We will be asked – and in fact we already have been asked – whether Borgess Run Camp will be utilizing the “Lydiard Method,” promoted and employed this summer by Gazelle Sports in partnership with Kalamazoo Area Runners. The short answer is that we won’t be following this formalized program. The long answer is printed below.
By Blaine Lam
Borgess Run Camp
I loved Arthur Lydiard.
Arthur Lydiard was a fantastic coach whose world-class athletes set world records. His signature athlete was three-time Olympic gold medalist Peter Snell, and Peter Snell was my idol. So as a high-school runner in Boulder, Colorado, I devoured everything I could find on Lydiard.
Adopting Lydiard’s philosophy meant basically divorcing myself from my high school track coach, a geometry teacher who didn’t really believe kids should run long distance. No joke.
I had always loved running, but Lydiard lit my fire. Once I got in shape, I managed to earn a track and cross country scholarship at the University of Colorado. Mercifully, our CU coach was a Lydiard disciple. We weren’t bad, taking third in the national cross -country championships my senior year.
I remained a student of running after college and have maintained my obsession with training programs. My favorite runner then became Sebastian Coe, who won Olympic gold in 1980 and 1984, as Snell had done in ‘60 and ‘64.
What made Coe so fascinating was a training program that in many ways validated the Lydiard principles but in other ways challenged them. Sebastian Coe’s father was his coach. His father wrote a 450-page training manual, co-authored with a Ph.D. cardiopulmonary scientist, and I read that book cover to cover, twice. I felt Coe’s work was superior to that of Lydiard on two counts. One, it was more scientific and specific, explaining physiologically what Lydiard was driving at. Two, while the running principles were similar to Lydiard’s, core and upper body strength were added (largely through circuit training) to construct a model much more complete, certainly more sophisticated.
Our college cross-country team gathered for a reunion this summer and we chuckled about how one dimensional our Lydiard training had been. “Where was the core?” asked Rich Alejandre, now 70 and one of the top age-rated cyclists in the country.
Lydiard purists could argue that Lydiard felt classic “weight training” was counter-productive – fair argument if the important principle of specificity were employed – but a better defense of Lydiard might be that hill running helped his runners achieve greater core strength. At the end of the day, though, advancements in the understanding of core strength suggest that a training program without core is simply incomplete.
Anyway, Lydiard is back in vogue, edging out MacMillan (also still endorsed by KAR), Hanson, Galloway, Daniels, Wetmore, Pfitzinger, Higdon and others. Putting Lydiard back in the front of the parade is the result of a marketing push by the Lydiard Foundation, largely for recreational runners inclusive of distance runners, even though Lydiard trained middle-distance runners, and that’s not a trivial distinction in training.
Unfortunately, the word most often used to describe Lydiard training is “misunderstood.” Lydiard only coached individuals and did so a half century ago. So the crux of the matter is this: Lydiard’s work has to be interpreted. It doesn’t help that his books contained contradictions. Trying to interpret Lydiard is complicated by a myriad of factors, many of them not easily coached. How fast is too fast? How slow is too slow? At what point have I pushed my body too far? What’s the best thing for my body today? It all speaks to the mystery of the human body. And the human mind.
Yes, our coaches understand the Lydiard principles. We agree with the Runner’s World profile on Lydiard: “Principles, not formulas, are the keys to successful training.” And as one Lydiard protégé pointed out: “Good training and bad training look exactly the same on paper.” Our Borgess Run Camp coaches fully understand Lydiard principles because they have degrees, advanced degrees and licenses to practice, along with professional training and experience in specific exercise science, physical therapy and medical disciplines. They also understand the principles taught by Coe and other coaches, trainers and scientists, experts who now comprehend just how critical core and upper body strength are to running. We not only stress core strength at Run Camp, but also make available drop-in core and strength classes twice a week, led by our coaches.
So if the Lydiard question is about the quality of coaching at Run Camp, then there’s really no question at all. We’re extremely grateful for the dozen coaches who provide helpful information. Hats off to our three “program-designing” coaches – Dr. Tom Goodwin, Dr. Mary Vajgrt and Rob Lillie – who lay down schedules that guide our hundreds of runners each winter. And each and every camper has the ability to meet with these highly competent coaches and discuss what’s right for them, along with how their bodies are reacting to the training.
But if the question is whether Borgess Run Camp has some training formula for success, then the answer is unrelated to Lydiard. Our formula is to welcome, inform and nurture.
We balance the need for improvement with the need for fun. Training shouldn’t be grim.
One of the least understood aspects of Lydiard training is what he called “feeling based” running. He knew the value of listening to your body. And he knew the value of rest.
True Lydiard disciples know what it means to run on feel. Peter Snell and Sebastian Coe were exquisitely trained and highly disciplined, but both knew the joy of running and both have enjoyed exercise their entire lives.
“My runners always had FUN,” said Lydiard of his athletes.