ARTICLE: Faith in Lydiard

I am a man of science not a man of faith. Indeed, like many “New Atheists”, I consider the notion of faith one of the most dangerous of all human characteristics for not only does it require you to accept ideas for which there are no evidence but more often than not it requires you to take action in accordance with beliefs that have been comprehensively disproved.

So when I am told “have faith in the program” by Nobby Hashizume, Lydiard’s disciple (pun intended), I am speaking of a different semantic conjugation of the word “faith” (one often used to confuse by religious apologists). It’s the faith we have that our friends will stand up for us in our hour of need, the faith we have that our spouses probably like us more than the average person, and the faith we have that certain ideas will work better than others. The better word for this use of the word “faith” is “trust” as in reliance, not in the blind form, but a certainty based on experience or that of others.

Why we believe that airplanes are safe? Well, because we can see they seem to take off and land most of the time and qualified engineers told us they will work. Why do we believe the doctor’s diagnosis? Well, because medicine has a long track record of working more often than not and our doctors are trained by systems we also trust because know it takes hard work and dedication to get through it. Most of all, if you keep killing people or yours drugs don’t work, people stop using them.

In many ways, this makes Lydiard a true empirical scientist for science is the art of what works in the real world. Sure, quantum physics seem quite abstract, but they predict events in the real world with absolute certainty and have not yet failed to work. The Lydiard method is a less precise science to be exact (if a “one-size-fits-all” formula exists for running training we are yet to discover it) but it has a proven track record. And the man himself? Should we trust him as a coach of several Olympians, a former marathon champion and a man whose methods are employed by the vast majority of top performers in athletics? Why not, he fulfils the criteria: In general, his methods have just worked.

Staying the course

With this in mind, I’m proud that through a period of doubt, I have stayed true to the principles of Lydiard. As I completed my two mornings jogs of this first week (yesterday and today), the transformation moved quickly forward.

Despite upping the volume, my soreness is decreasing, not increasing and so is performance. Despite the good pace of my 90-minute run, I managed to further increase quality during my marathon-pace run from my house out towards the Wicklow Gap and back (on the tarmac). I had an hour scheduled and did an hour and twenty-six seconds. I eased in with a slow first kilometre but still managed a good pace of 4:27min/km dropping down to my half-marathon pace (3:52min/km) on a few downhill bits. With soreness and running in the pitch-dark at the end, this was a pleasing performance despite my predicted marathon pace (based on half-marathon race time) being 4:07min/km. Time will get me there.

Not only that, the two days including morning jogs, have seen me loosen up and produce some of my best work in a long time, actually imbuing me with energy rather than draining it out. It is almost like once you have crossed the 100km barrier, you cannot safely return as your body rejoices at a return to a more natural state when we went hunting and gathering all day rather than wasting away in office chairs, our joints and muscles rotting by the moment.

And our innate laziness will always try and help destroy us and perhaps this is part of what Lydiard wanted to protect us from. If I look at my natural instincts this week I wanted to quit half the runs before I had even started, take a break, and heal my wounds. But seemingly, active rest is better; as Lydiard preached (again pun is intended!). Yesterday, my first instinct was to keep a slower pace (don’t risk injury!) but once I got going I felt better running faster and my joints where more comfortable at that pace which felt natural and liberating.

The morning jogs seem to do what they say on the package: E.g. improve recovery and the quality of your afternoon sessions. It also became clear to me during the runs the last few days that I have clearly been training well below my natural ability, failing to fully harness the power within by getting the balance of what aerobic intensity I chose wrong.

Long Slow Running is not what Lydiard meant exactly as this quote points out: "Long even-paced running at strong speed increases strength and endurance, even when it is continued close to the point of collapse."

He got more cautious with novices for whom the challenge was simply to make it from lamp-post to lamp-post but once this level of fitness is achieved (as it is for most athletes), the above approach reflects the core tenets of his training methodology more precisely.

Another example

Take another example of this working: An athlete I work with had been out injured for well over a year. So I thought “how would Lydiard approach this”, well, first we went with the medical professionals and waited to ensure that the injury had really fully gone away and then as the symptoms diminished we introduced more and more slow jogging at a conservative but persistent rate. On some days it was as little as fifteen minutes and only 3-4 times a week, but from small seeds grow big strong trees but you can’t plant a running tree without running.

And now you ask? Well, the athlete is nearing completion of the ninth (and hardest) of a standard ten week Lydiard base-training and result so far have been extremely positive, showing fantastic adaptation to strong aerobic paces and very quick return of running fitness. Not only that, going from being injured, the athlete now looks set for a new weekly mileage record! How many would have the faith to attempt and do this in 10 weeks cautioned by Runner’s World and other sources as we have become?

Like this athlete, I now again feel that despite my travails, all the aerobic running done is not forgotten and foundations of concrete have been built which will be there. A point in case: Before this season I had never run above 100km per week. I now seem able to do this as a matter of fact. I will break it this week despite my initial troubles.

As Barry Minnock said in his interview with MST: “Never look back.” In this context it implies that once you can handle 100km comfortably, be careful not to drop below it again and lose what you have. The body only keeps improving if stress is increased, otherwise it turns complacent (it’s a lazy, energy-conserving organism by design). The high mileage is not unnatural, it’s a return to a more primeval and natural state, the trick is just in managing this journey home…