Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Trial of Trials

There have been a few comments on the 5K evaluation trials (I won't call them time trials anymore to save some confusion) yesterday and last week. When I posted yesterday in the comments that I was wishing the 5K had been broken up into mile repeats, which would have made the workout much easier, the coach sent along some of Arthur Lydiard's words on the purpose and usefulness of these workouts for both evaluation and sharpening/coordination during the racing season. The following is a bit of Arthur's text from the coach's email, it's long but I think it's interesting-

"Something I learned years ago, if you give your body a job to do often enough, you can accustom your body to do it. This also applies to running distance on a track providing control and progressive intensity so you can accustom yourself to it. So, in this period I also used these time trials. Now maybe I worded this wrongly; it is a matter of seeing how fast an athlete can run but it is poor for coordination purposes. If we get an athlete to run over 5,000 meters, say two, three or four times a week at regulated speed and gradually increasing the tempo as he sharpens. As his body sharpens, and as he races and develops racing with it, we are starting to improve him very rapidly. As I said before, you can very quickly develop this ability and its dependent on the height of our steady state.

Now these time trials are very important and I think that back in 1960 I had a distinct advantage because in those days everyone was using the Gerschler type of interval training. They had accustomed their athletes to running around the track and having a short rest spell. Even before Rome, the coaches were starting to be aware of the fact that their athletes had weaknesses and they had accustomed their athletes to running so far, then they required a rest spell. They were running maybe 400 meters fast and a 400 meter jog so they then cut the interval down to 400 meters fast and a 200 meter jog. They got to the stage where they had an athlete running across the track doing 400 meters fast and 110 meters slow. In those days I used to say I don’t know why they have an interval at all. Why don’t they do what I do with my athletes, make them run all the way? This is what we were doing, running all the way at regulated speed.

So here they had athletes against mine in Rome who were accustomed to having a rest spell during the race whereas my athletes could run all the way continuously without a break. They could run strongly and evenly all throughout the race. And this is why I was able with Halberg in Rome to get him to spring away with three laps to go in the 5,000 meters. I knew that the athletes he was running against would want a breather somewhere with about three or four laps to go. The pace would slacken and they would want a breather because they were used to it. This is the way they were trained. They were used to this breather that built up their reserves just to come in fast. While they were having their breather, I taught Halberg to put in a 60 second lap, if he could, because that was their weakness and that was his strength. You couldn't do that now because everyone is doing his own type of training and they are coordinating them better.

These time trials are the key to balancing your program and to help find the weaknesses of your athlete. So, for instance, if you have two athletes who are 3 milers and even if you go through all of this training, you will still find natural abilities showing. In other words, if a man has good natural speed, altogether he will have a certain advantage if he is one of these nervy people who leaves the mark fast and hangs on, or the other type of fellow who couldn't go early and hangs back. You will find these abilities still predominant. You have to realize we have athletes who aren't sharpened; they haven’t raced over middle distance or distance. In this period I started to sharpen them and put them over, say the 3 mile. If these boys had run 3 miles the previous year and their best tine was 14 minutes, I would tell then to go out and run evenly and strongly, bearing in mind that you are not in racing condition. You are not really sharpened properly but run evenly and strongly and come in pleasantly tired. So they go out and come in about 15 minutes which is usually about what this first trial will show; about a minute or 3/4 of a minute off their best. You will still see that the athlete who goes off fast, the nervy type, will lead early, and the other guy will be hanging back and coming home strongly at the finish. From this we have a time and we know the condition of these athletes at this stage; we now have to sharpen them  and we have to race them. Now, if I have an athlete who is showing signs of running off quickly at the start, and tiring at the end or the other athlete who is coming on at the finish but he couldn't go early, well, that latter athlete who couldn't go early and is coming on at the end, I would give under distance races. And, the other fellows who were going well at the start and dying at the finish, I would give over distance races. I started to coordinate it this way.

These early races are development races and they are not serious or big competition. As we race and as we sharpen and further progress with the time trials; we can learn very much from them. During the first time trials we didn’t give lap times; after this we have a key to the condition of our athlete for 15 minutes. The next tine trial we can cut down 10 seconds and run them to lap times and we try to keep them running evenly all the way with these lap times. Because they are now athletes who are well conditioned and who haven’t been sharpened very quickly, their times will come down. You say to an athlete, “I want you to run 10 seconds faster this time,” maybe three days after the other one and he will say, “Look, I ran that other one the other day, and I was pretty tired. I don’t think I can run much faster.” You will have to hold those guys back because they will improve so very quickly if they haven’t done a lot of anaerobic work and they have conditioned well. They improve very, very rapidly, just as I said my athletes would do when they went to the Olympics on limited anaerobic work and limited racing. This is the way I used those time trials, always to find the weakness of the athlete by applying certain criteria that I knew the evaluation of. I could strengthen the weaknesses and get coordinated running. It is all very simple but let’s realize it, the Russians don’t understand it. They like their own way better."

In the text Arthur Lydiard is referring to the 1960 Olympics, "where on a hot September day in Rome, within the space of one hour, Peter Snell took Gold in the 800 metres (a new Olympic record) and Murray Halberg won Gold in the 5000 metres. There have been many great moments in New Zealand sport, but that effort is arguably New Zealand’s finest. The two athletes were instantly stars on the global stage and Lydiard, unofficial though he might have been, had become the world’s most respected athletics coach." Here is a link to the tribute page where I lifted this quote.

Anyway, I take the "blind" trial last week to be like the first 3 mile trial Arthur mentions, where he says athletes generally come in 45 seconds to a minute off their racing best. This helped establish the baseline of my current speed (or lack of it). The trial this week where I held 5:30 pace I take to be like the following trial Arthur mentions, cutting down around 10 seconds a mile and running evenly by the watch. Hopefully in the coming weeks these trials will find me running both faster and more relaxed. Thanks again to the coach for pointing out this text by Lydiard.

Today's run was the assigned 80-90 minutes at about 6:40 pace. I worked the average pace down to the prescribed number by the time I finished the fourth mile, and from there the body decided that 6:37 pace worked better. I ran the same three mile loop four times, which has about 125 feet of elevation change per loop. I prefer training with these ups and downs, as it gives me some practice holding pace on the uphills while relaxing a bit on the downhills. I was a bit tired by mile 9, and by mile 11 I was counting the minutes until I was finished, but I was able to hold the same pace through 13 miles without feeling overly spent. Another 10K with the Running Shop gang will give me a good day of miles.

Training: 13 miles, 1:25:41, 6:37 pace


Eric said...

So, another question. What is the difference between what you just did, an evaluation, and a race?

Help me understand why you would or would not, at this point, go out and run an even paced 5k in, say, 16:18 to evaluate your condition, rather than running an even 17:00?

You're learning exactly where you are at with the race, but you're setting an arbitrary, albeit closer benchmark with the evaluation. Are the negatives of racing at this point outweighing the benefits of knowing your true condition?

I'm wondering because I am planning on a 5000m race in ten days or so. Mike challenged me to do it, so if it's the wrong thing, I wanted to publicly shame him for goading me into it. =)

Mike said...

In yesterday's comments I said, "I try to go into these evaluations from regular training (I don't save up by going super easy or tapering). Because of that I certainly run a bit slower and feel less smooth. I also was told to hold 5:30 pace, which feels like a much different challenge than going as fast as possible and sprinting at the end. Make no mistake, this was a tough workout, but the effort felt like 90% of a race effort at the very worst parts." That's pretty much the difference. I also recover from these by the next day, which is much quicker than I recover from a race.

I think in your case you need to decide if you want an evaluation race or if you just want to race. If you want the former, don't taper, race fast and even but don't shred your legs with a big kick at the end (like your 7/8, no sprint Lydiard reference). If you just want to race, ease off a few days, use your best tactics, and shred your legs at the end and spend a few days getting them back.

Actually, when I was saying let's race what I really meant was for each of us to do 5K on our prospective roads and compare, but I'm excited to see how it goes for you.

Personally I like development races, as I did 4 races in three months at the limit during my marathon build.

Mike said...

That was a long reply that didn't really answer some of the questions. I wouldn't try to run a 5K right now in 16:18 because at the end of the month I want to run an all out 10K in 33:30 or thereabouts. I can do more to improve my fitness in these remaining weeks by leaving a little bit on the table (which made 13 at 6:37 pace possible today).

As far as knowing true condition by racing all out goes, I think it's a crapshoot to try to figure out 100% as sleep, motivation, recovery and everything else knowable and unknowable comes into play for an "all-out" effort. Plus, too many all-out efforts can drag your condition down. I think you can get more reliable and consistent data from several sub-max efforts, then tweak accordingly as Arthur mentions in the text.

Evan said...

Good discussion. The history of Lydiard's ideas is interesting, how he was reacting against (and learning from) the interval training which really did teach people to run fast and then take a break. In its time the Lydiardian time trial was a real innovation, and it still has a lot of utility.

The interval-trained athletes who Halberg and Snell beat were good examples of people who had become good at their training, but had not prepared to race. That's a trap for any training program -- you want to repeat some benchmark workouts so you can measure progress, but you don't want to do the same workout too often.

That has always been "my problem" looking at the Lydiard schedules with their emphasis on time trials, that you become good at doing that kind of workout. Though I would say that because they are much closer to simulating race efforts it's not as much of a problem as with 400m intervals.

The benefit of having some interval sessions, a total of 6000-10000m at 5km pace in 1000-1600m increments, is that you can accumulate a lot of time at 5km pace without getting too tired. Obviously running 5 miles continuously at 5km pace would be ummm ... challenging.

But 1000m-2000m intervals at 5k-10k pace do have some benefits. Not all the time, or you'd just get good at letting up the effort after 3-7 minutes at pace rather than 400m.

Just my 0.02 worth.

D said...

Your site is always filled with such informative information. So if I ever get the opportunity to run with you, the only way I can keep up with you is if you are pushing both your children - and even then it won't be a cake walk for me. Sad.

Eric said...

The gauntlet has been thrown down! I will run 5k on my dead flat roads in zero degree weather, and you will run 5k on your hilly roads, and we shall see what my excuse is for backing out of the challenge.

Are there any real negatives to racing flat out, or at 7/8, during base training? Arthur talked about never going anaerobic during base because it would basically start the peaking process early. But at the same time, some of his workouts in the base phase incorporated short-duration anaerobic elements for fiber recruitment, power, and form development.

Is there a substantial difference between the anaerobic component of racing a 5k (for example) and that of a fartlek run including 200 meter strides with long recoveries?

Mystery Coach said...

Eric, What are you evaluating with your "evaluation trial"? During the sharpening phase it should be used to check the coordination of "speed work" and steady work ( you'll try work on going faster will less and less effort (look to start 15-20 second slower per mile than your best). During the base phase you should run the same hard relaxed pace (just about the same time every week 20-25 seconds per mile slower) and check for recovery ( it should come more quickly as you become fitter)

Eric said...

I'm wondering why Arthur says not to race during the base phase. What does it really do physiologically that is so detrimental?

Anonymous said...

Maybe the problem in understanding is not what you're doing but the terms you are using. I'd refer to these "evaluations" or "time trials" as tempo runs as chalk them up just as hard training, rather than get into the racing in training pitfall. Suely all hard sessions feel like "90% of race pace at the very worst parts."
Anyway here's a question why race as infrequently as 4 times in three months? Do you use races as hard training?
Anyway it's a very informative blog. Cheers

Mystery Coach said...

Eric, Your last comment exposes what I find as a an incorrect evaluation of Arthur's system. I've pointed out before most of the time during the year his group was in a racing season. They had a cross country season ( true cross country running not track racing on grass like here in the US), they had a road racing season, they had a speed build up for track and then they had an extended track race season where they trained very lightly. The anonymous post makes a good point about the amount of racing ( and a good point about the terms of fast running). In reality every run except races are run at a sub maximum speed. Most runners get stuck and stagnate in the base conditioning phase. Go back and look through your log, when was the last time you raced? When was the last time you ran faster than 5:30 a mile?

One other point I should make is that running in a very hilly environment negates the need for evaluation runs. One course (13 miles) that my runners ran on had three hills ( one gained 800 feet over the course of a mile (5 mile mark), 300 feet over a quarter mile (7 miles) and 650 feet over 3/4 mile (12 miles). Even after our conditioning season (9-12 weeks) the effects of those hills allowed them to run within 20 seconds of their best for 2 miles and 30 seconds of their best for 3 miles. ( Just as a side point they use to love taking 2:35 marathoners on that course for the first time and then watch them walk up that last hill ( the marathoners had no leg strength) Not one that they invited made it up the first time. In someways Arthur's runner even during the conditioning phase got leg strength work also.

Eric said...

Well said, anonymous.

Eric said...

So they were always racing, never fully in 'base' training mode, so there was no racing during base training because there was no base training?

I was hoping you could address the myth that going anaerobic during base was somehow irreversibly damaging to the athlete's condition. Arthur mentions avoiding anaerobic training in the marathon schedules in 'Running With Lydiard', but I don't see that he explains his reasoning. This has been reinforced by a number of the coaches, especially HADD and the rest of the Low Heart Rate gang, over on

Ultimately, all this information has gotten me to the point where I'm afraid to jump in a 5k for fear of somehow losing or severely damaging what I have built up since October. I finally realized it's stupid to think that any fast workout, race or otherwise, would cause anything negative to happen to your condition, barring an injury.

I thought it was a good topic for discussion, though, since it's a pervasive concept.

Mystery Coach said...

Eric, In your case I wouldn't recommend racing an all out 5K during base training. From what I can tell you live in a flat area. I mentioned that hills can replace the effects of the evaluation run, the reason is when you run up a hill all your fibers have to fire to generate the force to get up that hill. From one study I have here:

Not necessarily. Dr. Phillip Gollnick, an exercise physiologist and biochemist at Washington State University has shown that the recruitment of additional muscle fibers is determined by the amount of force required by the muscle, not the speed. What this suggests is that you can increase your speed by increasing the force your leg muscles can exert.

The best way to increase the force your legs can produce while running is to run uphill. Uphill running will increase the power of your leg muscles, and you can translate this into increased speed. And while you won't be able to completely replace speedwork, you should be able to reduce the frequency of interval sessions. Hill training can also provide a welcome alternative to going to the track on a cold, windy day."

It is interesting that you bring up HADD. If you go and read that whole thread you'll see that he does start off with easier running but you'll also see that he adds two things that somehow everyone making the easy running case ignores. He adds a session of 200s at 5K pace ( for bio-mechanical reasons) and every 4-6 weeks has HR test runs of progressive 2000 meters ( they look fairly stiff to me by the fifth 2000).

You have to have a balanced approach to your training. Arthur even had athletes doing weight training ( and leap frogging with sandbags) when they lived in flat areas ( Denmark)).

Fiber recruitment and coordination is important. You must first activate fibers then by extending their work capacity by increasing duration.

To run 2:27 (5:37 pace) for a marathon requires a good amount of efficiency and coordination at that pace. From where you are now you shouldn't just jump to that level.

I have to get going so I'll add to this later.

Mike said...

I think Arthur was a bit more dogmatic towards the end of his life regarding the whole "no racing during base training" thing. Here is an article in Running Times where he chastises anyone who does anaerobic training during the base phase. "Doing something at the wrong time was a waste of both time and effort. When I asked his advice for the typical club runner who does 40 miles a week and one speed workout with the club each week, he became animated: "First thing: No. No. Never do anaerobic work in conditioning. Never. Ever. That’s one of the first things: You don’t do it. Don’t even try. Don’t even run fast to the finish. That’s the one thing you’ve got to learn." "For how long?" I asked. "At least 12 weeks. . . . The whole program takes six months.""

Statements like these confuse me as well, Eric, though the coach is certainly right when he says that Lydiard's best athletes were racing most of the year (like the schedule he mentions above). In my experience I feel a few development races have served me well. I think perhaps Lydiard was worried people would overdo things, so he erred on the side of caution in some interviews.

Eric said...

Yes, Mike...thank you for finding that. Absolutes can be very confusing to those trying to make interpretations of dogma (which is why we have had wars over religion since the beginning of, well, religion), especially because reality is invariably infused with bits of contradictory evidence, such as what you mentioned about the racing Arthur's boys did. In the end I guess dogma is absolute, and evidence is irrelevant in that context, so what do we expect. =)

So, turning to science, I'm still wondering, is there any physiological basis for saying that racing during conditioning is 'bad', or is it just a convenient myth to shorten the conversation with those 40 mile a week (or injury-prone 100 mile a week) runners who will get hurt, bored, or otherwise shifted out of their goal progression?

Mark said...

Mike, Were you the club runner referred to when asking Arthur?

Mystery Coach said...

One of the things you'll notice about Arthur's thoughts is that his that his original speeches and talks were empirical in nature (pre 1964). After he attained fame he was exposed to the world of physiologist with their terms aerobic, anaerobic, threshold, VO2Max did he try to fit what he knew with what they were saying. Back in the early 1980's I asked Dr. David Costill about this and his reply was illuminating: "In 10-20 years we might be able to figure out what Arthur knows" In a lot of ways practical running knowledge has been hijacked by physiologist.

In an ideal buildup all your running should be aerobic ( steady state and just below ), it should progress so that more and more fibers are conditioned (made to work longer) without oxygen debt ( it takes a long steady run to get to all the fibers and make them work for a long time). Hilly courses activate even more fibers.

Mark said...

never mind my question, I spotted the quote in Jonathan Beverly's article on your Running Times link

Mystery Coach said...

To answer this:

So, turning to science, I'm still wondering, is there any physiological basis for saying that racing during conditioning is 'bad'

Yes and I'll explain most of that with an example in my next post on the blog. When you add fast training before the fibers are brought up to speed (of oxygen transfer) you overwhelm them. Any fiber only can bring oxygen across the wall so fast (and get rid of lactate so fast). This can be developed very quickly but it must be done in a methodical way.