Monday, December 25, 2006

A Model for the Lydiard Method

We had a great Christmas yesterday, and we're still celebrating as our family travels two hours north to Mesa, Arizona to get all eight of my parents' grandkids together for a battle royale in the backyard. As promised, here is the second in what looks to be a series of posts by the world famous Mystery Coach on implementing the Lydiard method. I learned a lot from this and I encourage anyone interested in Lydiard's methods to contribute with their own comments and questions. I'd like to thank the coach for sharing this with all interested runners.

A model for the Lydiard method:

The model that is going to be presented here is just that; a model that will help you with your training and understanding of Arthur Lydiard's training methods. It is not a new theory, you'll see by some of the quotes that many of the great coaches think in this model's framework even though their methods differ from Arthur's. Arthur has often been accused of talking in ambiguous and confusing statements. This model will help explain those ambiguities and help you, as Arthur said, "balance" your training.

First a quick look at the model then a quote by the marathon coach Renato Canova with some discussion.

Below is the model which represents one dozen muscle fibers in your leg, they are stacked in five levels. The five levels represent the effort required to recruit the fibers to do work (run), "A level" being the easiest to recruit and "E level" the most difficult. The individual fibers have different endurance levels which vary depending on how well your training program is designed. After the model are some assigned values which represent an average runner.

The model:


Fibers 10 - 12 Low endurance worth 2 miles
Fibers 7 - 9 Medium endurance worth 4 miles
Fibers 1 - 6 High endurance worth 10 miles

Note that even though two fibers have the same endurance (example: fiber #1 and #6), it will require much greater effort to use the fiber on the next level up (#6 on level B) .

Here is a Renato Canova's comment on a similar model:

"Our engine doesn't work like the engine of a car. If I have an engine of a car going for 5,000 revolutions, and 200 kilometers of speed, and I want to go at 100 kilometers of speed, revolution can be 2,000, but the way of working is the same. In our engine, the situation is different. Could be that I have a muscle of 100 fibers. If I go for maximum speed, I use all 100 fibers. If I go five kilometers, I use 20% of these fibers, always the same 20%. If I go a little bit faster, maybe 50, maybe 60, but when I never go for max intensity, I have a big percentage of fibers, maybe 40 percent, that are not activated."

What does this tell us? First that one way to recruit all the fibers (up to number 12) requires maximum intensity (like uphill sprinting) and second that if you run the same distance (let's say 7 miles) every day the same fibers will be used (most likely numbers 1-6). Those fibers will develop very very well but fibers 7-12 just go along for the ride and don't develop at all. One key to Arthur's program is expressed by paraphrasing Tim Noakes, MD ("Lore of Running" pg 12). "Optimal training should be at all running intensities so that all muscle fiber types are equally trained." It sounds like speed work is needed, right? Well not exactly. The other key to Arthur's training: duration ( or volume ), Peter Snell, PhD gives us a clue on this: "The adaptation of any given muscle to endurance activity is likely to be proportional to how much that muscle is used. To ensure that as many fibers as possible within a muscle are used, there must be an adequate combination of intensity and duration." So how does this relate to training? Next we'll look at different workouts and see how they relate to this.

A slow long run: (Less than 85% Marathon Race pace)

The pace requires 3 fibers to be active (fibers 1, 2, and 3) , now after about 10 miles they begin to fatigue so 3 more are activated (fibers 4, 5, and 6). They also can last for 10 miles (like the average runner in the model). Then 3 more are called up (fibers 7, 8 and 9), they haven't been used much because they are hard to recruit so they last 4 miles, then 3 more are called up (10,11 and 12) and they are low endurance and last only 2 miles, then you have to stop. So what happened, we just ran 26 miles to work all the fibers .

An optimum higher speed long run (between 90% - 97% marathon race pace)

Now the pace requires 4 (Fibers 1,2,3,4) to work at the same time, after 10 miles the next 4 fibers (5,6,7,8) are called in. Now remember two of these are medium endurance (7 and 8) and they last only 4 miles so at 14 miles 2 more fibers (9,10) are called in and Fiber 10 (low endurance) only last 2 miles so Fiber 11 (low endurance) comes into play at 16. At 18 miles fiber 9 and 11 quit so fiber 12 (low endurance) is called in but since only 5 and 6 are still active the pace slows). What happened here is in less than 20 miles all the fibers had to work. Note that they only worked aerobically and not anaerobically like a speed workout would have them work.

Tempo Run / Threshold Run ( Jack Daniels PhD - "about the pace for a one hour race" )

Let's say threshold pace requires 9 fibers but now they are not as efficient because not all the oxygen they need (as evidenced by the rise in lactate) is being delivered. Still we have plenty of endurance for this type of workout. After 3-4 miles Fibers 7, 8, and 9 fatigue and 10, 11, and 12 jump in for the last part. You can see why this is a stimulating workout ( high oxygen usage for a large number of fibers). You feel invigorated but this is where runners and physiologist go wrong. Those last recruited fibers don't really learn to use oxygen efficiently (they won't be forced to develop capillaries and stamina characteristics because of the short time that they have to work).

Now after a few years and cycles of Arthur's Marathon training. Your fibers start to look like this:

Fibers 10 - 12 Low endurance worth 6 miles
Fibers 7 - 9 Medium endurance worth 8 miles
Fibers 1 - 6 High endurance worth 12 miles

This a key ingredient of Arthur's training. While everyone else has improved fibers 1-9 with tempo runs and fast training, only the marathon runs at a good pace (1 1/2 - 2 1/2 hours at 90% marathon pace) get to and really change those 10 - 12 fibers, the exact ones that are needed at the end of every race. Through the marathon training they are trained the proper way without oxygen debts (better oxygen usage, better capillary supply, better efficiency). Everyone else slows down but your 10-12 fibers are better conditioned and you maintain your pace.

The next post will discuss how to setup a base program using this model and why combination workouts (back to backs) and faster pace long runs give better results than just hard/easy, and easy running methods. Feel free to ask how specific workouts fit into this model and I'll try to give some explanations.

Training: Today, 10 miles, 1:08:42, 6:52 pace
Monday, 4 miles, 28:36, 7:09 pace
Sunday, 13 miles, 1:29:42, 6:52 pace. Good run with good company
Total miles for the week: 65


Andrew said...

I follow a hard/easy program - at least I think so. Basically, near or at MP, then slower than MP alternately - how much slower depending on fatigue and soreness. The goal is always to complete the mileage.

Would you consider a 12 mile MP run followed by an 18 mile slower run as back to back? After reading the post, I am thinking this might qualify. The 12 miler recruits the higher level fibers due to pace requirements while the 18 miler recruits them due to distance requirements.

Lydiard did advocate 1/2 effort followed by 1/4 effort and so on and so forth. In fact, as I type this, perhaps all his workouts were 'back to back'.

Many times, 'back to back' is interpreted as MP two days in a row. This, intuitively, does seems reserved for only those that have a massage therapist on hand. And does the 'back to back' come at the expense of longer runs and the subsequent 'mileage adaptation' (skeletal stress / fat as fuel / etc.)?


Anonymous said...

Andrew, One thing I will discuss in my next post will be on how different loads affect the next day. You are correct on how Arthur's training were almost all back to backs. When you run something like a MP run of 7-10 miles it puts it's biggest stress on fibers 1-6 now they might recover somewhat for the next day but less say the workout reduces their stamina to 8 miles instead of ten. Now when you run long the next day maybe you can get the effect on fibers 7-10 two miles earlier so an 18 miler might give you the same effect as a 20 miler when rested.

Wayne said...

Interesting! Now I'm starting to wonder which fibers I'm actually using when I train. Keep it coming.

Yvonne said...

oh boy - you lost me somewhere in the 2nd paragraph of that explanation. maybe I'm dumb, or maybe it's the two glasses of wine I've just imbibed...

Mike said...

The coach has made me familiar with most of the elements of this post through some very insightful emails over the last six months. The part I wasn't really tuned into was the bit about tempo runs really not doing much more than activating (or waking up) those last few fibers (10, 11, 12), rather than conditioning them. From the perspective of a marathoner who also wants to race well at shorter distances, knowing that a longer run at 90-97% of marathon will actually condition those last fibers rather than merely activate them for a short period of time (in the form of a tempo run) is good news. You can get much more bang for your buck with these long runs by working all the fibers, and I would imagine this would help in lowering times across all race distances by allowing you to hold your optimum race pace longer without slowing down. In my case I was able to get personal bests by large margins at both 8K and 10 miles without any traditional speed work (V02 max sessions) while simultaneously building my endurance.

Anonymous said...

Makes me feel better about my weekly 20 mile long run at a good aerobic effort. The last six weeks I've hit 69 mpw with a 5 mile race, 70, 70, 70, 70, & I'm on track for 70 this week. Looking forward to 6 weeks of hill training, 4-5 weeks of speed work, and 2-3 week taper - all in an effort to go sub 3 at Boston.

Following this type of schedule I have been flying past people in the last 3-6 miles of my last 2 marathons.

Take care,

Mark in New England

Eric said...

Hey, Mystery Coach. Thanks for another insightful post. This is great stuff.

So my last three runs have gone moderate (1/2-14m-1.5h), moderate (3/4-10m-63min), easy (1/4-17m-2h), with today's easy run feeling like some of the 22 milers from last fall--easy, but with an ever-present feeling of near depletion. Is that what a bunch of rarely used muscle fibers feel like when forced to march, or is that just good old fatigue?

tb1 said...

After reading much about Lydiard's methods over the last 18 months, the information provided by the mystery coach makes sense. What is discouraging for me personally is that you cannot microwave Arthur's training philosophy. You have to put the work in eventually no matter what the distance is that you are training for. Otherwise the other fibers are not activated. No short cuts to maximizing your potential. Great post by the coach. Thanks to you Mike for getting his comments.

Anonymous said...

Eric, What you are feeling is the effort to move up to the next level ( let's say from A to B ). If you were to run 10 miles fast three or four days in a row and did not take in enough carbohydrates for replacement , the first day would use fibers 1-4 , the next day 5-8, and the third day it would require a huge effort to run pace when the unconditioned 9-12 fibers were called in. My next post will explain why some runners fool themselves when they run 10 miles fast then recover with a few easy days then run another 10 miles fast and just recondition fibers 1-4. A proper loading during your running week helps get to all the fibers.

Eric said...

That sounds like what I did during my last build (22m strong, two or three easy days, 15m strong, then three easy days before the next long run). I don't know if it worked because I got injured by a TV, but maybe the fact I was injured by a TV tells me something...

So is the fatigued feeling actually from recruitment of different fibers? The A to B comment lost me. My heart rate for the run was about five beats lower than comparable runs of the same distance and effort in the last eight weeks, yet I felt depleted and tired. The previous runs were not preceded by two days of moderate efforts, however.

Would it be correct to think the O2 and fuel systems were just doing what they normally do at that pace, but the muscle fibers in use just couldn't process what was being sent very well, resulting in the weird 'fullness' of the legs, slight soreness, and general heavy feeling?

Normally, if I feel this way it's because I need recovery. My heart rate on this run doesn't suggest that I do though. It's like my heart and lungs are doing business as usual, but my legs are going on strike.

I should mention I am still following the 'wake up, warm up, ok go!' plan, and not eating anything before heading out the door. The only run I take carbs on is my long run, and I just take in a .5 liter of Gatorade at halfway.

love2runcanada said...

Whoa, this is some serious theory, while many runners (like me) just want to be told what to do so they can improve.

This muscle fibre and pace thing made me look at my recent two 21 mile long runs with Andrew. They were run at a conversational / easy pace (mostly) but the avg pace works out to 94% and 91% of my most recent marathon pace. So I'd assume that I should have recruited all my fibers and run out of gas at 18 or this isn't my MP anymore.

Probably the latter as my endurance may have improved with all the base conditioning I've done since Oct. 1 ... So my question is how do we determine the correct pace as we train toward a goal?

Thanks Mike and Mystery Coach!

Eric said...

Ok, I'm a moron, but with the help of my beautiful blonde assistant, I was able to decipher the A to B comment. I forgot about the ABCDE fiber pyramid.

Carry on, carry on...

Lawrence said...

I've just taken the time to read this. Great stuff.