This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.
Note: I originally wrote this shortly after Lydiard’s passing. If I were writing this today, it would look a little different but I want to preserve what I wrote back in 2004. I still strongly believe that Lydiard played a huge, positive influence on distance running. However, I think his philosophies have been built upon and modified by others to produce even better results for certain runners who find themselves in certain circumstances. I have begun writing a post to explore some of these ideas and, when ready, will post that in the near future as a follow-up to this.
As everyone reading this probably knows by now, Arthur Lydiard, arguably the most influential person ever in the history of distance running, passed away on December 12th in Houston while on a United States tour. He was 87 years old.
I’m sure most people who know me know how highly I regard Lydiard. While I never had the opportunity to meet him – I regret not getting to his Chicago stop of the United States tour even more now that I know it was my last chance – he has been greatly influential in shaping my views on what works in training for distance running. No doubt, this is one thing I, as well as many other of the "common folk" of competitive distance running, share with many – if not most – of the greatest runners and coaches of the past half century, right up to today and surely into the future.
In this writing, I could tell you how Lydiard coached some of the best distance runners who have ever toed the line; runners like Peter Snell, Murray Halberg, even Lasse Viren and many other highly accomplished runners. However, writers around the world have already shared that story of Lydiard. I could tell you how his influence is felt even today from the elite level – where athletes from Kenya, Ethiopia, Japan, and many other parts of the world use his training techniques – to the collegiate level – where programs like Colorado, which recently won both team titles at the NCAA Championships, base their training on Lydiard’s teachings – but that has also been written about. I could also tell you how Lydiard was not just a visionary in competitive running but also a visionary in running for health, promoting easy distance running for cardiovascular health benefits back when people thought distance running was unhealthy and even dangerous. However, that has also been written about already. What I would like to write about is how Lydiard has influenced my running, which is most likely a reflection to some degree of how he has influenced thousands of distance runners who have strived to run faster over the past 50 years.
All the way back to the beginning of my running life, I had two very good coaches in high school. Little did I know at that time that they were already teaching me lessons from Lydiard. If you want to get better, just get out and run during the summer and winter. It doesn’t matter how fast you go. To an extent, it doesn’t even matter how far you go, although in general an increase in distance in the off-season will result in better performances during the racing season. When we got into season, those of us who trained through the summer or winter would maintain or even decrease our volume and begin with hill workouts before transitioning to traditional speedwork and then sharpening before the big end of the season races. Does any of this sound familiar? If not, I’d strongly suggest reading up on Lydiard’s training philosophy. Not surprisingly, those of us who trained through the summer or winter improved the most and usually found ourselves at or near the front of the team.
When I moved on to college, I was once again running under a very good coach. This time, though, his base training plan for the team looked less like Lydiard and more (actually almost precisely) like Daniels. As I still had not really studied Lydiard and Daniels had not yet published his book, all I knew at this point though was that the training was similar but different. Looking back, I can see where Daniels has his roots in Lydiard’s ideas but his ideas do diverge somewhat significantly. However, as I developed under this training plan, I realized the plan as it was given to me by my coach was not everything it could be for me. After talking with Coach, we came up with a plan to modify the training schedule for myself to more closely fit my needs and desires. Little did I realize at the time that I was taking our team’s base training plan and altering it to look more like a Lydiard-style plan. All I knew is that it led to better results for myself than what the rest of the team was doing. In fact, the results were so much better that I was voted by the team most improved runner my sophomore year, not long after we first started modifying my training.
Once I graduated from college, I wanted to take all I learned through my previous decade of running and come up with a schedule that suited myself. By this time, I had heard of Lydiard and knew who he was but didn’t think I knew much about his techniques other than the misconceptions of "God of jog" and "long, slow distance". I had been studying the ideas of the scientists and the modern day coaches, not realizing how heavy Lydiard’s influence was on the modern day coaches. Even without yet seeing Lydiard’s techniques, my training plans began making a shift away from Daniels-style training toward Lydiard-style training. By being a significant influence on the techniques of the best modern day coaches, Lydiard’s techniques were still guiding me.
Not long after I graduated from college, I came across the Lydiard Clinic and read it through completely. Shortly after that, I came across and read very carefully through that. I also got my hands on a couple of books written by Lydiard and read carefully through them. At that point, things began to turn very clear. All along, Lydiard’s philosophy and his huge influence on the running world had been guiding me since my first step as a competitive runner. Once I realized how much Lydiard had influenced me, my whole perception of training became much more clear. While many training plans that are out there are very good, they are what they are because of what they have taken from Lydiard’s ideas. The closer to Lydiard’s own techniques my training was, the better I ran.
Even after studying Lydiard’s philosophy for some time, it is taking me some time to completely grasp how much Lydiard has influenced my running life all the way back to before I had ever heard his name. I believe this is the case for a lot of runners. Even those who have never heard of him have been heavily influenced by what he has taught the running world. The whole world of running owes a debt of gratitude to Lydiard and should never forget the influence he has had on thousands of us, from Olympic champions and world record holders to "recreationally competitive" runners to those who are following "just to finish" plans that have names other than Lydiard’s on them all the way to non-competitive fitness runners. We are all benefiting from what he has taught the world running community.