© Copyright – 2012 – Athletics Illustrated

Arthur Lydiard of New Zealand was a pioneer in the sport of distance running. His coaching and his training principles were revolutionary during the 1950s and 1960s and are now standard practice for most coaches today. For example, Yuki Kawauchi, the famous “citizen runner” of Japan trains primarily by Lydiard principles. He runs multiple marathons each year and has gone as fast as 2:08:37. When asked about his training he told Athletics Illustrated, “Actually I use the Lydiard training principle, but I don’t do all of them in practice. In fact, Lydiard has stated “It is more effective to have continuous run than dividing into small amounts and run little by little”, but not ”It is enough good to have one run in a day” like my style.  As I know, he also stated it is better to have a supplemental run in the morning.”

James Li, track and field coach at the University of Arizona and coach of Bernard Lagat and Lawli Lalang was recently speaking at the 2011 National Endurance Conference in Vancouver, BC, he said, “I coach exclusively by the Arthur Lydiard method.” At that same conference, Li was followed by Alberto Salazar who said the same thing.

So how does the average person apply the Lydiard method? You may ask.

First things first: building the aerobic foundation

It may take 12 to 24 weeks or “as long as possible” to get the desired results. Think of this first phase as building the foundation of a training pyramid, the bigger the foundation, the higher the pyramid stands, the faster you can run. Keith Livingstone, author of Healthy Intelligent Training, the definitive Lydiard text said, “After a substantial block of consistent training at mainly aerobic levels, but with regular attention to the ‘strong’ runs, the body will be substantially faster at all aerobic speeds”.

Peter Snell, Murray Halberg, Barry Magee, Alan McNight. Photo: Leon Hamlet (From Garth Gilmore collection)

How to build a base? Run as much as you can fit into your lifestyle and ability to run daily. You may have time for 40, 80 or 160 kms/per week; work within your limits.

Vary your efforts so that you have a chance to recover from longer and faster runs. During this phase, you should not race or take on any hard speed training, doing so during this time will weaken the foundation of the training pyramid. “Racing or testing one’s speed during the aerobic building period, to see how your fitness is coming along, is like pulling a sapling from the ground to see if the roots have taken; setting the tree back by doing so,” said multi Olympic gold medallist Peter Snell. So it is important to stay the course and keep your efforts aerobic throughout this phase.

Typically, Lydiard would have athletes run three steady longer runs per week, with one fartlek session and the remainder of the days are filled with mostly easier recovery running. You will also want to include strides on a grassy field during one of your easy runs.

If you run within your ability and vary your efforts, there is no need to take a day off completely, although some people will take a day off after their weekly long run.

Hills are your friends, 12 weeks to go

Hills are hidden speed work. Running hills develops immense power in the lower leg and ankle, so that when you are ready to run fast, your leg muscles are prepared for that particular exercise. Running uphill improves leg lift, running form and strengthens the quadriceps muscles, lower leg and ankle areas. Running downhill opens up the stride and provokes the fast twitch muscle fibres to help improve turnover rate.

This is a four-to-six week period that fits in-between the aerobic phase and the faster, more strenuous anaerobic (speed) phase.

Run a set of hill repeats alternating with ample recovery, by running up a 400M hill fairly fast at an even effort, run back down gently. Start with four or five then add a repeat per week.

As you advance, try this circuit: Find a hill with a plateau at the top and bottom. Run up for 400m, recover for equal distance at the top before descending at a fast pace, lean forward a little, allowing your stride to open up. Once at the bottom of the hill and recovered, run a few strides without straining, before ascending again. Start with three circuits in a controlled effort, add one per week.

If you are within your first year of running, skip the hill phase altogether and simply enjoy strong, aerobic runs over hilly terrain.

Tip: When running up the hill try not to walk to keep your heart rate in check. Unless you are a beginner, it is better to continue with running action throughout no matter how slow it seems.

Anaerobic training

This phase also lasts four-to-six weeks. Now you are aiming to run fast, incurring oxygen debts and recovering. Everything you have done before now was in preparation for this phase (well, for racing, but here we are closing in on race season).

The purpose is to create oxygen debt, by running fast, recover and repeat. When training anaerobically your blood ph drops and you will experience muscular fatigue, so it is important to space two to three days between each anaerobic workout, by running easy. This allows the blood to return to normal as well as to allow your muscles to recover. Your maximum anaerobic capacity (is genetically defined) tops out after four-to-six weeks. Once you begin to plateau in workouts, it is time to stop and move onto the coordination phase. You do not want to race your workouts. You want to be ready and sharp for the big day.

Coordination phase

The coordination phase is the final phase before the taper and lasts four-to-six weeks. Here you are preparing for race pace work, so that you develop the feeling of race pace rhythm and the coordination to run well at your specific race pace. During this phase you work out weaknesses in your fitness. You may be able to run all day and run very fast, but that doesn’t mean you will race well on the day. Time trials at shorter and longer distances than your goal race are. If your goal event is a 10k, challenge 5k routes at 10k pace. Also consider 15k distances at half-marathon pace.

Now you are ready to taper for one to three weeks, depending on the length of your event, and how much initial volume during the base phase that you put in.

LSD is “long steady distance”

Many people believe that “LSD” stands for long slow distance. It does and it does not. Long steady running for an Olympic-level 1500m athlete is slow in comparison to how fast they can run when they race and train on the track, but it is by no means slow for the distance being undertaken. It is steady.

Lydiard’s long runs were often run on a hilly route as long as 35K and included serious hills in the first half. All of his athletes ran this route, some every week throughout the year. Lydiard-coached runners who competed over distances as short as 800m and up to the marathon and all of them including the legendary Snell, ran together. The purpose of the long run is to build stamina. During your aerobic phase of training, you are developing your ability to take in, utilize and transport to the working muscles as much oxygen as possible. This is the foundation for the entire program and must be implemented first. Li said, “the long run is the most important part of the training week. It is run at a very strong pace.”

So-called “speedwork”

Racing while training is a no-no. According to Lydiard one could not build their aerobic stamina to its maximum and race or do anaerobic training at the same time. If you want to race your best on the day, do not race or go anaerobic in training at this time.

Tip: Running as fast as you can, at an even effort all the way for roughly 60 minutes is the upper limit of your aerobic capacity also known as lactate threshold. This is also referred to as the anaerobic threshold (AT). To Li, the most important part of Lagat’s training was just below AT.

Time-based training:

Lydiard changed his distance-based training schedules to time-based. When speaking at a seminar an elderly lady stood up and mentioned that she was running 18-hours-per-week, to fit in the required 100 miles per week. Run by time and you may be less prone to race your previous results on a training route that you commonly use. Also, some days you may feel better than others, to compare distant-based routes you may run the risk of feeling competitive within yourself, at a time when you need to build that foundation while running aerobically.

Valuable links to help you add to your Lydiard knowledge

Essential Lydiard – by Lorraine Moller – Running Times Magazine
Healthy Intelligent Training – Keith Livingstone
The Five Lydiard Principles – Christopher Kelsall