I recently read Arthur Lydiards’ biography and also his coaching book, "Running to the Top". Older athletes may recall this coaching superstar. Many credit him with the world wide running boom in the 70's. He was an uneducated shoe factory worker who also had a milk delivery route at night, but he was also a runner. He loved experimenting on himself. Gradually, a few of the local track athletes sought him out for training advice. It turns out he was incredibly wise and insightful. He took a bunch of no name athletes and turned them into world and Olympic champions. His greatest runner was Peter Snell. Snell won 800m Olympic gold in the ‘60 Olympics, then repeated in ‘64 adding the 1500m title too. So far, the only one to win double gold in these two distances. Snell is now an exercise physiologist in Texas. Having the highest level of education in the field, interestingly he affirms all of his old coaches training methods. The ones Lydiard arrived at through personal experience, investigation and astute observation.
When Lydiard came on to the scene pretty much all middle distance coaches threw tonnes of interval training at the athletes. Lydiard’s method was to spend 3-5 months doing nothing but easier base long distance base running before moving into more race preparing intensity. He’s credited with the LSD movement (not hallucinogenic), long, slow, distance. Really though, guys like Snell weren’t really going that slow, running around 6:30 miles. But for him that was slow. The point is to not go into your anaerobic threshold. So I believe that would include pretty much everything up to zone 3 (on a 5 zone system). Lydiard was roundly criticised for this method, but people quieted a little when his no name athletes became world beaters. Of course, soon after this era, and even during it, the trend went right back to all interval and fast training. That’s where we find ourselves today.
Years ago I remember reading Peter Snell on this topic. He said that as a middle distance runner people were mocking him for doing 3 hour runs. But he also said that he really wasn’t that fast and a great "kicker", even though he was known for his final kick. It was just that his endurance was so much greater that he had the fitness to use what speed he had. He also mentioned that 40+years later, he still holds the New Zealand national record for the 800m. He then went on to say something to the effect, "You’d think they would figure this out!"
The idea is to spend as much time as you can building the engine. The long, slower efforts do just that. Then when it comes time to notch things up a bit (really only 6-8 weeks of intensity training) everything about your body/engine is bigger and more efficient. More capillary beds to deliver oxygen, more mitochondria to produce ATP’s for energy, a higher VO2 max, the list goes on and on.
As skimo racers and our need to climb mountains as fast as humanly possible, I can’t imagine any other sport with higher physical demands. We absolutely MUST build a big engine. I recently read that Killain Jornet goes for 3-5 hour runs in the a.m. then does another 1-2 hours in the afternoon. His intensity training is only his racing, which is a lot...30 skimo races and 30 running races.
So I’m changing things a bit this year. So far this summer, almost every workout I’ve done is a minimum of 2 hours. Longer stuff, easier stuff, lots of vertical running/hiking to the top of mountains. Topping out on a mountain is fabulous! I love it! Going up, getting a view, being vertical.... after all as skimo racers we gotta get vertical!!