TRAINING: Understanding progression

Speaking off old records, they are valuable to track if you really want to progress far as a runner. Just look at my 38:28 10k time. Now this record has obviously not aged very well and is on the slow side already for me compared to my better performances, but regardless of this a time will need to come where I can routinely run this at aerobic pace, day in and day out.

That’s when you know that you are doing real Lydiard training and that your steady-state is improving week over hard week and year over year. If the paces that you train at on a daily basis never really change much, why should you suddenly become a different runner in races? You cannot simply go out and force yourself through one hundred miles for a number of weeks, go to the start of the race and believe you will break a certain time.

Quite the opposite, if you put your training into a Lydiard framework and teach yourself how to interpret your daily work, especially in the later stages of training, you performances will become largely predictable.

Half-marathon example

Take a simple example: A runner wants to break 1:20 for the half-marathon. That’s 3:47min/km or 6:06min/miles. In the Lydiard programs your longer runs start out at about 22% slower than your race pace for this distance and progresses towards 20% slower.

Your Out-and-Back, which is a more race specific workout comes much closer starting about 16% from race pace and moving towards 14% (if you are strong enough to use the faster suggested paces at the prescribed intensity, better for you and this probably indicates you’ll run faster than predicted).

For a half-marathon program the out and back is very long and the hypothetical runner could see himself running 21.5km in 90 minutes, in training, in week 10 if he felt on form for it. Clearly, this runner would have a pretty good idea of whether the sub-80 minutes is becoming more achievable (given he’ll be doing that on the back of a very hard week of training).

All this running is at the steady state meaning the runner will have enough in reserve to continue running longer and stronger at the end of his run and has no need to use anaerobic reserves to squeeze out every seconds every kilometre.

And this is before all the peaking starts, hill work and anaerobic sessions over the next week will provide the runner with greater strength, power and anaerobic buffers to plunder seconds off his splits when the big competition day come.

During this period, the runner still stays appraised of what is going on. A half-marathon runner will do weekly Progress Calibration Runs between 54 and 71 minutes which are faster versions of the Out and Back. At the end of the hill phase, this is run within 11.5% of race pace, by the end of the anaerobic phase it drops further to within 9%

If things are not progressing anyway near plan, either you are recovering too poorly to perform, something else is afoul or the training has not had the intended effect. The earlier this is spotted, the more you can correct but as the coordination phase comes around where you have both tune-up races (for the half-marathon often in the form of 5k and 10k as well as 10 milers) at very close or faster than race pace.

When not racing Out and Backs continue but as you are now very close to race day they get significantly shorter and are run at very near or at race pace. One example of a perfectly executed session for this runner would 24k in 96 minutes five weeks out of the race.

This in a nutshell, is how your training tells you whether you are on schedule. Mistaken conclusions are made when you do not let this steady-state pace come to you naturally but instead force it in order to “beat the goal”.

Here you are spending the resources for your race day and not building as effectively as you could. The result will, more often than not, be too high expectations and too low performance on the day.

Steady state pace will develop at its own pace, and as a runner you have to accept its judgment. If it tells you that you are well off your target, this is not a defeat, its merely a postponement. Perhaps you were too optimistic or simply picked the number out of thin air because it sounded like a nice round figure.

Anyone setting objectives like that in the corporate world would be quickly out of business, why would we runners expect such practice to be any more successful? There is rarely a way to skip intermediary steps and there are few if no quick fixes to suddenly propel you forward. A very rapid weight loss (if you were overweight) or going from no training to good training, are examples of things that could substantially alter your performances in a short period of time, but in the longer run, progression will be steady, predictable and incremental.

There’s a reason sudden bursts in performance attract the anti-doping agencies – because they are unusual, rare and suspicious. If you want to remake yourself from a sub-40 minute 10k runner to a 31-minute 10k runner, you must arm yourself with patience, discipline and the expectation of nipping away at that goal over a substantial amount of seasons. But isn’t it better this way? Would this sport be so satisfying if our path was not so difficult?