ARTICLES: Lydiard to the Rescue

I have had the feeling over the last month’s that while my long Base and Intensity phase this year had the intended effect of injury-proofing my legs, other signs of fatigue were becoming disturbingly prevalent, so much in fact, that I had started to forget how it feels to be fresh.

The fatigue seemed to be related to my hormonal balance (biochemistry) and central nervous system. Symptoms were ranged from the simple (tiredness, thirst, drowsiness) to the complex (slightly elevated resting HR, unusual minute performance fluctuations across workouts). I re-read key passages of the Lore of Running and held the theory against the training regime I followed early in the year (when I felt like flying) and later in the year (when mental fatigue and poor race performances set in).

From this I concluded that two main causative factors seemed to be triggering the fatigue syndrome:

1. Erosion of my aerobic base

2. Excessive anaerobic training

Anaerobic training is “poisonous” to the system for two reasons:

· It causes long-term fatigue (either through excessive acidosis or excessive muscular damage or both, the exact scientific cause still clings somewhat on to what extent the Central Governor Theory is correct and to what extent the Cardio-Vascular Model is incorrect. The effects are the same, however, so for the normal runner the physiological cause is of less importance)

· It erodes or comes at the expense of your aerobic base

I had built numerous “fail-safes” into my system such as 4-week periodization, controlled mileage, and a dictum of “running by feel” no matter what Target Pace I had set for workouts. However, in retrospect, my TPLs have been too aggressive and my commitment to programme to absolute. The lack of muscular fatigue (e.g. sore legs!) blinded me to the fact that I was piling more intensity into my schedule than my overall system was willing to accept.

Psychological fatigue may also have set in from my decisions to forfeit a lot of races in favour of training (e.g. I didn’t give myself enough “prizes” for the hard work). Emma’s physiological tests last season would have picked up on what was happening and I have to consider finding another exercise physiologist to work with. I also experienced previously unknown fatigue symptoms such as immense cravings for caffeine, snacks and sugar which is a clear sign that your endocrinological system is so stressed out that its craving anything that can restore a temporary sense of relief.

Return of Arthur Lydiard

Almost no matter what training methodology you employ, the key element is to develop your aerobic base as far as possible (this is seen as the “foot” of the pyramid) and then at the final stages of training you put the top on in the form of a short, specific period of anaerobic work. Arthur Lydiard has probably been the main proponent of this intensive focus on aerobic conditioning (incidentally, Emma Cutts operated with me on a similar model with great success in 2007-2008).

Lydiard comes as a pretty safe bet to most runners. The Runner’s World elected him “Coach of the Century”, but despite this he is generally unjustly vilified by many modern coaches and widely misunderstood (the latter was somewhat his own fault as Lydiard himself always elicited a certain antipathy against delving into details about his training methods. He was very much a man who “worked things out through common sense with his athletes”).

Cross-checking my programme from the early stages of the year, I noticed that despite being founded on the newer understanding of fatigue (that its caused by the brain as a response to numerous feedback signals emanating from the body in response to stress), my programme was basically “Lydiardian”:

· No anaerobic workouts during my Base phase (Lydiard’s dictum exactly. He confirmed this in an interview as late as a few days before his death)

· Use of fartlek with short bursts of speed (Lydiard employed this to maintain leg speed, Matt recommended programming the brain for higher motor-unit recruitment, essentially the same thing)

· A large variation of aerobic paces practiced

· Use of short and sharp hill sprints

Especially the variation of aerobic paces from the recovery pace (very easy) to marathon pace (steady) seemed to yield great beenfits.

Two things I did differently than a standard Lydiard programme (although Arthur Lydiard himself would rightly have maintained that there was no such thing. Only principles are standardised, programmes should not be):

· My fartleks had 30 seconds speed bursts. For minimal anaerobic damage the Lydiard Foundation advocates the use of 10 seconds (alactic energy only) sprints during the Base phase (generally referred to as “Conditioning phase” by Lydiard, by the way).

· My volume increased from the Base phase to the Intensity phase in line with Sleamaker’s recommendations from the SERIOUS programme

· Lydiard advocated hill drills (hill sprints, bounding and springing) during a special phase after base training, not during.

In retrospect and moving into next year, I believe Lydiard’s recommendations will be more beneficial to me than Sleamaker’s (e.g. shorter and snappier sprints and more volume in the Base phase relative to the Intensity phase).

On Matt Fitzgerald’s hill sprints vs. Lydiard’s hill training period, I will have to weigh the pros and cons against each other for a bit. At the moment, I’m inclined to say that as long as flat sprints are done in the Base phase, it could be more beneficial to wait with the hill drills until the later time suggested by Lydiard.

To thoroughly inform myself on the thoughts of the great man, I picked up a copy of “Healthy Intelligent Training” written about the Lydiard philosophy of training by Keith Livingstone and endorsed by the Lydiard Foundation (I picked it up in Waterstones). As all books from the Lydiard Foundation it’s an easy read with some great anecdotes and no end of humour.

The Immediate “Cure”

Having studied most of the books already, I believe a few quick fixes will bring me back on track for 2009:

1. Take full advantage of the planned rest week this week in Denmark

2. Continue the last few days diet of stable aerobic running until I start to feel better again

3. Remove all anaerobic elements (the 3k and 10k pace interval workouts) from the base phase

4. Replace the track work in the first stage of the next intensity phase by the hill-work and speed drills advocated by Lydiard (I’ll talk of this in detail in a later chapter)

5. Lessen the overall volume of quality track work in the final stages of the cross-country season

Coming into 2010 I can harness the many lessons learned from my first year of “self-coaching” to blend the proven Olympic-winning Lydiard principles with the latest scientific knowledge presented by Matt Fitzgerald. The main sacrificial lamb on this altar will by Sleamaker’s SERIOUS programme.

The Anaerobic Approach: Changes for 2010

The main usefulness I derived from Sleamaker’s programme was that it gave me a means of quantifying my overall exercise workload from week-to-week, from phase-to-phase and from exercise type to exercise type.

However, I have felt obliged to stay within the system and tailoring my weeks so the stay within the criteria has sometimes been a bit of a pain. Now that I have one year of experience under my belt I know more or less what type of volume I can handle and for how long at my present stage of fitness. In other words, I don’t need the rigid constraints in 2010.

Instead, I’ll change to a more flexible approach, based on both Lydiard’s and Matt Fitzgerald’s principles:

1. Pick my key events

2. Count the number of weeks from training start to key events

3. Use Matt’s and Lydiard’s advice on how many weeks of aerobic, specific and peaking training is advisable and see how I can create a reasonable distribution based on this

I’ll continue to use most of this year’s principles such as planning runs by time (not mileage), periodization (lesser volume every four weeks) and Target Pace Levels (but I’ll be more conservative with these) but will not aspire to hit the percentage in Sleamaker’s system. Instead once I have a baseline established, I simply increase or decrease my overall weekly volume and my individual workouts from there.

This should put me in a more flexible mind-set, particularly when I get injured or ill and have to change things for other reasons such as a change of priorities or as a response to poor racing or training performance.

I will also still employee the classical two-peak season (well-known from international athletics where many athletes focus for Track in Summer and Cross-Country in Winter, for me, simply substitute “hills” for “Track”). Funnily enough, a part of me is dying to try an 800m and 1500m race someday. Keith Livingstone presents the view in his book that it usually only becomes apparent what an athlete’s real potential is after years of aerobic conditioning and its sometimes not the type of racing the runner would have expected to begin with.

So here’s to next year. With the guidance of Lydiard’s and Fitzgerald’s principles and the much-needed experience gained from designing my programme all year. Based on these principles I’ll try and devise my own user-friendly system to use for designing programmes for my friends and others who are interested. I hope to share this programme as it evolves (indeed it should never stop evolving!) over the Winter months.