Running With Lydiard

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Arthur Lydiard coached many elite runners in the 1960's, and his marathon training program dates from that period. Lydiard is famous for requiring his runners to run 100 miles per week, which he felt was an optimal distance. He didn't choose the 100 miles/week as a round number, as he was working in Kilometers, so he actually prescribed 160 Km/week. While this may seem like a lot of miles, in reality he required a lot more from his athletes. These runners were covering 100 miles/week at "near best aerobic effort", plus another 100 miles/week of easy running. Even his athletes with the lowest mileage were covering about 150 miles/week. Lydiard himself experimented with running between 50 and 300+ miles/week at what he described as "close to my best aerobic effort". Of course, these athletes are all elites, but that's the focus of the Lydiard plan. The plan seems remarkably tough to me, even for elites. Lydiard is often thought of as focusing on Long Slow Distance (LSD), which is not really the case. Lydiard requires a lot of hard running, but he does recommend adding in as much slower running as is possible. (This article should be read in conjunction with my Comparison of Marathon Training Plans.)

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1 Sample Weeks

To give you a sense of how tough the Lydiard plan is, here's a week from the experienced plan:

  • Monday: 15-20x 200 meter intervals
  • Tuesday: Run at "near best aerobic effort" for 90 minutes
  • Wednesday: A 5K time trial
  • Thursday: 60 minutes Fartlek
  • Friday: 10x 100meter intervals
  • Saturday: 10K Time Trial
  • Sunday: Run at "near best aerobic effort" for 2 hours or more

The beginner's plan is also pretty tough:

  • Monday: 5K time trial
  • Tuesday: Run at "near best aerobic effort" for 90 minutes
  • Wednesday: 10K time trial
  • Thursday: Run at "near best aerobic effort" for 90 minutes
  • Friday: 45 minutes Fartlek
  • Sunday: Run at "near best aerobic effort" for 2.5 hours or more
  • Sunday: Jogging for 1 hour

In addition, athletes should run as much slow paced running as possible to increase overall mileage.

2 Marathon Plan Analysis

  • Key Characteristics
    • The plan has three Long Runs per week, with lots of mileage in between.
    • Long Runs are based on time, not distance, though he does throw in a full marathon distance time trial.
    • Lydiard gives almost no indication of pace, so it's hard to know exactly what he means by "Long Aerobic Running", or "Jogging".
    • In addition to a lot of mileage, the plans require quite a bit of speed work. The beginner plan has time trials of 2K, 3K and 5K, Fartlek, and informal intervals of 200 meters. The experienced plan includes time trials of 5K, 10K, 20K, 25K, and full marathon, plus Fartlek and interval training.
  • Overtraining risk
    • The Lydiard plan seems to have a high risk of Overtraining. He is targeting elite runners, and either they are able to handle the stress or maybe it's simply a case that his plan burns out all but the toughest.
  • Pros
    • Lydiard has a great reputation for training elite runners.
    • Time based workouts may suit some runners.
  • Cons
    • The plans seem brutally tough, even by elite standards.
    • The time-based workouts mean that faster runner have to cover more distance.
    • Rather strangely, the beginner plan has longer long runs than the experienced plan.
    • It's hard to know what pace to run the workouts at; I've spent time trying to research this and come up with only a reasonable guess.
    • Even the Lydiard plan seems suited for an elite runner moving from shorter distances than what most people think of as a beginner.
  • Good For::
    • Beginner: 0. This plan is far too tough; Look at Galloway or Higdon instead.
    • Novice: 0. The high mileage and extensive speedwork are probably too much.
    • Ringger: 2. You need to be more than the usual 'ringer' and be elite or sub-elite at shorter distances to consider this. Even then, I'd suggest something else initially.
    • Maintenance: 0. For a runner just trying to maintain their marathon skills this would be far too much effort.
    • Improver: 1. Unless you are improving from at least a sub-elite level, I doubt if you'd cope with this level of training.
    • Enthusiast: 2. Consider this plan carefully, as it could work if you're used to a very high training load.
    • Elite: 3. Lydiard's plan has worked for some of the great runners, and you seem to be the target audience. I have doubts about the success rate for this plan, but if you can survive, it could produce great results. (Of course, there's no way of knowing if Lydiard's athletes would have done better with another approach.)
    • Limited Training Time: 0. You have to dedicate a lot of your life to this plan.
    • Traditionalist: 1. While this plan has been around for a long time, I don't think of it as a traditional plan.
    • Triathlete/Multisport: 0. I can't see you getting much time for sleep, let alone for alternative sport training.
    • Prior Overtraining: 0. I see a very high risk of Overtraining with Lydiard.
    • Sub 3:00: 3. I think the Lydiard is only suitable for sub-3 runners.
    • 3:00-4:30: 1. To use the Lydiard plans I think you need to be a strong, fast runner.
    • 4:30-5:30: 0. No.
    • 5:30+: 0. No.
    • Speedwork. You have to be prepared to do a lot of speed work with this plan

3 The Long Runs

The tables below focus only on the longest run of the week, and Lydiard more than other plans requires long runs on other days. Because Lydiard uses time rather than distance, I've made some pace assumptions in order to analyze the runs. I've used Lydiard's comments that the pace should be 70-99% of aerobic capacity as a guide; for a 3 hour marathon runner I assumed "Long Aerobic Running" is 7 min/mile, and jogging is 8 min/mile, and for a 4 hour marathon runner I've used 8 min/mile and 9 min/mile.

Plan name # Runs
16+
# Runs
20+
Total Miles
Over 16
Starting
Mileage
Weeks
To 16
Weeks 16
To Max
16 To
Race
Max To
Race
Initial Ramp
(First To 16)
Core Ramp
(16 To Max)
Overall Ramp
(first to max)
Running With Lydiard Beginners (3 Hour) 17 10 62 17 0 7 18 11 0.00 0.36 0.36
Running With Lydiard Beginners (4 Hour) 10 0 28 15 7 0 11 11 0.31 0.00 0.31
Running With Lydiard Experianced (3 Hour) 10 1 20 17 0 12 15 3 0.00 0.12 0.12
Running With Lydiard Experianced (4 Hour) 1 1 10 15 12 0 3 3 0.29 0.00 0.29

Notes on the columns

  • # Runs 16+. I consider that the 16 mile mark defines the beginning of "the long run". While this is somewhat arbitrary on my part, I believe that counting the number of long runs that are 16 miles or more is a useful metric. The first run the diesel 16 miles or more is highlighted in green in the weekly section.
  • # Runs 20+. There is some limited evidence that suggests that runs over 20 miles provide important adaptations for marathon running, and help prevent "hitting the wall". This column gives account of the number of runs that of 20 miles or more.
  • Total Miles Over 16. Another way of evaluating a training plan is to look at the number of miles run in excess of 16 miles. For example an 18 mile long run would count as 2 miles in excess of the 16 mile Mark. This metric reveals some dramatic differences between some of the advanced plans.
  • Starting Mileage. This column shows the mileage of the first long run, and may be useful in selecting a plan based on your current fitness.
  • Weeks To 16. This is the number of weeks from the start of the plan to the first 16 mile long run. This section of the training plan I've called the "initial ramp up" that brings a runner from their initial level of fitness to what I consider the threshold of performing long runs.
  • Weeks 16 To Max. This is the number of weeks from the first run of 16 miles or more to the longest run in the plan. If the longest run is repeated more than once, I use the first instance, which is highlighted in red in the weekly section.
  • 16 To Race. The number of weeks from the first run of 16 miles or more to the race itself.
  • Max To Race. The number of weeks from the longest long run to the race itself.
  • Ramps. One key aspect of any marathon training plan is how quickly it increases the mileage. It seems likely that one of the biggest factors behind excessive fatigue and injury from the long run is at this rate of mileage increase. Therefore I have attempted to quantify this rate of increase as a "ramp", which is approximately the number of miles per week the long run is increased by. (For those interested in the details I use the least squares approach to calculate an approximate slope between the two points on the training plan. This approach has some obvious limitations when the training plans have cut back weeks.)
    • Initial Ramp (First To 16). This is the ramp from the first run to the first 16 mile or longer run.
    • Core Ramp (16 To Max).This is the ramp from the first 16 mile or longer run to the longest run.
    • Overall Ramp (first to max). The ramp from the first run to the longest run.
Plan name W:19 W:18 W:17 W:16 W:15 W:14 W:13 W:12 W:11 W:10 W:9 W:8 W:7 W:6 W:5 W:4 W:3 W:2 W:1
Running With Lydiard Beginners (3 Hour) 17 17 17 17 17 17 17 21 21 21 21 21 21 21 21 21 21 9 Race
Running With Lydiard Beginners (4 Hour) 15 15 15 15 15 15 15 19 19 19 19 19 19 19 19 19 19 8 Race
Running With Lydiard Experianced (3 Hour) 17 17 17 17 17 17 17 17 17 16 16 13 26 15 11 Race
Running With Lydiard Experianced (4 Hour) 15 15 15 15 15 15 15 15 15 16 16 11 26 12 9 Race

4 Comparison With Other Plans

Main article: A Comparison of Marathon Training Plans

  FIRST
Marathon
FIRST

Novice

Jeff Galloway's
You Can Do It!
Hanson's
Marathon Method
Just Finish
Hanson's
Marathon Method
Beginner/Advanced
Hanson's
Marathon Method
Elite
Jack Daniels
4Week
Jack Daniels
2Q
Jack Daniels
Plan A
Jack Daniels
Elite (AKA 12 Week)
Pfitzinger's
Advanced Marathoning
Hal Higdon's
Ultimate Training Guide
Waitz's Run
your first marathon
Running With Lydiard
Beginner 0 2 5 2 0 0 1 1 1 0 0 3 2 0
Novice 1 3 4 1 1 0 3 1 2 0 0 3 1 0
Ringger 2 4 2 0 2 2 3 3 4 1 1 2 0 2
Maintenance 2 2 3 2 2 0 3 2 2 0 0 4 0 0
Improver 4 3 3 0 3 0 3 4 4 3 3 2 0 1
Enthusiast 4 2 3 0 2 1 3 5 5 4 3 2 0 2
Elite 3 0 1 0 1 3 1 3 3 4 3 0 0 3
Limited Training Time 4 4 0 3 2 0 5 5 5 4 0 2 2 0
Traditionalist 2 2 2 0 0 2 3 3 3 3 4 4 4 1
Triathlete/Multisport 5 5 4 0 0 0 5 5 5 3 0 2 3 0
Prior Overtraining 3 3 4 1 4 1 5 4 4 0 0 0 0 0
Sub 3:00 5 5 2 1 2 3 4 5 5 5 4 2 0 3
3:00-4:30 5 5 4 2 3 0 5 4 5 3 3 3 2 1
4:30-5:30 3 3 5 1 2 0 2 2 3 0 0 2 2 0
5:30+ 0 0 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Like Speedwork 5 5 0 0 3 3 5 5 5 5 3 1 0 5
Hate Speedwork 0 0 5 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 4 5 0