Training and Racing
Running Faster: An Interview with Arthur LydiardRoland Rust
For the Washington Running Report
The Runner's World Coach of the Century was New Zealand's great running coach Arthur Lydiard. The Washington Running Report's Roland Rust interviewed him on his recent U.S. lecture tour. The great coach died suddenly on December 12, 2004 in Dallas, Texas, at the age of 87, less than a month after this interview, while still on his tour of the U.S. He truly did what he loved until the very end.
WRR: For those who are unfamiliar with your training methods, what are the two or three most important elements of your approach?
Lydiard: I think first of all you have to have a higher oxygen uptake. The higher oxygen uptake level is the key. It's the basis on which you do the speed work. And the other thing is understanding what to do with anaerobic training. You have to know when to stop--don't overdo it.
WRR: What's the biggest mistake that most runners and coaches make in their training programs?
Lydiard: Imbalance in training--aerobic and anaerobic. Too much anaerobic.
WRR: Why have the Africans been so successful in recent years?
Lydiard: The young people, when they're very young, are running big miles up in the hills. Consequently they get down in Nairobi they have a higher oxygen uptake level, which is the basis on which your performance level is governed. They get a little bit of speed work, and the coaches don't really know that much about the conditioning, and the speed work. Consequently the runners break records, because they have a very high oxygen uptake. Basically they're like mountain runners. That's why the head coaches from Kenya didn't do well in Finland. The Finns didn't do all of that running.
WRR: What advice would you give to a college runner who is now graduating and starting to run on his/her own?
Lydiard: Make sure you're keeping a good balance between the aerobic and anaerobic. Get all the aerobic running in that you can.
WRR: The marathon is currently very popular among casual runners. What advice would you give to a less serious runner who wants to run a marathon for the first time?
Lydiard: Well, you have to run 26 miles, whether you're serious or not, so you have to understand that you have to get some long runs in. You have to have muscular endurance and learn to relax, and don't lift your knees too high when you race--save your quads.
WRR: What is your advice about weight lifting?
Lydiard: We don't use weights. We use hills. Hills will give you the ability to stretch the muscles in use--at the same time you get nice even resistance from the body weight on hills.
WRR: What about stretching?
Lydiard: We never stretch very much at all. But the thing is, hill training does that for you. When you're running down a slope, you're stretching right out.
WRR: What are your views on altitude training?
Lydiard: I think it's misunderstood by a lot of people. In New Zealand we had a guy named Mike Ryan who trained at sea level. He got third in the Mexican Olympics marathon at altitude. He'd never been at altitude in his life. Doubell, the Australian, trained at sea level, won the 800 meters in the Mexican Olympics. And where were all these guys who trained in the Pyrenees, and the Urals, and all the high mountain areas? They were all behind him. You see, the name of the game is to get your pulse rate up, put pressure on the heart and the cardiovascular system, at high aerobic levels, and maintain it for a long time to bring about this development, and get muscular endurance as well.
WRR: What do you think about heart rate monitors?
Lydiard: Wouldn't use them. The important thing is to run how you feel.
WRR: What should be the pace of the weekly long run?
Lydiard: How you feel. Run how you feel.
WRR: How should the race be paced?
Lydiard: We always taught our athletes to run the second half of the race faster than the first, so you're holding yourself back to a degree.
WRR: Is it necessary to do sharpening training on a track?
Lydiard: No. You can do it on the grass, or anywhere--on the road, if you protect yourself with good shoes.
WRR: Which is the softest track world record?
Lydiard: 800 meters. I think that's one world record that can be taken. These fast American boys over 400 meters, with a bit of endurance, they can do it. Two 50-second laps is all it takes. Some of those 400-meter runners are finishing up a 45-second 400 looking over their shoulder and just looking around.
WRR: How should a runner choose a pair of training shoes?
Lydiard: We like flexible shoes, to let your foot function. Shoes that let your foot function like you're barefoot- -they're the shoes for me, as long as they have some rubber underneath to alleviate the jarring.
WRR: In your tour of the U.S., what has made you the most optimistic about the future of American running?
Lydiard: Well, there are some coaches who are applying my methods. My methods are being accepted by most countries. The best runners in the world usually adhere to the principles that I use.
WRR: Of what you've seen of the U.S. running scene on this tour, what has disappointed you the most?
Lydiard: A lot of the coaches continue to use excessive anaerobic work. That's detrimental. It's detrimental in the development of the young athletes.
WRR: You've been national coach for four different countries. Suppose for a moment that you were named the U.S. national coach. What would be the most important thing that you would do?
Lydiard: I'd coach the coaches, like I did in Finland. It worked in Finland and it would work here. It's easy to do, because you have computers now.
WRR: What are the biggest misconceptions that people have about your training methods?
Lydiard: Well, that we run 100 miles a week, and that's it. There's very much more to it. Also, we ran more than 100 miles a week. We ran an hour jog in the morning--six mornings-- we never counted that in the 100 miles a week. That's supplementary.
WRR: Which of your books would be the best introduction to your training methods?
Lydiard: Running to the Top, published by Meyer & Meyer in Germany. Also, Distance Training for Young Athletes. That's a good book for young people.
WRR: Thank you very much, Arthur, for sharing your considerable knowledge and expertise with our readers.
Roland Rust coaches a handful of dedicated runners. (His coaching and running resume can be found at Roland Rust Resume.) He also formerly compiled the Washington Running Report Runner Rankings. Roland can be contacted at E-mail.