October 5, 2023

Is Arthur Lydiard’s training system the best ever?

Recently I stumbled upon a 33-page Arthur Lydiard training guide that’s apparently based on talks Lydiard gave during a 1999 lecture tour of the U.S. If you’re not familiar with Lydiard, he coached a number of great New Zealand distance runners during the 1950s and 1960s. The best  known was Peter Snell, but there were many others as well.

Lydiard also introduced famous University of Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman to “jogging” as a healthful activity for average midlife individuals. Bowerman then brought this practice to the American public in his book, Jogging, co written with W.E. Harris, M.D.

You can read the full 33-page Lydiard manual at the below link. Here are a few highlights: Lydiard says his system is “based on a balanced combination of conditioning, strength, and speed. The end result is stamina, or the ability to maintain speed over the whole distance.”

Lydiard recommends “running at a good effort and finishing each run feeling pleasantly tired.” He doesn’t advocate Long Slow Distance, but admits that LSD will produce the same end results; you’ll just spend more time on your feet.

He also recognized the need for faster training. “You should do three hard workouts a week.” It doesn’t matter what distance and speed you use, according to Lydiard, as “No coach can tell exactly how many repetitions you can do or what your recovery intervals should be on any particular day.” So don’t worry about that stuff. “Trust your instincts and responses.”

Before you begin speedwork, Lydiard advocates for a transitional training period that “is accomplished by bringing resistance to the leg muscles.” How? “By springing uphill with a series of short and sharp bounding steps.”

You can achieve “sharpening” ( peaking) by running “sharp sprints of 50-100 meters once a week with an equal distance of ‘floating’ in between.”

And here’s Lydiard’s number one Golden Rule. “Never try to run too fast during the initial training period. You can never run too slowly to help bring about some cardiac development, but you can run too fast, causing undue strain, sore muscles, and slower recovery. This inevitably affects the following day’s training.” More at Champions Everywhere, a lengthy PDF that includes many full blown training plans.

Some caffeine abstinence may be required to boost endurance

It was almost 50 years ago when a Runner’s World cover story first revealed that coffee/caffeine was performance-enhancing for endurance runners. At the time, we were told the program worked best if we refrained from coffee/caffeine for several days or longer before taking it on race-day morning. Later a number of studies seemed to indicate that such “withdrawal” was not necessary. 

This implied you could drink your coffee regularly, and still get a nice boost on marathon morning. Whew! Many addicted coffee fans regarded this as sensational news.

Now the newest paper on the subject has retested the whole “withdrawal or no withdrawal” protocol, and concluded that, yup, you gotta take at 8 hours off to get the full benefit.

The experiment included 10 regular coffee-drinking recreational cyclists. In a randomized order, they received either a caffeine pill or a placebo pill 8 hours before a laboratory cycling test. Then, one hour before the test, they again received either a caffeine pill or a placebo pill before beginning a 10K time trial that also measured power output. Caffeine use was administered with a dose of 6 mg per kg of athlete body weight.

Result: Cyclists’ time-trial performance and power output was improved only if they had consumed no caffeine 8 hours prior to the 10K time trial. The authors believe this finding means that “previous work may have overstated the value of caffeine supplementation for habitual users.” 

Of course, most road races begin in the early morning when you haven’t had any caffeine during your 8 hours of nighttime sleep. So you pass that hurdle. How about abstaining for the full day (or more) before your race? That’s one of those personal experiments you’ll have to try on your own. Also, the researchers say that “Future work should examine higher doses of caffeine for habitual users.” More at International J. of Sport Physiology & Performance.

 [ Check out the podcast, “Running: State of the Sport,” with Amby Burfoot and George Hirsch. Recent episodes feature Deena Kastor, Mark Milde, and Jack Fleming. ]

Strength training fails to prevent injuries. (But is still recommended.)

Many runners do regular lower body strength training in hopes of improving their performance and limiting injuries. The following report casts a bit of a shadow over those hopes. 

It finds no evidence that leg strength training reduces injuries. In fact, strengthening the hips (a frequent suggestion to runners) is linked with a slight uptick in injuries. At the same time, ignoring upper body resistance work also correlates with injury risk. 

Of course, like most injury research, this one paper can’t prove cause-and-effect. Only associations. 

The findings were  based on questionnaire data from 616 runners  who had been running an average of 13 years, and generally logged 4 running workouts a week. Those who covered more than 19 miles/week had more injuries than lower-mileage runners. Also, those with a strong “performance orientation" were more likely to be injured. 

That’s possibly because they didn’t listen to their body when they should have. They continued to push hard in training when they should have backed off and recovered.

Conclusion: “Completely eradicating RRIs is unrealistic.” Also, despite their findings, the authors retained their belief in strength training. They state that it can improve “capacity to tolerate training load and, thus, should be recommended.” More at J of Functional Morphology & Kinesiology with free full text.

SHORT STUFF you don’t want to miss

>>> Protect the future of running: How to become a more sustainable runner (Hint: Start at breakfast)

That’s all for this week. Thanks for reading. See you again next week. Amby

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