Monday, February 20, 2006

Oh Lord, Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood

While I'm patting myself on the back for getting on relatively well with my running, I fear I might be feeding some stereotypes and misconceptions about Arthur Lydiard's training. I'll tackle one today that's come up in the "comments" on the blog.

#1 Lydiard is all about high mileage, 100 miles a week minimum to do it right.

My interpretation, which no doubt has been shaped by Lydiard's books, Nobby, Lorraine Moller, Ron Daws and others, is that Lydiard is about finding your OPTIMAL mileage. I'm actually guilty of fueling the fire here by bragging about running 100 in a week. Arthur Lydiard ran up to 250 miles a week in an effort to find his mileage "sweet spot", or the point at which fatigue and potential for injury outweigh the aerobic benefits that running any farther would produce. His original athletes ran upwards of 100 miles a week at a "strong aerobic effort", then ran additional easy runs in a second session that didn't even count towards the 100. This worked for them, it may very well not for you.

Lydiard himself realized this potential mileage trap of following a strict diet of numbers for each day of the week when he noticed that his slower runners were improving their aerobic capacity at a faster rate than his elite runners simply because they were running for a longer period of time for the same distance. The miles, in and of themselves were not the key; Instead the physiological adaptations that took place during a given duration of running provided the benefit. In light of this, Lydiard switched to time-based schedules instead of cold, hard miles. Nobby has mentioned Arthur's reluctance to even publish schedules at all for a given distance, since inevitably they would be misinterpreted as the one and only way to do things, which from what I've learned about the man just wasn't his style.

What's important in following Lydiard's coaching is to find the optimal amount of miles you can run for the greatest aerobic benefit. Should you run longer runs or shorter runs? Both. According to Lydiard (and this is echoed throughout other coaching books) longer runs, especially for athletes training for the 10K & longer (see I pay attention Nobby) train the body to utilize more oxygen to feed working muscles by building mitochondria, growing and increasing capillary length and density, while simultaneously teaching the body to burn more fat and conserve precious glycogen in order to run longer at an aerobic effort. Wow, what a mouthful. Shorter runs, since...well, they're short, can be run faster, at a pace closer to a runner's aerobic threshold. The more time a runner spends at these faster (but still aerobic) efforts, the greater speed the athlete can hold in a race before becoming anaerobic, or the point at which the body cannot utilize enough oxygen to clear the amount of lactate the muscles are producing, which causes us to eventually slow down (or worse).

So how long for a long run? 20, 22, 28, 30 miles??? Nobby and I have discussed my particular case and have decided to run longer than the standard 22 mile runs I did during my first Lydiard conditioning phase. Why? Lets face it, I did die during the last 6 miles of my marathon. Also, I was able to handle 22 mile runs, plus an 18 and 16 mile run the same week without breaking down. There may still be a ways to go until I reach my particular sweet spot. This doesn't mean if I end up running 120 that any prospective Lydiard-follower should do the same. As Nobby would say, "Use what's between your ears".

The truth is you could run the Lydiard way on 30 miles a week if you had to. Would it be optimal? Probably not, but if experience has taught you that running over 30 miles in a week will immediately injure you, then by all means stay at 30 (but don't be afraid to test the water next time, as bodies acclimate well to training stress). Following similar logic, a runner like Eric, who got this whole ball rolling, might need more than the standard 22 mile long run to excel, and he seems to be feeling the same way. So should Eric follow Greg McMillan, Pete Pfitzinger, Jack Daniels or Arthur Lydiard in finding his ideal long run length and or pace? I think he should follow Eric. After all, who knows him better? Second to that, you can always email Nobby 100 times until he changes his address. It works for me. Kidding, really.


Scooter said...

Yep, you're kidding...Nobby told me the count was in the high eighties! ;-)

I will vouch for Lydiard working, but will also say that Lydiard's demand for a solid aerobic base made me train at a level higher than I ever had...only 50 miles/week (Lydiard's marathon beginner program). I held it without braking down, but for me last year, I got hit with some tendonitis in the knee. (I think it was some overly agressive hill running that kicked it off.) I know I was near the edge of what my body could handle. We all walk the tightrope and the key is to adjust so you don't fall off.

Our analogies differ, but the message is the same, Lydiard is about maximizing what your body is capable of NOW. That muscle between your ears is the key to doing Lydiard right. Thanks for stating the lesson well.

PS - thanks for the positive words on my blog.

Hunter said...

Mike, in Daniel's Running Formula, there is a graph illustrating the diminishing return of high mileage. Coincidentally, 100 mpw is corresponding to 100% return. :)

robtherunner said...

Well stated Mike.

Eric said...

Thanks for the traffic boost, Mike. I'm setting my schedule based on gut feeling and not anybody's book. Therein lies my dilemma. I trust myself, sure, but I'm also smart enough to realize that there are much better coaches out there than myself. And I don't want to waste my time.

I do know one thing, though. Come October 1, I'm gonna rip. =) Thanks for the dialog...this is great stuff!

tb1 said...

Mike you are absolutely right. I don't think I could ever do 100 mpw on a consistent basis. But it sure would look good on my resume'. Reading your blog has done for me what I hope it does for others, mainly to push myself. Find out where the end is. You hardly ever write about your diet. Are you doing anything special?

D said...

Mike - Great post.