"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Steve vs. the Experts #3: Lydiard

I'm going to limit this to Lydiard's last book, "Running the Lydiard Way," (1978, co-written with Garth Gilmour) and to his marathon training plan, otherwise there'd be no end to what I'd have to say. First of all, everything he says not directly related to training is stupid; for example, in one paragraph (p. 98), he says carboloading doesn't work "because you can't put 5 liters in a 4 liter bucket" and that one should stimulate the liver to make glycogen by taking a laxative (!) and eating 200gm. of honey two days before competition because "honey is mostly fructose." There are at least five things wrong with just those statements.

In the section of his book entitled "Marathon Training (pp 18-19)," he states that one should train at first by time, rather than distance and lists the following week for off-season training: 1 hour Monday, 1.5 hours Tuesday, 1 hour Wednesday, 2 hours Thursday, 1 hour Friday, 2-3 hours Saturday, 1.5 hours Sunday. Then he gives a typical week by distance:
Monday: 15K @ 1/2 effort on undulating course
Tuesday: 25K @ 1/4 on flat course
Wednesday: 20K @ 1/2, hilly
Thursday: 30K @ 1/4, relatively flat
Friday: 15K @ 3/4 effort, flat
Saturday: 35K @ 1/4, relatively flat
Sunday: 25K @ 1/4, any terrain

He never explains what "1/4 effort" is, but intends it to be subjective. These two weeks combine to give 102.5 miles in 630 minutes, which is an appropriate average training pace (in my opinion) for a 2:15 marathoner, though the mileage is probably better suited to training for 100K. In his detailed description of the specific training season (see below), he drops the mileage considerably; in fact, it drops low enough long enough that one may start losing some of the endurance developed by the high mileage.

In addition to the workouts he lists, he suggests "supplemental running," which is a second workout, done very slowly and easily and which increases the weekly mileage (often more than doubling it) until it looks like the Long Slow Distance method. His reasoning is that anything done to raise the heart rate above resting level is aerobic training and running is the best training for runners; my argument against this "junk mileage" is that an argument or a cup of coffee can increase heart rate, but isn't training and extremely slow running only helps if one's training for ultramarathons (an exception may be made for very slow marathoners).

His basic philosophy boils down to: one has a capacity for aerobic work and a capacity for anaerobic work, but if one trains too much anaerobically, one exhausts one's anaerobic capacity, so one should emphasize aerobic training. This makes most sense at marathon distance and beyond.

After a long period of aerobic training, he has 4 weeks of hill training, then 4 weeks of sprint repetitions, then 4 weeks of tapering, a marathon time trial, a repeat of the tapering and the marathon race. This has been viewed as being too much of one type of running, then switching to too much of another, but his system is much more subtle than that. Rather than type out the full schedule, one can view it at http://www.ultrunr.com/lydiard.html

My first argument with the Lydiard system is the intentional vagueness. He advocates running the aerobic runs at "best pace," without adequately defining it beyond what is not too easy or too hard. He has workouts of repetitions and sprints without time goals, saying that one does them until one gets the desired training effect - in essence, saying that if you succeed, it's because you followed his plan, but if you fail, it's because you didn't. Anyone can look like a genius that way!

One of the notable facets of his method is that one never does track workouts like repeat miles or quarter-miles and this is appealing to many runners, but he has many time trials and fartlek sessions which mimic the same effect. The biggest problem is that one never runs at marathon pace during training, so one needs to have an instinctual idea of what one is capable of running before one starts.

Lydiard's ideas, once one learns to recognize them, appear in nearly all training manuals in one form or another. For example, he suggests doing drills emphasizing one aspect of one's running motion; this shows up almost unaltered in Galloway's first book and in Hudson's. Though the idea seems reasonable, I've never seen any evidence, scientific or anecdotal, that it works.

One of the ideas of Lydiard's that struck me for a while was that one trained aerobically until one no longer received benefit from it. This was expanded upon by Maffetone by having one use a heart rate monitor; either one's speed would improve or one's heart rate would drop as one was gaining aerobic fitness - when these stopped changing, one should be at one's (aerobic) peak. Anyone who tries this here in Minnesota will discover that it stops working when the weather gets bad; there are too many variables that decide how "hard" a workout feels for this to be reliable. There's also no reason why one would have to limit oneself to aerobic running to follow progress this way; one could simply take an average over a week or month of running.

Still... looking at my own training plans, I'm surprised to see so much of Lydiard in it.


RBR said...

...(an exception may be made for very slow marathoners)

I appreciate the nod


nwgdc said...

so if i want to break 3 hours in the marathon, can i just run a lot, put in miles, and keep an eye on my pace to make sure i'm running fast enough?

all these words are confusing this poor choir-practor

Drs. Cynthia and David said...

You'll probably enjoy this article summarizing attempts to scientifically analyze training benefits: http://www.sportsci.org/2009/ss.pdf They conclude that the 80:20 rule is useful (80% of training below 2mM blood lactate, 20% above), basically 80% aerobic and 20% at high intensity. I.e., "junk miles" are actually very helpful for endurance training, but are probably not enough for maximizing potential.


Fast Bastard said...

Very interesting. Thanks.

SteveQ said...

@Nic: I think you'll find now that you're a father, that breaking 3 will be easier than you thought - and not nearly as meaningful!

SteveQ said...

@Cynthia: I had missed that review paper, so thanks for sending it. I'd forgotten how much my eyes glaze over reading those...

joyRuN said...

What rompers? I haven't seen any of those around here. What Wal-Mart are you hanging out in?

Sounds waaaay attractive the way you describe it. Unfortunately, it also sounds like it would require coordination to be able to pee, so that's a BIG minus for me (unless it has a big flap on the ass that I can just open up).

SteveQ said...

@JoyRuN: Macy's, not Wal-Mart. http://www1.macys.com/catalog/index.ognc?CategoryID=17053&PageID=73245476545089