“I got to the finish line and I limped for about 5/6 days after that, but I said ‘man, I gotta do another one of these.” – Albert Shank
After moving to Arizona in 1993, Albert Shank (Strava) discovered the local hills. He ran the half marathon to prepare for a local (Mount Ford) marathon. His first ultra, the Crown King Scramble 50k, was in 2000 and his first 50-miler, in 2001.
Recently for his 52nd birthday, he ran 52k in the Grand Canyon. He is a great advocate of MAF training.
In our recent conversation, Albert shares:
- his early years and progression through races; learning about pacing, hydration and nutrition.
- dealing with extreme heat in Arizona; running up and down hills, slowing down.
- MAF training and improved performance. finding consistency with MAF training.
- commonalities in posts on the Extramilest and Maffetone Method Facebook groups.
- working at 80% low intensity, versus obsessing over pace and time, all of the time.
- running below MAF after higher intensity workouts rather than always running at MAF for your easy runs.
- transitioning from road to trail, time to perfect your combat roll!
- approaching training from a health perspective; for running, eating as much real food as possible and maintaining a good strength training program. Albert is a strong believer in cross training.
- setting goals or challenges in a pandemic and having fun with it. Albert’s 41,000ft / 91 mile week (and he wants to go higher!)
Hope you enjoy this conversation with Albert!
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Links and tools mentioned:
- Tailwind nutrition
- Pikes Peak Marathon
- Crown King Scramble 50k
- Zane Grey 100k
- Polar heart rate monitor
- Dr. Phil Maffetone interview Extramilest #1
- Dr. Phil Maffetone interview Extramilest #2
- Whiskey Row half marathon
- Extramilest Facebook group
- Maffetone Method Facebook group
- Albert Shank – Strava
- Floris Gierman – Strava
- Floris welcomes Albert. They share common ground in cyberspace and also with racing, training and life. Albert says “be prepared to talk.. I love talking training!” [3:15]
- If anyone’s qualified to talk about running in the heat (at least on an experiential level), it’s Albert. He lives in Phoenix, Arizona. Floris checked the temperature there on the day of the interview ~ 111 Fahrenheit / 44 Celsius. Albert says, “yeah, the cool down”. Floris notes that recently Albert posted 126 Fahrenheit / 52 Celsius and asks Albert how he deals with that. Albert says, July and August are particularly challenging because of the monsoon flow up from the South, combining humidity and high temperatures. [4:20]
- In such conditions, Albert slows down to keep his heart rate low, lower than MAF and two or three minutes slower than in cool weather. Otherwise, the effects are debilitating. Of course, consistent hydration is important too, but being careful of over-hydration (which can lead to hyponatremia) [5:30]
- Albert talks further about adapting to heat and then, going into seasonal change and the increase of speed which can occur. These changes are cyclical and something you get used to. [6:20]
- Floris asks about use of electrolytes and water. Albert relates this to a two-hour run/hike (some running and hiking – low HR hill repeats), where he leaves his bottle in one place and drinks on the repeats. He uses 20 oz water and a half scoop of Tailwind. When it’s hot he’ll put in a full scoop (about 100 calories) and on other runs, just water. [7:05]
- Floris circles back on the adaptations the body makes in heat training, such as sweat gland development. Albert calls it “surviving better”, running at a lower heart rate and understanding that you’re not going to run at the same pace as when it’s cool. He says that you sometimes worry that you’re going to lose fitness and notice that when you go back to running in cooler weather, but you really aren’t. [8:45]
- Albert answers on how long he has been running and how he got into it. He has always been active, was on the track team at school and was “incredibly mediocre”. He joined the Virginia National Guard in 1987, as a sophomore in college, where they would run 2-5 miles in training. He moved to Arizona in 1993 and discovered the local mountains. In 1997, Albert found out about the Pikes Peak Marathon through a student of his and trained for a local race, the Mount Ford Marathon, by doing some half marathons – which were painful. [10:00]
- In 1999, a friend of Albert’s (Ironman triathlete and ultra-marathoner) recommended the Crown King (50km) race. He began training for this about 2 months out and was new to hydration and fueling plans. Also, his longest training run was 15 miles. In the race, he hit the wall about mile 18 and walk-limped the last 13 miles. After this first ultra in 2000, he did a 50-miler in Jan 2001 and one or two ultras per year, since then. He loves anything from 5k to a 50-miler. [13:30]
- Floris notes that when you actually hit the wall, go through it yourself and somehow find the strength to get to the finish, you realize you can do so much more than you initially think you can accomplish. [17:00]
- Albert adds that it’s part of the fun and addiction of running, where you have bad days and make mistakes. Even with a lot of experience under his belt, he still feels like there is a lot more to learn. [17:36]
- Albert answers on key learnings for him, over the years. First, he shares that he was running too many runs at too fast of a pace. The majority of your training, he says, should be easy while including harder training, at the right time. Also, to avoid the middle zone when you’re not improving or recovering. In ultras, you really do need to keep your intensity low. Hydration and fueling are other key lessons. You can learn to do power-hiking faster and at a lower intensity than a jog [18:00]
- On low heart rate training, again a friend got Albert into it. They met at Zane Grey 100k race who got him into low heart rate training. He began training with a Polar heart rate monitor and got hold of a copy of a book on the Maffetone method. He started around 2004 and between then and 2006 he was somewhat inconsistent in applying the method. However, he noticed during 2006, that in becoming more consistent his speed at MAF improved significantly (from walking a lot at the beginning, to a 7:03, 7:08, 7:10 (per mile) MAF test. [20:00]
- Floris asks how this improved pace at MAF translated to racing. In 2006, Albert ran his fastest 10 mile race and averaged 6:35 per mile (which was great for him at the time and on a hilly course). He also revisited the (Whiskey Row) half marathon he had “crashed and burned” in, in 1998 and set a new PB of 1 hour 35 mins. It took until 2014 to get 100% consistent with MAF training, where Albert did a 50k, felt it was a great race overall and wanted to stick with the training after that. [25:25]
- Albert answers on speed work. He is very free-spirited. If he’s training for an ultra, for example, he’ll train longer distances and time, or train more on hills if it’s a hilly race and flat, if it’s a flat race. However, he won’t be too prescriptive in terms of a training schedule. He’ll do 3-5 months training at or below MAF and about 10-12 weeks before he’ll introduce some fast running. He uses trails to train; doing hill repeats, tempo running, fartleks, intervals, etc. He plays around with that, but does try to make it race-specific. For speed work, he keeps the duration short (from 5-35 minutes) and listens to his body. [27:40]
- Floris and Albert discuss adjusting your runs based on how you feel and doing the type of running you like doing (such as trail or track) Also, what life factors may come in and affect how you feel (such as sleep or stress) [30:20]
- Albert talks on running below MAF after higher intensity workouts and the value of that, versus always running at MAF for your easy runs [33:40]
- Floris asks how Albert calculates his MAF zone now. Albert uses 180 minus his age and adds five beats for hilly terrain. [34:20]
- Albert answers on his role as admin for the Maffetone Facebook group and commonalities in posts, with the group. He was approached to be admin/moderator, because it was clear his own posts were in line with the ethos of the Maffetone group. He finds the role to be rewarding and he likes the Extramilest group also, as being similar to the Maffetone one. Albert shares his observations on the reasons people have joined the group, be it through injury or for performance. In general, people realize how undeveloped they are aerobically. People also ask about speed work, training plans and come to realize it is an holistic training approach and there is no set training plan. [35:40]
- The most common post Floris sees is that people are frustrated because they have to slow down significantly, e.g. “am I doing it right? Does this approach really work? Is this number correct?” [38:40]
- Albert relates back that somebody occasional might cop an attitude and ask “This Phil Maffetone guy, what does he know? he’s this and that.. this is dumb, I’m gonna go do something else.. the frustration is real.” [39:05]
- Albert teaches Spanish as his career and says he has to remember his students are beginners, that they don’t know what he knows. He has to be patient, teach and guide them and it’s the same with people who come in and learn the (MAF) method. They haven’t experienced those benefits yet and won’t be able to see the bigger picture. [39:20]
- Albert answers on short and long term thinking, not just in running. Long term, he says, health is number one. He wants to be able to do what he’s doing, as long as his body will let him do it. This means approaching training from a health perspective; for running, eating as much real food as he can and maintaining a good strength training program. He very much believes in cross training. The desire to improve, reach certain goals, such as qualifying for the Boston Marathon or doing an adventure run in the Grand Canyon, is all good but long term, health should be your priority. [40:15]
- Floris asks about Albert’s interest in cross training. He really wants to get back into biking and loves doing other activities, like bouldering 2-3 times a week, weightlifting 4-5 days a week for 30-60mins. He’s been rock climbing since 1994 and loves it. A runner can have a really good strength training program and not gain weight from muscle building. It helps ward off injury. Doing the same thing (running) all the time can get stale. He has more time, now his kids have grown, to climb, run and do strength training. [42:15]
- Floris relates his own wishlist of things he wants to do and Albert notes the importance of have running (etc.) goals whilst being a parent. [45:10]
- On the current pandemic, Floris asks how Albert keeps himself motivated to work out consistently, regardless of cancelled events and uncertainty. Albert’s May 2nd marathon was cancelled, so he shelved the marathon training and started doing some activities he wanted to do, like hiking and indeed, a “limitless vertical challenge” set by a local running company, doing 41,000ft and 91 miles in a week (the most miles he’d ever done in a week. He then set some personal challenges and plans to go the Grand Canyon, maybe set some PR’s on some routes there and go for another vertical challenge later in the year (58,000ft goal). [46:00]
- Accessing the gym has not been possible for Albert, in Arizona, due to closures, re-opening and re-closure, so he has been working out at home. Health remains the number one consideration. And, they’ve gotten really good at using a crock pot. [49:55]
- Floris reflects back on Albert 41,000ft elevation week. Albert notes how he felt really good at the end of it. [51:10]
- The guys talk about how good it can be setting your own challenges or goals, where events have been cancelled. Or, just find some trails! [51:50]
- Albert talks about his 52nd birthday. The Grand Canyon had just opened and he thought about doing 52k there. He did it and it was 104 degrees farenheit, so lots of walking and jogging! He recommends listeners go to Lookout Point, if visiting. He got off the Bright Angel trail (which had water available along the way) and onto a dirt trail which runs right along the rim the whole way, with amazing views. He found that to be a super-cool experience. He says the key was hydration and keeping his heart rate consistently 10-15 beats below MAF. [52:50]
- Floris asks about any recommendations Albert may have, for listeners getting into trail running or thinking about ultras. Albert says to be prepared to slow down a little bit, that you’ll be running hills and different terrain than if you’re used to road running. There are more rocks and things, so you have to be more mindful about where you’re stepping. Get out there, have no fear and explore, just put on your shoes and go. He adds that you definitely learn how to fall! Floris adds that he’s part of that club too. Albert says mastering the art of the combat roll can be useful! [55:55]
- Floris relates his own experience of transitioning from road to trails, helped by signing up with a local running crew. Albert adds that after a time you notice the physical effects of trail running ease. Also, that you can become a stronger road runner through this. [58:05]
- Floris asks if Albert has any further tips on becoming a happier, healthier, stronger athlete. Albert notes that if you think you’re running easy, you’re probably not. You’re probably running too hard. He recommends 80% easy running/jogging (being able to nose breathe or converse), whereas zones 3 and 4 are something to generally avoid. Obsession with mileage and pace kills a lot of runners’ careers. This is ok for a specific goal, but then you need to back away from that. Nobody wants to get hurt and not train, that’s uncool. [59:55]