TRAINING: Legendary Sessions and Bad Backs!

I was testing the feasibility of conducting a shorter snappier version of the traditional Lydiard Hill Circuit in Marlay Park this Wednesday night. Lydiard’s old circuit in Auckland took you up Whitney Street (800m), jogging over Donovan Avenue (800m), striding down Boundary Road (800m – Peter Snell would do this in 1:50!), before a series of wind sprints took you the final 800m down Dundale Avenue back to Whitney Street (Livingstone 2009, 113). The world class athletes Arthur trained would be at this for an hour three to six times a week.

In his later years, Arthur suggested “normal” runners could do with as little as two or three sessions per week and stated the circuit didn’t have to be exactly like the one in Auckland. It’s also recommended to start easy with 30 minutes and slowly build up to the hour.

Marlay and Lydiard

There’s a nice square field with a bit of an incline in the It has the advantage that it’s all grass which is nice and soft for the feet. As I noticed, though, the hill wasn’t quite steep enough to make it really challenging and the flat ends at the top and bottom were much too short. On the plus side the grassy descent is perfect for striding down at full tilt, allowing me to do the 220m slope in about 34 seconds equivalent to 2:35min/km pace. This will need to come down below 2:20min/km ideally, a speed that was reached a certain parts of the slope.

As both the ascent and descent were about 200m, I ran back and forth on the flat stretches at the top and bottom to make the recovery period equal. Otherwise the session would become to anaerobic sabotaging proper strength development

Every time 15 minutes had passed I inserted random sprints at the bottom as Arthur had his boys do. During one of these flat recoveries a man in DSD training gear ran over to me and asked if he could jog along on the recoveries.

The Legend

“Is that a Lydiard session, I see there”, he said. I was quick to respond that indeed it was and after that we discussed the merits of the session for a while and he shared his worries about rolling it out in his club, what the injury risk would be etc. To do this, he asked me several questions on my injury-history and with my few years running and catalogue of scar tissue in my legs; he seemed comforted that this session is indeed suitable for most.

I found it amazing that this session is so iconic that it could be recognised from afar. I learned that my running companions name was Declan and his daughter has run for Ireland in the hills. He lauded great praise (deservedly) on Gerry Brady before continuing: “The moment I saw you jog at the top, I know what you were doing.”

I demonstrated the three different drills. I focused on the exaggerated uphill running, which is the easiest and one you can get by on (middle-distance runners rely more on the two advanced exercises than long-distance runners). I also showed him the Hill Springing where the focus is on ankle flexion and vertical displacement (e.g. you are springing “upwards” rather than “forward-upwards”). The hill was clearly not steep enough to make this exercise work well. I then moved on to Hill Bounding, the most technically and physically demanding. I explained that I still struggled a bit with the technique for this one but my focus was on extending the leg backwards in a forceful movement which I did manage to pull off.

Week 8 – Effects on the Body

I kept at the session for 41 minutes, more or less as planned. Like Lydiard’s men I had done a 5k (3 mile) warmup first) and would do the same for cooldown. Also, almost like Lydiard’s athletes, I had done an easy 30 minute hill run in the morning.

Every session I started slightly stiff and with some soreness in the lower limbs. All of them I left feeling better and for the cooldown I was flying. This needs to be put in the context that I have just completed 3 back-to-back 100k plus weeks (something I only managed once previously), that I raced in the weekend, and that the total mileage for the day alone was above 24k. I’m well aware this is not impressive by serious club runner’s standards, but my progression to this point from where I was has been extremely rapid in the recent 8 weeks. My mileage for the year remains low due to my long injury lay-offs but I now look back at my previous training with a feeling of disbelief: How could I ever run so little and how could I ever think I was training at an acceptable level for my ambitions?

High Mileage Philosophy

What makes this increasingly interesting is that it takes 3-4 weeks for training to sink in, so I am not yet seeing the benefits of the 100k plus weeks; instead I’m running on the earlier weeks slightly below 100k.

Yet Lydiard’s thesis is now proven comprehensively correct. I have unlocked the principles of proper aerobic development. I have yet to perfect it, something I will do after I have rested up after Snowdon. This period should see me moving past the 120km mark. My body is now handling the volume so easily that I see no risk in a 4-5 week build-up from 100 to 120km. Speed in the coming years will then have to create the move to 160km and above. Increasing usage of slow jogs will hopefully allow me to match the 200km plus on my feet eventually as well. Certainly, my legs only now start to feel like my own again, a feeling I’ve only had once before. It’s like they crave the high mileage and are in a state of depression until the 100km mark is hit. Can this mean anything else than that they are born for more? Much, much more? I find it remarkable that only 8 weeks after returning from two serious injuries, I can now handle higher mileage than ever with almost no ill-effects.

Getting the Balance Right

Before then, however, I must get the hill training right and get my body ready to transition to full anaerobic training. I’ve done much reflecting on last year’s bungles and after many rereadings of Dr. Keith Livingstone’s book and the material from the Lydiard Foundation, I believe I now grasp precisely how to play the anaerobic phase.

Building anaerobic tolerance should produce a very abrupt performance spike in the 2-4 weeks after this training commences. I must look out for this sometime between Sorrell Hill and Trooperstown, until then performances should be stable but slower. Once it appears, as it hopefully will, all that needs to be done is maintain it through the final taper for Snowdon where all of it will be burned off in one large conflagration one the slopes of the grey Welsh giant.

Back out of Whack!

There’s been some malady in Paradise, though. Today I had a fartlek on the program. I was doing a one-hour session of 45 second hard efforts with 2:15 float on the Waterfall Walk loop in Devil’s Glen. I started my effort at 10k moving to 5k, 3000m and 1 Mile pace before repeating a total of 5 times. With the varying nature of the terrain this was a great session for testing different paces on ups, downs, fast and slow terrain. I added enough warm-up and cooldown to get up to the 10 miles that now seem to be almost a minimal mark for a days work.

However, I’ve had soreness starting in my back for a few days, and after today’s run I had trouble breathing and had huge stiffness around my spine. I hope it’ll sort itself as tomorrow calls for a morning hill run followed by an afternoon Lydiard Session, and I’d hate to miss it when the legs are good and I’m feeling great.

Most of all, I’d hate to miss my test week. I’m dipping my feet in the water next week, replacing two hill sessions with the races at Prince Willie’s and Gibbet Hill. As Coe says “sometimes you do a race and you call it information” and that’s exactly what I need at this stage to make more informed decisions for the final stages of anaerobic training coming up in two weeks’ time: More information. This is the final, critical, piece of the jigsaw as my anaerobic system is currently so deteriorated that it can’t be employed effectively in races.