© Copyright – 2012 – Athletics Illustrated

Keith Livingstone from New Zealand published a new book about an old training method, written in today’s language. He has taken the famous training method of the late and incomparable Arthur Lydiard and modernized it so everyone can understand the theory and application fully in a book he calls, Healthy Intelligent Training or HIT for short.

Livingstone grew up very near Lydiard in Auckland, New Zealand. He later ran for the Owairaka Running Club founded by Lydiard. Livingstone went on to run well nationally earning a 10,000m personal best 29:19 and 5000m pb of 14:04. He has been quietly coaching international athletes for the past 20 years, including the coach of an Olympic triathlon gold medallist.

Lorraine Moller, four-time Olympian and Olympic bronze marathon winner wrote, “Keith captures the genius of Lydiard and delivers it to athletes and coaches in a comprehensive and complete  form….the Lydiard Foundation has adopted this book as it’s official text for all Lydiard coaching courses.”

The interview

Christopher Kelsall: Lorraine Moller ran barefoot as a child, East Africans run barefoot and until the late 1980s elite athletes trained in glorified animal skins, now, of course, there are racing flats. Chris McDougall, for example, has contributed his share to building a veritable industry out of minimalism and barefoot running. What is the big deal about minimalism?

Keith Livingstone: Well, in New Zealand you’ve got to realize that wearing shoes to primary school (Years 1-5) was optional. There are no snakes, venomous critters, or bad thorns in our little corner of the South Pacific. I was born in Kenya and we immigrated to NZ in early 1965, so my brother and I wore shoes to primary school out of colonial cultural norms we brought from Kenya, but even school photos had a few of the kids in bare feet. Barry Magee says that the main reason that the early Lydiard athletes like him and Murray Halberg and Bill Bailey could handle almost daily hill-springing sessions without soreness was because of the tremendous lower leg development they acquired from going everywhere barefoot and kicking footballs around barefoot. If you look at the ridiculous, Popeye-like calf muscles that were Peter Snell’s, you can see that they didn’t just grow for nothing. John Walker would’ve been much the same running around on farmland as a kid.

CK: What about yourself?

KL: When I started training myself aged 17 on a Lydiard basis, I went for a couple of runs a week on local roads near my boarding school, and along Auckland’s waterfront, in bare feet. No particular reason except I liked it and my road shoes at the time were pretty basic “clunkers”. Never got bad bruises or cuts or anything but I kept my eyes peeled for broken glass all the time.

CK: Did you ever race barefoot?

KL: Yeah, I won my first Auckland title in bare feet and set a record at the time for under 18. Found the balls of my feet got very hot on the tartan rubber so had to move fast the last couple of laps! Won by 11 seconds, and broke the record by about the same…got it in a diary somewhere….that was my first Auckland Centre Track Championships.

CK: Recently there has been a European fellow (possibly Portuguese, rumoured to be a coach) who has spent many, many hours of his time on a North American website chatline discussing the merits of the Lydiard method of training. He claims that Lydiard is dated and is the wrong approach, yet he follows the Igloi method, which is even more dated, any thoughts on this perspective?

KL: Well…. the Portuguese have done very very well, eh? If he coached (Carlos) Lopez or (Rosa) Mota, I’d be listening to him very carefully and seeing what the commonalities are with Lydiard. There’d be lots. I’m always very open to things like this.

Well, I’m afraid I have to admit that Lydiard theory is extremely dated now….but it’s also very, very good and the proof is in the pudding. On February 7th in Christchurch, New Zealand, there’ll be a track meeting commemorating the 50th anniversary of Sir Peter Snell’s New Zealand 800m track record. This was the world record when run on grass in 1962, and at 1:44.1 was faster than the winning time in Beijing (1:44.63). That time has withstood the likes of John Walker and Nick Willis amongst many other fine athletes. It’s actually the current Oceania record, which includes Australia and the South Pacific as well, and is the oldest national record on the IAAF books. And when you look at the record of Snell, who won five out of his five gold medal attempts at Olympic and Empire Games, that 100% success record hasn’t been emulated by anyone.

I could go on about this ‘dated’ nonsense, ad-nauseam if you’d like, and take it into the arena of the Greek philosophers or the megalithic astronomers. Even the phrase “there is nothing new under the sun” is over 3000 years old and was probably penned by Solomon around 1000 BC, following on from the Wisdom Literature of the Levant which is 2000 years older again. Einstein’s theory of relativity will be 100 years old in just over three years, and we’re really struggling to get past him. His work is foundational to our whole telecommunications age, space travel, and materials chemistry. Newton’s work is the basis for every engine, machine, bridge or building we use and it’s over 300-years-old. You’ve got to be on mind-altering drugs or bipolar to either understand or invent the new physics, and who knows where that’ll take us? Chaos Theory? String Theory? ‘Branes’? Basically, a truth is a truth, no matter how ‘dated’.

CK: And Igloi was good in his time too.

KL: Igloi was a damned good coach, and knew what he was doing, obviously. His athletes absolutely dominated middle-distance in the 1950s but were not able to ‘take it’ to Vladimir Kuts in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics as their whole preparation had been wrecked by the brutal Russian invasion of Hungary. Sandor Iharos ran 13:40 in 1955 and alternated smashing the world record with Kuts in that era; between them, with (Gord) Pirie in there, they lopped a good 17 seconds off the previous 5000m record. He had guys running mid 3:50’s in the mile, but you can bet that his ‘brutal interval sessions’ had a lot of recovery in them, and were periodized to build up intensity gradually. Nothing else would work to consistently produce squads of great athletes as he did in two countries.

One of the things that was quite useful about Igloi’s work was he gave athletes lots of quite fast run-throughs over quite short distances, in sets. Those shorter distances between 100m and 200m repeated many times would be excellent for ingraining rhythmic relaxation at speed into the neuro-muscular system. They will only just bite into the edges of the anaerobic glycolytic energy system, and with a suitable jog recovery thus induce moderate acidosis if anything, which would be cleared out and flushed away in the longer break between sets.

And we’ve also got to remember that the work of great scientists, coaches, you name it, will always get dumbed down by someone eventually. Lydiard was as guilty of doing this as anyone and never missed a chance to associate “track intervals” with the evils of anaerobic work. If it was run on a track, whether thoughtfully put together or not, it was “too much anaerobic work” and therefore was to be avoided. So the baby got thrown away with the bathwater a bit there. The same sort of thing applied the other way: despite his incredible successes from a small local talent pool, Lydiard’s work was dumbed down to just: 100 miles a week of marathon training or even jogging, which of course then attracted criticism from the “only specific training is useful” lobby, ad nauseam.

What I’m saying is that the very intelligent coaches like Rolf Haikola, who coached Lasse Viren, grasped the fundamental Lydiard message extremely well, but also grasped what Igloi and others were trying to achieve as well, and merged the Igloi work into the peaking process with set sessions repeated every few months. I’ve got some interesting data somewhere that compares Viren’s standard  “20 x 200m/ 200 jog recovery” session run on a forest trail. This was before heart rate monitors as we know them today, and the data was obtained with a registered nurse taking Viren’s carotid pulse at the end of every repetition. The neuromuscular system was accustomed over a few months to a volume of faster, rhythmic running, but also because the standard workout was spaced out every few weeks, objective data about where he was in his final preparations were right at hand with no gizmos or oxygen uptake tests.

CK: How fast was Viren running the repeats?

KL: From memory, Viren was running an average of 29s for the 20 repeats a couple of weeks before his first world record of 1972; a 13:16 5000m that he ran easily, a good six weeks or more before the Munich Olympic final. Had he peaked far too soon? The average heart rate after each repetition wasn’t as high as Haikola was expecting had he been peaking. So Haikola was pretty sure there was more to come.

The next session of 20 x 200 was pretty similar to the first, except that the maximal average heart rate was getting up near where it should be, but the repetitions were no faster. A week or so later he popped another world record, this time over two miles in 8:14, beating the great Belgian Emil Puttemans. I think there was about a month to go.

CK: Didn’t he drop the repeats further yet?

KL: Yes. The standard test was used again a couple of weeks before Munich, and this time the average for the 200m runs had dropped by two seconds, and his heart rate zoomed up very high after each and plummeted straight down afterward with amazing recovery. So this time his average was a shade over 27s – I think 27.2s. To me, that would indicate that a significant improvement had been demonstrated in the anaerobic contribution to his race distances. This was the coming together of the biochemical buffering and enzyme systems after several strong stimuli including world record ‘trials’ and the 200m sessions. He made a two-second improvement from about 29.2s to 27.2 s. I did the sums a few years ago, and I think we’re talking a seven per cent improvement in that particular session at just the right time, when already in superlative shape with respect to maximal oxygen uptake and capacity.

CK: But seven per cent is a massive improvement.

KL: Exactly, at first glance, a seven per cent improvement for a 13:16 5000m performer could translate to 12:20 for 5000m, but as the aerobic contribution to 5000m is 95 per cent, and therefore the two anaerobic systems contribute only five per cent, we can’t really say he improved seven per cent for 5000m potential, but nevertheless what he was physically capable of way back then would have matched anything we’ve seen since, on the day that mattered most.

Now, 20 x 200/200 recovery is a good rhythmic exercise that has a certain anaerobic component for the session that I can’t calculate (who can?). What we can say is that as we go through the session, each successive repetition will firstly use the alactic creatine phosphate system and as that system is extended somewhat by continued pace running, the sluggish oxygen-independent glycolytic energy pathway kicks in, perhaps after 15 seconds in someone like Viren. With an athlete whose anaerobic non-glycolytic (alactic) and anaerobic glycolytic (lactic) systems are not fully developed, as in the first two sessions, the body delves more and more into acidosis and oxygen debt.

CK: He must have been so incredibly fit…

KL: What seems to have occurred by that third session, which ticked off every box on the master-plan, was that Viren’s lactate tolerance kicked up a notch or two again from his world record shape as the biochemistry made its final adaptations. Maybe Viren was so incredibly fit that his body was now rephosphorylating the creatine phosphate in only a few seconds, as well as flushing out lactate by-products almost immediately after a strong effort ceased.

20 x 200 at 29s is not a tough anaerobic glycolytic workout in the way that 10 x 400 at less than 60 seconds would be, because a significant part of each 200m is run alactically without accruing acidosis. With longer faster reps like 400m, about three times as much time is spent accruing acidosis, which past a certain point increases exponentially.

So, we know he had already beaten world-class fields in world records over two different distances while his data showed that his cardiac response was still a bit ‘sluggish’, and that by the third trial his neuromuscular efficiency and lactate tolerance had made a really significant leap, so that this guy was trained to the minute and ready to beat anyone, which he did. The question is what could he have done if really pushed out to the maximum in the shape he was in at that stage? I think he ran the last 4 laps in Munich in a 3:59 with a gradual long drive for home. There were some seriously big kickers in that field, and the amazing thing is that Viren’s PB for 1500m was only 3:44, which he surely matched at the end of an Olympic final without relinquishing the lead for several laps.

Gordon Pirie, who trained along those lines, actually lived in Auckland for many years and coached several good athletes, including Anne Audain and Allison Roe in their earlier days. He in turn was trained by the renowned German cardiologist and pioneer of pulse rate methodology, Woldemar Gerschler. Gerschler, in turn, had trained Rudolf Harbig, who was running 1:46 and bits before the war, as well as 46s for 400m – a real Aryan who was killed on the Western Front in 1944, I might add. So there was a very good methodology at work there that perhaps we could have listened to without calling it “Pirie training”.

CK: I have read about Pirie’s character before. What sort of coach was he?

KL: There was a fuss that Pirie actually charged people for his coaching services, which was not done in the Lydiard fold. We felt sorry for “Pirie athletes” in the way you’d feel sorry for school friends whose Dad beat them up at home. The great majority of us shook our heads and couldn’t understand why they trained that way. “Pirie training” was associated with a form of madness. We were totally convinced our way was the only way to go. He was quite a rude, in-your-face sort of character, along with being a Pom, so he was up against it from the start. He may have been bipolar. However, he was an Olympic silver-medallist and a former world record-holder over 5000m. The Lydiard-based crew’s ‘sledging’ was with the best intentions because with Pirie’s undue influence the pendulum swung well away from the “freedom running” traditions that Australia and New Zealand offered.

Lydiard’s training methods intuitively achieved the same physiological ends that Igloi or Gerschler or Pirie were after, albeit in a far less restricted arena. These “interval-trained” athletes did spend an inordinate amount of time circling a running track, however, there was plenty of aerobic volume in that running, quite possibly going well over 100 miles a week as well. Igloi was a coach in a militarized Communist regime. He probably needed to be right there watching over his athletes all the time, and squads of young males driving to forest areas to train during the Cold War would have been viewed suspiciously. What’s to stop these guys taking a little backpack and a few rations and keeping on going? There’s usually a reason for most things.

Similarly, Emil Zatopek’s training was constrained by a communist regime. I can remember seeing Zatopek’s methods described as “brutal intervals”, yet when you take the time to look at what he actually did, his “brutal intervals” of, say, 40 x400m were really only at 75s pace, with a 90 second jog, so basically just getting close to his anaerobic threshold speed before backing off to a steady state speed. So that’s a 20-mile run with mild 400m surges the whole way – and I’ve got to tell you it’s a LONG workout, but not a brutal workout. Zatopek was always mixing things up and experimenting. Personally, I’d have just got sick of going in circles.

In my running career, I got down to similar racing times that Zatopek ran, albeit many years later when they were more like national-level times, and I remember on the Lydiard system doing 20 x 400 @ 3000m pace/lap jog recovery, coming into track racing for 5000m. So that for me was about 64-65 seconds average, with the last one about 61s to finish things off. A lot more intense, but I wouldn’t even call that brutal for a well-conditioned athlete of a decent standard; just a good solid slog.

When we start to get extremely dogmatic based on our current knowledge base, then we stop learning and stop thinking. We can’t say “Well I’ll do everything he says. He’s the expert!” I lost a fortune last year by heeding the ‘expert’ advice of a great friend of mine who was a FAIM* without checking every detail out for myself. (*Fellow of the Australian Institute of Management). Coaches are problem-solvers.

CK: And at the end of the day?

KL: At the end of the day though, no matter whose methods we’re espousing, there is no escaping that a large volume of work performed at lower intensities is required somewhere, simply for the fact that a good 50 per cent of our muscle fibres are slow twitch, and slow twitch fibres are exercised best at very low intensities. Slow twitch loves gobbling up our triglycerides (free fatty acids) as a preferred fuel. Slow-twitch mitochondria are big and designed to cleave the long-chain fats down to a size that can be made over readily to glucose molecules. The best intensity to exercise our slow-twitch fibres at and lower our triglycerides is actually walking pace. This irrigates the muscle beds with a lovely alkaline, oxygen-rich blood supply that is ideal for prime development of the slow twitch fibres and their metabolism. Apparently, slow twitch muscles don’t contribute much force at all to speeds above 8.5 mph (13.7 km/h or 43 mins 10k pace) to anyone within the bell-curve biomechanically; one school of thought is now saying that once speeds like that are reached, the slow twitch muscle fibres serve more as the metabolic furnaces that supply the fast twitch muscles. So once they reach their maximum power range, they are far more useful in handing the power demands over to the fast twitch muscles beside them, and they stay at maximum output, gobbling up fats, glycogen, and blood glucose to produce those rapid fuel supplies. So in a way, unless the slow twitch fibres are exercised and developed, you’re missing out on your fullest capacity. Interesting, eh? Always more to know….

Paavo Nurmi used to include very long walks in his regime, and Henry Rono baffled everyone in Melbourne one year when he arrived quite “unfit”, shall we say, having run some appalling times over previous weeks, and then ended his tour with a resounding defeat of world-class Aussie champ Bill Scott by the length of the straight over 10,000m, in a time around 27:30 to Scott’s 27:47. This was very close to his world record at that time, and people who were there that night still talk about it in awe. He was seen walking and jogging, super-slowly, in a tracksuit, around and around the warm-up track, for two hours prior to his event. In the race, he was dead-last until halfway, when he started to wind up. When you look at it, he was priming his whole slow-twitch system, his joints, and his muscles and tendons, in the most ideal way, avoiding the intensity at which the body would start to eat up high-energy sugars and glycogen. So his “metabolic energy furnace” was at top efficiency when he made his sustained drive for home. Henry was just doing what came naturally. Beautiful!

Keith Livingstone continues to coach and write, visit his site: http://hitsystem.com.au/ to see the latest edition of Healthy Intelligent Training.

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