Lydiard or Furman?

In yesterday’s blog, I set my major goal for the next six months: a half-marathon in 99 minutes in September.  As I mentioned yesterday, the passing years predict that unless I develop a training strategy better than the moderate volume, mainly low intensity sessions that I did last year, I can only expect to achieve a  time of around 102 minutes a half marathon this year.  So what should my strategy be?


Despite much practical observation and theoretical argument, the debate between the merits of high volume compared with high intensity training remains unresolved.  The opposing approaches are perhaps best illustrated the contrast between the well known Lydiard approach and the Furman Institute approach, described by Bill Pierce, Scott Murr and Ray Moss in their book ‘Run Less, Run Faster’.



Lydiard’s method was developed from shrewd practical observation and was only retrospectively justified in light of physiological science.  It is undeniable that, at least for some individuals, the Lydiard method works brilliantly.  The Olympic gold medals of Peter Snell (800m, Rome 1960; 800m and 1500m, Tokyo 1964); Murray Halberg (5000m, Tokyo 1964), Lasse Viren (5000m. and 10000m, Munich 1972); Pekka Vasala (1500m, Munich 1972) and the marathon bronze medal won by Barry Magee in Tokyo 1964, together with an impressive role call including winners of events such as the Boston marathon, provide compelling evidence that Lydiard’s approach can achieve great performances in races over distances from 800m to the marathon. 


In the pre-internet era of the early 1960’s, the latest gossip about training methods spread uncertainly via rumors among athletes and the occasional, possibly untrustworthy, interview with a newspaper reporter.  The most prominent feature of Lydiard’s approach that filtered through to the middle and long distance running community in those days was the target of 100 miles per week, even for middle distance runners, together with hill running for the development of strength and power.  In contrast to the 1950’s when interval training was in its heyday and distance running was dominated by individuals such as Emil Zatopek, who was rumored to do sessions such as 100x400m in army boots, the Lydiard approach seemed like a breath of fresh air, though not a soft option.


Lydiard subsequently became known as the father of jogging, but at least as far as the achievements of the thoroughbreds in his stable is concerned, I suspect that jogging played little part in their success.  There are ambiguities in the details of his program due to some inconsistencies in his books, but the general principles are fairly easily discerned.  The most important phase is the peak mileage base phase, characterized by a large volume (around 100 miles per week) mostly run in the upper part of the aerobic zone.  However, his program entails several other phases, including an anaerobic phase and a subsequent sharpening phase to maximize speed and readiness for racing.  Thus, the crucial feature of the Lydiard method is not merely the concept of high volume training, but also a strict application of the principle of periodization: a training program sub-divided into phases with quite different immediate goals and different training schedules.



In contrast, the Furman Institute advocates preparation for distances ranging from 5000m to the marathon employing a relatively low volume, high intensity  program including three key sessions per week: an interval workout, a tempo session; and a long run.  For all three types of session, the required pace is specified, and even the long run is done at a pace likely to be in the mid-to upper aerobic zone.  Although the Furman Institute advocates cross training in addition to the three key sessions, the characteristic feature of the Furman approach is the emphasis on high quality, relatively low volume training. 


The Furman Institute also acknowledges the concept of periodization, but the contrast between the higher volume less intense phase, and the lower volume more intense phase is much less marked than in the Lydiard approach.  The Furman Institute cannot claim a stable of Olympic gold medal winners, but their program is based on careful scientific evaluation, and there is good evidence, documented in an article in Runner’s World in February 2006 by Amby Burfoot, that for ordinary mortals with commitments to family and/or jobs, the Furman approach can produce substantial improvement in marathon performance.  In a study conducted in 2004, 25 runners trained according to the Furman schedule of 3 key running session per week, plus cross-training. One dropped out due to injury and one for domestic reasons, 3 moved down to the half-marathon on account minor injury and 21 started the Kiawah Island Marathon in December.  Of these, 15 set personal best times.


What should I do?

As an ordinary mortal with limited time for training and limited capacity to absorb the stresses of high volume training, I am quite tempted by the Furman approach.  However, despite the potential advantages, I also have misgivings.  Fortunately the Furman half marathon program is a 14 week program and it is still about 26 weeks to my intended half-marathon race in September, so I have 12 weeks in which to decide whether to follow the Furman program, or adapt it, perhaps incorporating some of the features of Lydiard’s approach.  For the next few weeks I will review the advantages and disadvantages of both the Furman and Lydiard approaches, and then make my decision.


In the mean while, in view of the fact that both Lydiard and the Furman Institute would advocate a preliminary period of base-building, that is what I will do in the next few weeks.  At the beginning of the year I had provisionally planned running some shorter races in the spring, but my breathing problems have got in the way and there is little point in pursuing any ambitious targets for shorter races in the near future.  If my asthma continues to improve, I might attempt a 10K race in a few weeks time, but not with any hope of a fast time.  My two immediate goals will be developing adequate strength of muscles and other connective tissue necessary to withstand the rigors of a focused 14 week training program in the summer, and also to consolidate my basic aerobic fitness for running distances up to 18 Km in the mid-aerobic zone.  As a start to my base-building, this morning I made the most of some glorious spring weather to do a mildly effortful 15 Km, unencumbered by either watch or heart rate monitor.

13 Responses to “Lydiard or Furman?”

  1. Ewen Says:

    I’ll be interested to see what plan you decide to follow.

    My thoughts are that for the Furman plan to work well, all the cross-training session must be completed. One possible disadvantage would be that the three/week running sessions are all stressful to some degree. All are harder running sessions.

    In my first go at “Hadd training” (which basically is the Lydiard-style base period using HR zones), I found my fitness did improve markedly (although my mileage was more like 60 miles/week – hardly huge volume).

    My other thought about the Furman plan is one of how much does it depend on all sessions being completed? A plan with more running and less cross-training could cover for the odd missed session.

  2. canute1 Says:

    Ewen, As I understand it, Lydiard encourages a lot of running near the upper end of the aerobic zone in the 100 mile per week phase, but he is a bit vague about how long you should spend building up to 100 miles per week. On the other hand, Hadd specifies building a very solid base at the lower end of the aerobic zone. According to my understanding, Hadd places more emphasis on the lower aerobic zone than Lydiard. My experience from 40 years ago is that I made the most dramatic gains in fitness when doing most of my running near the upper end of the aerobic zone.
    From your training log, I note that your first 6 months of Hadd training was very successful – and resulted in a great 5K cross country in Stromlo Forest park in Dec 2007. Did you persist with Hadd in 2008?

  3. Ewen Says:

    That’s fairly close to my understanding of Lydiard and Hadd. One thing Hadd doesn’t specify, is what to do after the base period.

    In the early stages of Hadd, there are more lower aerobic runs, but runs in the upper aerobic zone are introduced later. One target I remember was to be able to run 10 miles at a HR of about 88% with no “drift” (HR increasing during the run).

    Hadd is very careful to stay aerobic and very gradually push the lactate threshold higher, whereas Lydiard was more perceived effort running in the base phase. The only speedwork in Hadd is the 200/200 fartlek which is introduced very late and it’s by no means a high lactate session.

    I didn’t persist with Hadd into 2008, as I felt a need for some speedwork. Pure Hadd tends to weaken the fast-twitch fibres such that my 200m speed was at an all-time slowness. For races of 5k and up, this is not a great issue, but I wanted to race 1500s and 3000s. The Stromlo 5k was very good, and I thought some speedwork and less miles would improve my short races even more.

    Now I’m not so sure. This year my best 1500 (the race with Lily in 5:38), was after 4 weeks of 90+ km and very little speedwork. I think there is something to Lydiard’s contention that anaerobic running does whittle away the aerobic base. After a summer of track racing and speedwork, my ‘steady-state’ HR on particular courses is higher than it was (say by about 5 beats), than when doing Hadd training.

    I’m very tempted to do Hadd training again, but with the addition of the Brad Hudson steep short hill sprints for leg-strength and speed. I think (for me), doing heavy anaerobic training during the base phase isn’t a great idea. If I were to do 1k repeats for instance, I’d probably do them very controlled at 10k to half-marathon race pace, rather than 3k race pace. I’m still working it out!

  4. ajh Says:

    A good goal … one of mine this year is to break my HM PB too, which your goal would do by 4 minutes or so.

    The way my knee is at the moment though, base-building is a little difficult for me. Do you have any training programs that include no running, or only running on one leg 🙂

  5. rick Says:

    Hi Canute, I have tried many different types of training over the years with varying degrees of success [ 10 YEARS CYCLE RACING AND 16 YEARS RUNNING]
    Here are some things that work for me!
    1/ The bigger the base you build then the higher the final peak after interval training!
    2/ Now at 48 years old I can really only handle one hard interval session per week! 2 sessions per week and i start to burn out
    Based on my own findings my ideal 1/2 marathon program would look some thing like this;
    I would then introduce a tempo run once a week alternating weeks of one week 3 miles at faster than hoped for 1/2 marathon pace and on the other week a increasingly longer tempo run slightly slower than 1/2 marathon pace! also one day each week a interval session of 1/2 m or 1 mile efforts, one long run each week, alternating1.30- 2 hours slow one week and about 1.15- 1.30 the other.
    I would also include some strides once a week to improve leg speed!
    the remaining days could be easy running or cross training!
    The last 3 weeks would be sharpening up! reducing mileage but working hard over shorter distances!

  6. canute1 Says:

    Andrew, Sorry to hear that the knee is still troublesome. Your cycling will sustain your cardiovascular fitness, but will not develop the eccentric strength you need for running. I wonder whether or not trampoline might be a useful way to develop eccentric strength with less stress of the knee than running? I now combine some trampolining with the elliptical workout on my cross-training days. 2×5 minutes of bouncing about 0.75 metres around 60 times per minute, does not cause me any noticeable muscle or joint pains the next day. Good luck with your HM goal.

    Rick, Thanks for those suggestions. What are your thoughts about hills? I am inclined to think that Lydiard’s recommended ‘springing’ uphill is likely to have played a big part in the success of Peter Snell and Pekko Vassala over the middle distances, and, like Ewen, I think that hills might play a valuable part in helping maintain leg strength as one approaches middle age.

  7. rick Says:

    I followed lydiards training program in the Autumn of 2007, inc doing the hills, it is quite stressful on the legs, quite a few elite runners got injuries doing the bounding and jumping drills
    John Walker the great new Zealand miler tried them and tore his calves!
    Looking at Lydiards own training programs he cut the hill phase from 6 weeks [1960’s] down to just 3 weeks by the 1990’s!
    I think plyometrics can help improve a runners speed, BUT are the drills Lydiard recommends the best,
    BOUNDING, this exercise is dangerous! trying to push your self forward is pointless as well as causing injury to the calf, hams and lower back, as Jack Nirenstein has proved when your leg is grounded the front muscles of the leg dominate quad and hip flexors , if they didn’t you knee would flex and you would collapse to the ground, the hams and gluts can not work at the same time! so this exercise is a useless!!
    HIGH KNEE LIFT, do you need to have a high knee lift to run fast! THIS IS SOMETHING lYDIARD WAS ALWAYS GOING ON ABOUT!! yet you can run very fast with a low knee lift and it takes less energy! is this exercise of any use to the distance runner!
    SPRINGING UP THE HILL, I think this is one exercise that works it helps you develop energy return in your foot and calf, but care is needed a slow build up and good stretching after and I think not more than twice a week!
    I think lydiards base training gives fantastic results, he was right to limit the use of anaerobic training and his continuation of racing phase works very well for me.
    CANUTE if you look at how the muscles are used for running can you think of better drills than Arthur Lydiard used!
    p/s. I think running hills up and down is great for all round improvement!

  8. Thomas Says:

    I’ll always come down on th side of Lydiard in those arguments. This training program has produced countless successful runners. On the other hand, I’m always suspicious of training plans that claim to be based on the latest scientific research. I have seen too many of these to believe their claims.

  9. Paul Says:

    Hi Canute

    Stumbled across this (as one does in cyberspace!). I have just today run a Half Marathon at the end of following a Furman program (well, the last 10-weeks of it as I did not discover it till late).

    I am a 40-year old male who had run 1.37 for a half about 15 years ago and no faster than 1.40 in recent years.

    Today I ran a controlled 1.33. I am still shocked!

    I don’t think there is “one perfect way” to achieve your goals, but for me, with limited time, the Furman program worked a treat!

    Cheers, PB

  10. canute1 Says:

    Well done. You are right that there is no one perfect way. I will read you blog with interest to learn more about your experience with the Furman program

  11. aryamerry Says:

    I have (tried to) follow the “high mileage approach” a few times in my few years of running, and so far i have only exceeded 60 miles/wk one single time (and it took me 3 weeks to recover lol). This winter I was trying to build mileage, and managed several 50+ mi wks running mostly at very slow (like MP + 2mn/mi) pace. Even so, it does create a lot of stress on the legs! It is not my experience that “anyone” can build up to crazy high miles simply by slowing down or not doing speed work – I suffer from injuries, inevitably, when I run every day. If I could, I’d run 100mi/wk, I love running! But alas, i have given up on the idea. I am currently following the FIRST plan, and I am seeing improvements, plus i find it very useful/helpful to run regularly at fast paces, it is definitely improving my speed-endurance (ability to run longer runs faster). I don’t find it an “easy” program, all 3 runs are challenging, and with cross training on top of that, it’s not a lazy or easy program, unless you aren’t running the prescribed paces of course. So which is better? I’d say both work, it just depends on your physiology and what fits with your schedule. For adult runners, imho, the traditional high mileage approach generally leads to injuries, but many do get some great results with it too, perhaps the more genetic gifts you have, the more you would benefit from the traditional high miles followed by speed work approach. I also note that where it is typically used (colleges, africa, etc), they have a large base of runners to grind away on, and can afford a high risk approach, weeding out the relative few who can survive it. This may not be the ideal approach for a self-coached adult runner! I will add that I am 40 something, and fairly fast depending on your definition of fast (I can go about 18.30 for a 5k).

    • canute1 Says:

      Thanks for your comment

      I agree that either a Lydiard and a Furman approach work and that different individuals will find one or other suits them better. I do not think that 100 miles a week is necessary for a Lydiard approach. As an elderly person, I find that whenever I exceed 50 mpw I develop continually accumulating fatigue.

      For many individuals, Furman is good for short term development but my observations of athletes who have continued to apply a Furman approach over a sustained period is that they eventually suffer a deterioration.

      I consider that the evidence best supports a polarized approach to training in which a small proportion of high intensity running is combined with a failry large volume of easy running, for continued year on year development. I have described some of this evidence in a post in March 2014.

  12. Ed and Gene’s genes? How do genes contribute to the longevity of a distance runner? | Canute's Efficient Running Site Says:

    […] of training load is essential.  It provides a clear rationale for the base-building advocated by Arthur Lydiard on the basis of personal experience more than sixty years ago.  However before we can advance […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: