ARTICLE: A Reckless Experiment?

David Healy posted a comment to my last post which I thought merited a deeper reply:

Doing Lydiard’s training schedules as an experiment is laudable but if you've suddenly increased your training by more than 15%, even over the space of a few months meaning "suddenly", aren't you risking over training and over-use injuries?
I don't know your training history though, just commenting without even knowing you.

It’s a very valid question. Before I answer it for myself, consider this:
- Any change in training volume and/or modality carries the risk of overtraining and overuse injuries
- Current common guidelines of 5-10% tend to be both unspecific, arbitrary and not backed up by scientific data
I’ve increased training from 73k and 390 minutes to 101k and 540 minutes which is a total increase of 28% against the current level and around 37% of the original level. The 30 minutes increase per week was 7.6% from wk1 to 2 and 5.5% in wk 5 to 6. This shows two things to me:
- My increase looks quite radical in total
- When you use percentages to gauge increase volume you can see that the more you run the more you can increase your mileage while keeping the % increase lower (e.g. the more you run the more of an increase you can take in absolute terms)
So back to the question “am I risking overtraining and overuse injuries”? The answer is “yes” but since you cannot increase your performance level without increasing your training level, it’s a risk that I believe a committed runner has to take. Risk mitigation and minimization therefore become the main tasks to secure safe transition to the desired training level. My first mitigation was to start at a volume I had safely handled before (around 75k against a previous max of around 93k).
I have chosen to tie myself to the 9 weeks (preliminarily) as this was the prescribed time Arthur Lydiard’s disciple “Nobby” laid out. Its advantage is that you can reach a truly competitive training volume within a short space of time. Its disadvantage is that this may be too quick as it is a relatively short space of time with no periodisation built in per default.
My own mitigation has been to scale back the pace or distance on days when I felt tired as well as listening to danger signals whenever possible. The first such signal occurred Tuesday and only recurred Sunday. If I coached someone else I would employ a more conservative approach to volume increase (and of course evaluate against their current level). I would never ask someone to do something I haven’t tested on myself, so in order to utilize Lydiard methodology going forward, I’ve decided I have to test it in this form.
It should noted (in fairness to Nobby) that I have breached the rules of the Lydiard training on three occasions (Dublin Novices, Dublin Seniors, and Leinster Novices) as anaerobic training (including racing) should not occur at all during this period. Given the type of soreness experienced I have a feeling it could be linked to my first experiences running in spikes on these three occasions (and the “up on your toes”-style running in cross-country).
On my training background, it’s simply this: Around 3.5-years of regular training with very varying quality and mileages over the period. I have a capacity for long-distance running, though, as early days already showed, but have also had numerous injuries which are further risks factors.
One theory I have is that the most important attribute of a top-class runner is not some mystical “talent” but rather a physical capacity to handle the amount of training required to run at a high-level. There’s three ways to acquire this capacity: Through many years of activity, through exceptional genetics (perhaps) or a combination of both.
With the aspirations I believe it is necessary to establish early in my running career where my current training capacity lies. This means venturing precipitously close to the breaking point (e.g. you can’t find out where your limit is without breaking it). The trick is to break it only a bit so no long-lasting injury occurs (which of course is counter-productive). I need the data for my long-term planning. Since every year of quality training accumulates to form your “maximal peak”, it makes sense to run as many years as possible at that level. Every year running at sub-capacity is an underutilized year. (e.g. I train 2500k in a year where I could have run 3000k safely, I have lost the gains from the remaining 500k). As time is a finite resource this loss cannot be recouped later.
Very simply, I’d conclude that one of the first exercises of developing a successful training plan is to identify the highest possible volume an athlete can safely handle as early as possible in the athlete’s career.