ARTICLE: Lydiard Experiment Concluded

6 weeks with 46.5 hours and 525km of running, two broken feet (exaggeration fully intended), a resting heart rate of 38 and about a kilo body weight dropped (of a low starting total of 69). Such stands the net results of my Lydiard Experiment. I completed 6 of 9 weeks in an attempt to test if I could move from 6.5 hours to 10.5 hours of running within the period mentioned by Lydiard's protege Nobby Hashizume.

Little doubt remains in my mind that a physiological assessment would show my best ever aerobic conditioning and this after just 6 weeks. I'll expand on this claim further down.

My train reached its terminus at 9 hours and 100.86km, a new record for me (in mileage not in time as I once did a 9 hour run in one day) and during this time I could for the first time start to appreciate the time and commitment that elite athletes invest.

Let me first address some recent comments on my post, then move on to how my experiment diverted from "proper Lydiard principles", and the I will finish up talking about what I learned from this experience, how it felt, and what it means for the future.

Recent Comments
Before I start my conclusion on the Lydiard Experiment I conducted on myself, let me thank John and Tatiana for their comments on my last post. For Tatiana: Its always welcome to hear stories from runners who have shared a common injury especially to see how the experiences overlap. I'm obviously consoled by the fact that you describe symptoms of "barely being able to walk" as my symptoms are much gentler (meaning I definitely caught it early and can hopefully come back faster than the two months you mention). And you must tell us how you got on in your race without the training!

For John, I find your perspective on the experiment very refreshing and actually not exactly how I intended to look at it myself. But you are right, it would have been difficult to stop without being forced to stop, whilst, obviously, I had hoped for something slightly more benign (such as mild overtraining which I could have cleared in a week). I think there's good reason that bones and ligaments gave out before muscle, mind and energy, however, and I'll talk a bit about that now. And knowing where "the line" currently is may prove a very powerful insight for future planning.

The week after the damage was done was the 41st lowest mileage week out of the 46 weeks I've been running this year (I managed only 35k plus some drills). This week I hope will bring me around 66k (I've managed 42k before the weekend, 20 of which I did on Tuesday) and if this foot is stable on Sunday, I may be able to hover around this training level (around the 40 miles) until the foot clears.

My hips have been extremely tight in recent days which John explains is a common symptom of the adaptations happening. As muscles get damaged they tighten to make them stronger and more energy-efficient. However, if they lose too much of their natural range of motion this can aggravate some minor bio-mechanical flaws that a runner already exhibits. My theory is that I feel this extra now as my muscles are getting the first chance to really heal and tighten since the start of the 6 week period (because of the lower mileage).

John will show me some tricks on how to work on getting correct range of motion back in the hip, but wants me to focus on one thing at a time first. So this is where I stand but let's look at the experiment that brought me here.

The "Lydiard" Experiment
My experiment was really more of a test, it certainly didn't live up to the criteria of a correct scientific experiment:

  1. It wasn't double-blinded (e.g. I self-experimented and knew the desired outcome as a result)
  2. It was compromised by bias (for the reason above)
  3. I digressed from the set out parameters (more on that below)
  4. There was no control group (e.g. in my case similar athletes performing a different type of volume). Indeed you can conclude nothing generic from an experiment of one
  5. Outside factors: There are numerous other factors than the Lydiard training itself that could have contributed negatively (and positively) to the outcome
However, despite these shortcomings, which means we cannot conclude anything for or against the Lydiard principles, the experiment was a reasonable test of my key question: Can I, as a more or less average Joe, reach 10.5 hours of running within 9 weeks.

The answer is "no" but I don't think too much would have needed to go differently for the experiment to succeed.

I did a number of things that Lydiard would never have done:

  • I raced (thrice in the cross-country, the capital offense against his principles)
  • I did 1-2 track workouts per week (Lydiard generally spoke ill of the track, although he did employ it)
  • I ran through pain symptoms on two occasions
  • I ran mostly on trails (Lydiard preferred even terrain for the majority of runs)
All of these may have prevented the injury, or they may not.

To be continued...