The Father of Modern Training – Science of Running

Interview with Tony Holler – Science of Running
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Arthur Lydiard is often thought of as the father of modern distance running. His training information is widely available, but often times misunderstood. People often make the mistake of equating Lydiard to Long Slow Distance.  While his training has changed throughout history,  it’s would be beneficial to look back and see what “original” Lydiard training looked like.  Let’s delve into two original sources coming from 1964 and 1970. I’d venture to guess that for you young Lydiard followers, what follows will be quite a surprise.

(First source: Run, Run, Runby Fred Wilt.)
Notes: Lydiard did not include any runs that were done slow or weren’t part of the main training session in this book. We know that many of his athletes supplemented these primary training sessions with morning runs and other supplementary runs.  I’ve edited the contents to include the most important items

” The following plan calls for no less than one hundred miles per week during the initial four-month training period.  Fractions following distances in the schedules indicate degree or intensity of effort, which are explained at the end of the article.”

Marathon Training (Base training)- four months for both middle and long distance runners

10 miles over hills and along roads or cross country at 1/2 effort15 miles at 1/4 effort over hills and roads12 miles fartlek (speed-play)18 miles, 1/4 effort10 miles, 3/4 effort on road20 miles 1/4 effort15 miles 1/4 effort

During these early months, Lydiard suggests the runner may employ gymnastic exercises for the loosening and stretching of muscles over the entire body.  He rejects outright, however, the use of weights. He stresses this position metaphorically by arguing that his runners “need the muscles of a stag, not a lion.”

Lydiard divides his year into different periods, with different emphasis being put on different things during these periods.  His basic idea was that to fully develop the potential of an athlete stamina most be developed first, followed by speed.  Then you use co-ordination to tie these two aspects together and peak at the desired time. The first, and often thought of as most important period, is the Marathon training.
This training is what Lydiard is most remembered for by the masses.  It consisted of roughly 100 miles per week, sometimes more, sometimes less, of aerobic running to condition the runner.  During this period of training, he suggests running large amounts of mileage at varying speeds, effort, and courses.  Lydiard used 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, and 7/8 to distinguish the effort one should run.  During this marathon training the efforts should vary with most of the runs being at 1/4 effort, two at 1/2 effort, and one at 3/4 effort. What’s clear, based on the original effort tables is that much of this running was NOT “jogging”, as commonly assumed. For instance, for a 6-mile run for an athlete who’s best effort over 6 miles is 30 minutes (so 5:00 mile pace), 1/4 effort is equal to running that 6 miles in 32:00 (or 5:20 pace)! Certainly not jogging!

In addition to varying the efforts, some of the runs should be on flat ground, others on undualating ground, and others on hilly courses.  The key to this marathon training was to build up the cardiovascular system, increase capillarization, and to get you prepared for the work that lied ahead.  He often said that the development of the muscular system depended on the development of the cardiovascular system.  Thus, the cardiovascular system had to be built up to it’s maximum if you wanted to develop the muscular system to its maximum.    In addition to running steady mileage, Lydiard believed that during this period of training, the runs should be continous because this allowed for a steady pressure to be applied to the heart.

This marathon like training laid the foundation that is so paramount for success and allowed the training of all other systems to take place.  Without this base, the other systems could not be developed as well.

Transitional Training: Hill Phase-one month:

Following the marathon phase, a period of transitional training  follows for one month. At this time the runners continue a fairly intensive type of cross-country training, as well as the starting of  track workouts for additional preparation.  Off the track the runner is required to negotiate a hill.

After the base phase, a hill phase is done.  It has been described above, but I will go over it as a refresher and to add to the details.  The hills used by “Arthur’s boys” consisted of a 1/2 mile long hill with a flat 1/4 mile long stretch and the bottom and top of the hill.  In running up the hill, some have described themselves as bounding while other’s have described it as striding.  In the book Lydiard’s Running Schedules (published in 1970), he describes it as the runners “spring up hills on their toes, concentrating on relaxing and springing rather than running.”  After they do this, they jog 400 out, then jog 400 back on the flat section and then they stride downhill fast.  Peter Snell was reported to have run 1:50 for 800m on one of the downhill sections.

The key to the downhill running is to be fast but entirely relaxed.  Lydiard emphasized that the hill shouldn’t be so steep that you have to brake going downhill by leaning backwards.  The runner should have a slight forward lean going down the hill at all times.  When they reach the bottom they jog some and then do short accelerations or wind sprints.  The wind sprints are not full out and should be a gradual introduction to faster speed training.  The distances vary from 8x50m to 1x400m almost always with a total of 400m of striding out done.  It should be noted that the athletes were only doing these windsprints about once every 15 minutes.  Therefore, if a different length hill circuit is used, then you have to adjust when to do these wind sprints so that you don’t do too many of them.  This hill circuit was repeated 4 times with his athletes.  The hill training was originally done by Lydiard’s athletes in the 1960-70’s up to six-times per week.  He later modified this to be done 2-3 times per week, saying you could get the same benefits with this reduced amount. This period of hill training usually lasted 4 weeks total and was designed as a transition period to bridge the gap between the aerobic marathon training and the hard track training.

In looking at the hill circuit, it can be seen that this type of work was done for the benefits of strength and flexibility.  The bounding or sprining up the hill was simply resistance work or plyometric work.  The downhill striding automatically caused increased turnover, and the wind sprints at the bottom worked on your speed and getting you prepared for faster track training.

The uphill running/bounding is often the hardest to explain and creates the most confusion among athletes attempting to learn Lydiard’s training.

1440, 1/4 effort ; 700 with 30 sprint on command; 400, 1/43x 220, 1/2 ; 4×50, 1/2; 440, 1/42x220m 1/2; 2×100, 1/2; 1×100 3/4; 2×50 1/2mile with 50 sprint every 220rest4×220, 1/2; 1×100, 3/4

The Final Phase- 3 Months

The final three months are a build up to the “run of the year.” With Lydiard, everything is focused on this final race. He notes that adjusting to the individual is paramount, but there needs to be an overarching plan.

It’s here that Lydiard insitutes the “sharpening” phase of his training. The long runs are kept on the weekend, but during the week is a steady set of intervals. It should be noted that in his original schedules, athletes were doing interval training 5-6 days per week! As his training evolved, this was often shortened to a few times per week.

Training for mile: (three months):

1st month, week 12 miles, 1/44×880, 1/412×300; 1×800, 1/26 miles, 1/46×220, 1/41 mile, 1/4;Long distance jogging
mile, 1/2
2nd month, week 11320, 1/2; 880, 3/4; 440 all out4×440, 1/26×880, 1/25 miles, 3/46×220, 1/220×220, 1/2Long distance jogging
3rd month, week 13 miles with 48x 50 yard sprints enroute1320 time trial6×440, 3/43 miles, 3/43×220 all out880 yards runLong distance jogging
3rd month, week 4 (Peaking Race6 miles jog3×220 all out1×440, 7/83 mile jog3 mile jog“The Run of the year”Long distance jogging


Notes from additional original Lydiard articles:
In addition to the above mentioned workouts, in several other articles from the same time, other aspects of Lydiard’s training were discussed more thoroughly.  For example, many mention bounding up the hill loop that he suggested in the transition phase.  It’s unclear exactly whether his athletes continually bounded up the 800m hill or not.  Some claim they did, other said, it was sort of like running with an exagerated knee lift, but it was still running.  Other articles mention that you either ran with a springy stride or bounded up the hill, then when you reached the top, jogged for 3 minutes on the flat part, then strided down the entire hill to increase your turnover.  I’m unsure how fast this striding downhill was, but it seems as you just let yourself go and let your legs naturally increase in turnover.  Once you get to the bottom, jog for 3 minutes, then do a serious of short accelerations or sprints at the bottom, these sprints should occur at most once every 15 minutes, because he says that you need this amount of time to recover between sprint sessions.  Then you repeat this hill session until you’ve done it 3 or so times for the expert runners.

Bertl Sumser, a contempory coach, also mentions a slight variation on Lydiard’s sprint training. Observing his athletes when they stayed in Leverkusen, he recalled seeing Murry Halberg and Peter Snell run 15x 40m sprints with a 60 meter float recovery.  The 40m was run at what lydiard called 7/8 speed, so that’s pretty near maximum intensity. n addition to this he said Halberg and marathon runners performed up to 3 miles of this type of sprint, float work.

While the individual discrepencies are of note, and likely a  result of Lydiard evolving his ideas, the overall message is clear.


Looking at Lydiard from a modern perspective

There are a lot of the myths about Lydiard’s system.  Obviously, Lydiard  changed and adapted his training schedules and philosophies over the years, but the importance of reading a document that came right near when his best athletes (Snell, Halberg, etc.) were competing is that we get a better sence of what he did and what worked with them.  The first thing you should notice is the importance of bulding a massive base.

Lydiard said that middle and long distance runners should run at least 100 miles per week.  This is one of Lydiard’s major contributions to the sport.  He brought out the importance of building a big base for all runners.  But one should notice that even in his early training, this wasn’t what most people confuse as lydiard, LSD (Long Slow Distance).  A lot of the running done is very high end aerobic, most likely near Lactate Threshold for many runs.  In addition to varying the efforts during base, he also employed a fartlek during the base training (and in his later books added strides to the schedule).  So his athletes weren’t just running slowly as is a common misconception.

His athletes varied between normal runs to fartleks to probably what we’d describe modernly as threshold or uptempo runs.  In fact in his later book he states that the Long Aerobic running done during this period is “A strong aerobic effort, between jogging and racing- in theory, 70%-99% of your aerobic capacity to finish in a pleasantly tired state.”  Also, it should be noted that he emphasized running over hills and various terrains.

During the next phase of training, we can see that hill running  was highly emphasized, along with the addition of some sprints work.  Additionally, intervals that  resemble modern day pace work were added.   It’s clear to see that Lydiard was prepping his athletes for the intense “anaerobic” work that would follow in his co-ordination phase. The transition is vital for understand Lydiard.

After the transition you start to see Lydiard adding medium length repeats (what modern training would call aerobic capacity or VO2max training). For example, he included  4×880 at 1/4 speed (which would be in about 2:05 for a 1:50 800m runner).  In addition shorter tempo type workouts are done with runs such as 2mi or 3mi at 1/4 effort.  As you progress through the last period, the repetitions become faster and thus more “anaerobic”.  For peaking, he does very intense efforts with little volume during the hard session such as 1×440 at 7/8 effort or 3×220 all out.

By looking at this training, it can be seen that it is very similar to most modern day training even though it is 50+ years old!  It’s amazing how much Lydiard got right without science and based on just trial and error on himself testing training methods.  This proves that although science helps, it is not required, and that trial and error is a very effective method of figuring out training.  I hope after reading this you can see that Lydiard is not just slow jogging.  He hit on a lot of the similar concepts of training that almost all distance coaches use today, even those espoused by Peter Coe who most say is opposite of lydiard!

For the best modern take on applying Lydiard’s principles, I recommend the book Healthy Intelligent Training

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