Garden Gnome who make Pano2VR are scrambling to add all sorts of bits and pieces to the system to work with what Google will let them. it's all very dynamic too. The API is changing and being added to all the time. Once the changes settle down the developers have to try and update their software.

So, exciting times ahead.



Speed Update

I've been a little busy lately updating my 2010 Mac Pro 5,1:
Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 10.37.49-300x300
The original 4 core CPU running at 2.something Ghz was replaced with 12 cores of 3.46Ghz fastness:

Here is the old CPU board:


And the new one…


The chips are 2 x 3.46 GHz 6-Core Intel Xeon's, actually X5690's, which Apple never got round to selling themselves. All courtesy of the good guys at Create Pro.

The Geekbench score for the computer is now around 32,000, which is in the same ball park as the latest trashcan MacPro 6,1 you can spend many £,0000's on:
Screen Shot 2016-03-11 at 17.19.16-300x300
So my Mac is about as fast as it can go, helped along by the 2TB SSD all my files live on.

12 cores = 24 threads, and here they are:

24 cores

It sure is speedy running day to day stuff, but rendering my test panorama still took over 4 minutes, exactly the same time as before, no real surprise, I was expecting this as the real bottleneck was the Graphic Processor Unit, the GPU.

Now the GPU world is a bit of a minefield, especially if you've not paid any attention to it for the last oh, say 15 years…!

Basically new cards are released quite often, 2 or 3 times a year from the main manufacturers. There is a lot of jargon. The main benchmark is the Frames Per Second your card will run children's games at. You can run things like the 'Unigine Valley Benchmark' to test your system and compare it with your pals. There are referenced and un-referenced cards, water cooling, etc. The mind boggles!

I don't do games, but my rendering software, PTGui, can sure use a powerful GPU to help things along. There are two main standard technologies built into these GPU's - OpenCL and Cuda. Some cards support both, some only one. Cuda seems to be the most popular; most, if not all games use it. But pro graphical systems and pro video software tools do a bit of both. PTGui, the only programme I'm interested in, is OpenCL only.

My card of choice was to be the Nvidia Nvidia GTX 1080:


Fast as a fast thing, it's not even out yet, everyone wants one! One small issue is it's a bit of a pain using it on my Mac. It run's ok with software drivers. But, as it's not designed with Macs in mind, it won't do certain things. Biggest pain is you can't update your Mac OS once it's in the box. To do this you have to take it out, put in your old GPU, update the OS, swap the fancy new one back in. The pain could be worth it though, the improvement is speed is amazing, so I'm led to believe.

There is a work-around for this. Some really clever people at MacVidCards, can breathe some magic over any generic GPU to make it look and feel like a proper native Mac card, so that gets round the problem of OS updates. MacVidCards are US based, but lucky for us they now have an European distributor, who also sell refurbished 5,1 Mac Towers, they are - Mac Store UK

But there is a major major block to simply getting a MacVidCards GPU for me… Turn's out there's a big bug in the software chain with PTGui. Apple's own implementation of OpenCL won't play with the Nvidia drivers and PTGui. So buying the best and fastest card isn't an option - it simply won't work for now. It will probably be fixed in due course, the Nice PTGui people (thanks again Joost) are putting pressure on Apple to get their act together and address the issue, but they seem to be tied up making phones and iPads at the moment.

In the mean time I decided to try and track down the last iteration of an OpenCL GPU that would still work on my machine. It would be a few years old, probably obsolete, but would still give me a speed boost. Once the Nvidia issue is resolved I could probably sell it for what I paid for it too.

After days of research in dark and dusty corners of the interweb I decided to try and track down an AMD Radeon 7970. All my research told me it did work on a Mac, the last OpenCL one to do so out of the box, and a good copy should be fine. Trouble is, they haven't been made for a few years so getting a new one is impossible. Many apparently have been used in bit-coin mining rigs running super fast, 24/7 for months and are basically fried. MacVidCards told me horror stories of them buying a box of 50 or so and ¾ weren't working. They recommended running Unigine Valley's benchmark a couple of times on the 'UltraHD' setting. If it survives that it might be ok, for a while!!

So here it is, an AMD Radeon HD 7970 3gb:


Very shiny. If the fan blades had been white then it would have been an Apple original item, the red fan means it was originally for Pee Cee, but it's easy to 'flash' the card so it thinks it's meant to be used on a Mac. Mine was supplied by the MacFactory in Germany via EBay. Works really well. The test pano now renders in 40 seconds instead of 4 minutes, so I'm almost impressed. It's reported as being a 7970:


But on the side it's stamped 8970. Turns out this is a slightly updated, speed bumped model. So all good!

Here is the original puny ATI Radeon HD 5770 1GB


I'll report back with some hard benchmark figures at some point, unless everything has melted…

SSD Update

Here is the speed test for my PowerMac with the 2TB SSD in place:

With SSD:

DiskSpeedTest 2TB HD
Quite a difference in the startup time, it's now almost instant. Rendering panoramas is a bit better, but not by a huge amount.

Up next will be updating the CPU and GPU.