Implementing the Lydiard conditioning phase

Long runs in the mid to upper aerobic zone are the core of the Lydiard conditioning phase, but he did not prescribe a rigid schedule. He emphasized that the schedule should be adjusted to fit the available time and ability. However, from his various books and lectures, it is possible to draw some general guidelines:

1) For a serious athlete, the target mileage is around 100 miles a week. It appears Lydiard has in mind a runner for whom 6 min mile pace is in the aerobic zone and hence 100 miles a week might be re-interpreted as around 10 hours per week. Thus for an older or less able runner for whom 8 min/mile is in the upper aerobic zone, 75 miles or even less might be an appropriate target weekly mileage.

2) Several of these runs (perhaps three) should be of 1.5 to 2 hours duration.

3) Distance is more important than speed, and if necessary speed should be sacrificed rather than distance. Nonetheless a substantial proportion of the running should be near the maximum steady-state aerobic pace.

 4) Although Lydiard is vague about how one should build up to the conditioning phase, he does imply that one should steadily increase the time spent running without taking account of distance covered, until one can run for two hours without problems.

Because I work around 50-60 hours most weeks, and frequently arrive home from work quite tired and hungry at about 8 pm, there is little point in me aiming for 10 hours training per week; 6-8 hours per week is probably all that is reasonable. I think that I can best fit my schedule to the spirit of the Lydiard conditioning phase by aiming for 40-50 miles (64-80 Km) per week including two runs of 45 min – 1 hour in the upper aerobic zone, and one run of 1.5 – 2 hours in the mid-aerobic zone, together with several shorter runs and two elliptical sessions per week.

During the winter I have done barely 2 hours running and 2-3 hours of elliptical training each week, so it would be unreasonable to attempt 64-80 Km per week including a substantial amount in the mid and upper aerobic zone, in the immediate future. This weekend, I decided to see how near I was to being fit enough embark on the conditioning phase, taking Lydiard’s guideline of ‘two hours without problems’ as the criterion. Yesterday I ran easily for 2 hours, covering 21 Km, including 5 short sprints. But what did Lydiard actually mean by ‘without problems’? I presume he meant ‘without building up fatigue that seriously impedes the next training session’. Perhaps the most rigorous test of whether or not one is accumulating fatigue is to repeat a recently recorded run the day after the 2 hour run and see if there has been any appreciable deterioration in performance since the previous occasion.

Today dawned bright and sunny – a perfect spring day, and the idea of simply repeating yesterday’s 21 Km run was appealing. I deliberately kept the pace easy and did not look at my watch until the end. It was such a delightful day to be out running. In the woods, the celandines were wide open, catching as much sunlight as possible. In places there were patches of violets among the celandines, and a few more bluebells were in flower than yesterday. However I was aware that I was running a little more slowly, and in the final 6 Km, my legs felt tired. Nonetheless, I was able to enjoy the 5 short sprints. When I looked at my watch, I was a little disappointed to find that my time was 7 minutes longer than yesterday, and my average heart rate was a little higher: up from 120 to 122 bpm. So I had definitely accumulated appreciable fatigue.   It probably would have been more sensible to have attempted to replicate the previous week’s 16Km run today instead of doing another 21 Km run to estimate the amount of fatigue.   Nonetheless, I consider that I coped sufficiently well with two consecutive 2 hour runs that it is now time to start paying attention to pace. So in the coming week I will aim for several runs in the mid to upper aerobic zone.


11 Responses to “Implementing the Lydiard conditioning phase”

  1. Ewen Says:

    The hours/week guide is a good one for older/slower runners. 100 miles/week would take me around 15-16 hours to run! The working hours is also a consideration – if only we could work 25 hours a week for the same pay our running would improve considerably.

    Lydiard said something about paces of 1/4, 1/2, 3/4 effort. Wasn’t 1/4 the pace you could go straight out and repeat the run? And 3/4 the pace you could repeat the run 2 days later?

    I think it’s to be expected to have a higher HR and slower pace when repeating a 21k run – it probably does show a weakness in aerobic conditioning though. I imagine the well trained Lydiard runner could repeat a 21k run for a week with the same pace/HR. Maybe you could have a 10k run as the “following day test”?

  2. rick Says:

    Sounds like a good plan Canute, I will follow your progress with great interest!

  3. rick Says:

    P.s. as you say the Lydiard program is open to different interpretations as far as effort is concerned, A BIT OF TRAIL AND ERROR IS NEEDED TO FIND THE LEVEL WHICH WILL RESULT IN YOU KEEPING WITHIN THE RECOVERY CURVE!

  4. canute1 Says:

    Ewen, I am very interested in what Lydiard meant by ¼ , ½ , ¾ effort. I have taken ¼ to be the effort that would leave you comfortably tired at the end, and ¾ to be the maximum steady state aerobic pace. That interpretation is similar to yours, but not identical. In his guidelines for marathon conditioning (given in his 1999 US lecture tour) he specified ¼ effort for all four of the runs of 15 miles or more in the week, including the 22 miler. He only recommended one ¾ effort in the entire week and that was for the week’s shortest run: a 10 miler. In view of the fact that he implies that most of the runs during the conditioning phase should be at the ‘ best aerobic effort’ I presume even ¼ effort is intended to be at least fast enough to leave you comfortably tired.
    As for the lesson to be drawn from my running on the weekend, there is not doubt that I am in need of aerobic conditioning. The main goal (apart from enjoying the spring weather) was to establish whether or not I am ready to start pushing the effort level up a bit. I probably would have got a more convincing answer to my question if I had run an effortful 10K instead of a easy 21 K on Sunday, but the temptation to do a long run to make the most of the delightful weather won out over practical considerations. Nonetheless, the fact that I was able to enjoy the short sprints at the end of the second 21K of the weekend, leads me to believe that it is now time to start pushing up the effort level.

    Rick, thanks for your comment. I am sure there will be trial and error. The thing I like about Lydiard’s approach is his recommendation to cut back on speed, not distance, if you start to feel too stressed. The thing that concerned me about the Furman approach was the emphasis on keeping to the recommended paces. What I hope to recover with Lydiard is the great feeling of running fairly fast during training ,but nonetheless comfortably within one’s capacity.

  5. Ewen Says:

    I can’t remember exactly where I read about the 1/4, 1/2, 3/4 explanation. It was on the web somewhere! I do recall that 1/4 was an aerobic run you could go straight out and do again – so for a well conditioned runner that could be anything up to 20k I guess, maybe more for elite runners. It could be reasonably quick. For myself it would be 7k @ 5:30-45/k. I could turn around and do that again. 1/2 might have been a run you could repeat daily – say 12-15k for me @ 6:00/k, although I can’t remember exactly. 3/4 I think was a run of sufficient length/speed that you did need an easier run the following day.

  6. Ewen Says:

    Maybe not 20k for the 1/4 – as that would be a 40k run! Maybe up to 12k?

  7. rick Says:

    EWEN and Canute, I think the article on 1/4, 1/2 etc Lydiard efforts might have been this one

  8. rick Says:

    Also you might find this article by GREG MCMILLAN OF INTEREST

  9. canute1 Says:

    Rick, Thanks for those references. ‘Listening to one’s own body’ rather than the Heart Rate Monitor appears sensible.

  10. Ewen Says:

    Thanks Rick. That was it! Now I can sleep easily.

  11. rick Says:

    EWEN, Glad I could do my good deed for the day!
    CANUTE, yes ditching the pulse rate monitor is almost liberating, and after all, we do have a very good onboard computer of our own… THE BRAIN!
    One of the great things about Lydiards training is it makes you think and adapt your own training to your bodies ability!
    I think within a few weeks you will have a clear idea of correct effort levels for each workout!
    Having a program where it gives exact pulse rates etc can be very reassuring but can take away our own ability to think for our selves

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