High mileage and low injury rate – preparing the modern runner for Lydiard

March 25, 2012 2

Copyright – 2012 – Athletics Illustrated

By Rene Borq

Injury rates in runners for the past 60 years make depressing reading for any runner and I doubt there are many coaches out there who have not been frustrated at having their athletes cut down prior to reaching peak form by this or the other type of tendinitis, strain, sprain, stress syndrome and so forth. Indeed, my Latin has improved immeasurably since I took up running and only more so after I began coaching. “Osteitis pubis”, “Achilles tendinosis”, “posterior tibial tendinitis” are just some of my personal favourites…

Trapped

Coaches and athletes alike, we are all trapped in an eternal catch-22 situation between two incontrovertible facts:

1) To run to your full potential, you need to run a lot and

2) Running a lot, seems to correlate with getting injured a lot. If you look at what science and research tells us.

Over the last two and a half decades it seems to me the de-facto solution to this Gordian knot has been to address the problem posed by the second fact through attempting to find ways of “getting more for less”. This even includes usage of the sci-fi like technical enhancements that are being brought to bear now such as cryo-chambers, laser treatment, anti-gravity treadmills, hi-tech responsive footwear and thyroid manipulation, with the aim of fighting back the risk of injury as elite runners push their boundaries ever further.

All the while, fact 1 has been somewhat left alone and ignored. Ever since I first picked up “Run to the Top” and began the journey of discovering the Lydiard method, one particular fact about the development of the last fifty years has gnawed at my mind: Why could Lydiard’s runners manage such volumes of training and, by their own admission, practically never get injured? Perhaps the not getting injured was a myth they had propagated? Readings of the autobiographies of Peter Snell and Murray Halberg put this notion to rest but still I quizzed Keith Livingstone, author of “Healthy Intelligent Training”, on it during a phone call and his answer was expectedly abrupt: “simply put, they did not really get injured.” From hence came this seeming invulnerability which allowed regular 100 mile weeks and weeks featuring as many as six workouts of the strenuous “hill circuits”? From my own experience, I have seen modern athletes not able to walk properly for days after 20 minutes of this work and athletes with extensive hill running experience barely managing two weekly sessions without excessive soreness building up. Could it be that the entire premise of fact 2 is fallacious and rather running more does not necessarily have to correlate with a strongly inflated risk of spending time on the side-lines nursing another phonetically challenging niggle?

“No pain, no gain” or “train not strain”

I suspect part of the reason for the greater injury rate today has to be found in the rise of the “no pain, no gain” attitude as predominant over Arthur Lydiard’s dictum to “train, not strain”. As Dr Phil Maffetone and others have shown, the popularity of training systems employing regular hard workouts such as hard track intervals and the recent lionisation of “hard aerobic running” (which truly means moderately anaerobic) invariably lead to excessive fatigue and, in the end, the “sympathetic over-training syndrome”, a state of health where your body is constantly trapped in a stressed “fight or flight mode”. Increased proneness to injury invariably follows with the biochemical disturbances and the lack of proper running form created by excessively fatigued, tense and sore muscles. It is here, to me, that the main culprit of the modern running injury epidemic becomes apparent: improper movement function.

Historically, Arthur Lydiard sought to avoid breakdowns by gently introducing newcomers and “joggers” to small volumes of aerobic running and progressively building up volume and pace from there. Percy Cerutty, who coached some of the most impressive runners in terms of running form and strength, among them John Landy and Herb Elliott, employed running form drills, sand dune training and heavy weight lifting. Both were successful in their time, but despite a virtual smorgasbord of gyms, specialists, therapists and running experts, we have failed to turn back the tide of increasing injury rates, and this despite the majority of today’s runners being unable to handle anything approximating the workloads of the athletes of Lydiard and Cerutty.

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