Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Book learning


I was perusing my old edition of Arthur Lydiard’s book—my running bible—this morning. I wanted a refresher on a particular style of shoe-lacing (sometimes called “Lydiard Lacing,”) but wound up reading whole sections of running gospel. The great Arthur—who coached Snell, Halberg, and other gods of my youth—was very much opposed to the type of training I (and most young runners of my time) did most of during high school and college—so-called interval training. (Technically, the running parts are repeats…the intervals are the jogs in between.) Lydiard maintained that repeats are good primarily for gaining a sense of pace, but that the basis for all successful training should be high-mileage weeks full of long running at what he called the “aerobic threshold”—a good strong pace just a tick slower than a speed that would put you in oxygen debt.

This hadn’t yet penetrated our understandings. We seldom ran long, and did intervals largely, I think, because they seemed like the toughest way to train (we weren’t lazy, just ignorant). At college three or four of us at a time would run a dozen or so quarters at perhaps 61 or 62 seconds. One of us would use a little rubber finger loop to carry the stopwatch—the old fashioned kind, with the face and moving arm—and set the pace. The others would tuck in closely and offer occasional advice— “too quick,” or “too slow”—until we were headed down the straight to the line, when we would fan out across the track, even with the pacemaker. The etiquette was that we would honor his pace except in the very rare cases we thought he was way slow. So we’d all come across the line together, the pacemaker would click the watch, and as we began our interval jog around the track, he’d announce the time before handing the responsibility off to the next guy. Training this way does automatically develop a good sense of pace. We were seldom off by more than a few tenths. This didn’t make us great runners, of course, just another bunch of guys who could run a training quarter mile accurately at any given pace between, say, 58 and 66. (Faster added too much stress after a few repeats, and slower…why bother?) This skill sometimes translated to racing, and sometimes got lost in the heat of the moment. (At that age, I was truly lousy at running steady-paced races. Too undisciplined and too stupid.)

It was a decade later that I came to understand that repeats are far less important than building an aerobic base by going long strong. Learned it from the Lydiard bible. I learned that pacing trick, too, and that running hills is a sort of magic, and that you can’t train hard and race hard in the same period. The result was that I was a much, much better runner and racer at 30 than I’d been at 20.

Now, of course, I’m thrilled if I can go short weak.

2 comments:

Martin Benedict O'Brien II said...

Hi Mark,

Like the post and the photo of your runner's Bible. Book looks well-used and well -loved.
Just for the record, my memories of your high school running career are all positive: in my mind you came in first place in every race and in every race you gave it your all.
Every time I run I am reminded "I'm still not old yet" Running makes me feel my youth. I should do it more, much more. Thanks for the reminder!

Mark Alvarez said...

Hello, cousin! More, much more, is good. But easy on the achilles!

Best to all.