Monday, June 17, 2024

A Conversation with Arthur Lydiard


As told by Pete Sexton, mild mannered Staff Reporter

FLYER: How was it that, back before 1960, when everyone else started to find out about Arthur Lydiard, you, as a younger coach, came to see a need for change in the coaching of distance runners?

LYDIARD: Well, I got a lot of criticism. People said, "You're coaching a middle distance runner, and he's running 100 miles a week in the evening, and maybe jogging 40 miles a week in the mornings, and the guy has to run around the track just 2 or 4 times. " But what they didn't understand was that your performance level is really governed by your aerobic capacity, your ability to assimilate, transport and utilize oxygen, not by your anaerobic development. Your anaerobic development is a limited factor - you can't turn all your blood into lactic acid. But these people didn't realize that if we're going to improve our performance level, we've got to improve our endurance, our ability to withstand higher oxygen debts and not get tired.

So, I try to get my athletes into a tireless state, so they can run and run and run, and when they get near to 100 to 250 meters to go, they could kick, they weren't tired, whereas the other guys, even though they had very good speed, they couldn't kick, they were too damned tired to kick. So that was simply the principle of it.

And of course you enter into the mechanics of it. You gradually develop the program, learn to control and evaluate, and refine your training program. That probably took us 18 years, making mistakes, and upsetting the whole program because we made mistakes. But the best teacher of all is experience, and I didn't care what physiologists said, or what the other coaches said, we were learning. And if you're a coach, and you know something gives the best results, you don't care what anybody says, that's what you're going to do, isn't it? And we learned the hard way, we learned how to put the thing together properly in a practical way. By the time 1958 came, Murray Halberg went over to the Commonwealth Games and won the 5000 meters, and then we were more or less satisfied we had it put together. By 1960, with Halberg and Snell gold medallists in Rome, we knew we had it put together. And you've got to realize we trained out of season, we didn't have any tracks, we ran around the roads in the rain and dodging cars, and we couldn't time our training, but we went by effort. And because it was in a balanced way, we started to get good results. You've got to realize something: that it doesn't matter what exercise you use, whether you run, jump, lift weights, swim, cycle or whatever it is, you can always do too mach or too little of any exercise, you can do it too fast or not fast enough, you can do it at the right time or the wrong time, that's what training's all about. And we did what everyone else did, but we probably did it a little differently. We did more of one thing, and less of another, It's the balance of training.

FLYER: Do you think that kind of principle applies to the average runner here, who runs maybe 25 or 35 miles a week, races some 5 milers or 10 K's, and an occasional marathon?

LYDIARD: Well, you see, I'm the man who started people jogging in the first place, who coined the phrase "jogging" for that matter, and started people in cardiac rehabilitation, we did this in 1960. I wrote the first book on jogging, Run For Your Life. So I know how to deal with cardiac patients. In eight months we'd take a cardiac patient to running the marathon, and these guys are still alive today. We did this way back in 1961-62. So we know haw to deal with these people. But you've got to realize something if you're going to run a marathon - well we could go out on the street there, and we could get a guy out there and saw, "Look, we'll give you a thousand pounds if you can walk 26 miles without stopping," he could do it. He could walk 26 miles. When you say to another guy, ".1 want you to walk and run 26 miles," he might walk one and run one and walk-run 26 miles, but when it comes to running 26 miles all the way without stopping, you've got a different ball game. So there's a certain amount of muscular endurance you've go to develop. And that means capillary development, otherwise the muscles will not contract. You'll get cramps and you can barely go on. So you've got to do a minimum of training. time to go for longer runs. You've got to get those longer runs in. If you only do 20 or 30 miles a week, at least on the weekend try to get longer runs in, 10, or 15, whatever you can. But always remember: it's not the distance that stops you, it's the speed. You go it slowly enough, you'll go a long way, right? And that develops capillary development, that's the muscular development we want, which will enable you to finish a marathon running all the way.

FLYER: When you've got folks who obviously don't have their own coaches, you've got to monitor your own development and training. How would you recommend people, what guide would they use to monitor themselves?

LYDIARD: What I've done, I've got Converse to produce a little book for me, and in there, it says how to set out a schedule, the stages. You can set your own schedule, and a balanced one. I put in for the guy who wants to race all the year around, every second week he wants to run a 10K. I've set out a balanced schedule. That's there, the race-week, non-race-week schedule. If you want to train up for a specific race, train up for the American Championships, there are schedules to help you. If you're a novice runner you need a balance in your training. Before you go to a 10K race, there's no use in going out and being unprepared for it. So I've prepared a "fun run" schedule. Anyone who's not run much before, they don't know what to do. It's a balanced schedule. They work through it, several months, then they come out and run pretty good races. And if they get onto the other schedules, the race week, and non-race week, they'll keep improving. But you've got to get a good conditioning base as regards the cardiac system and the muscular system before you can really improve. You know, people can distress themselves, dishearten themselves, they can train harder than anyone else, but not improve very mach because they're not getting the balanced training, the evaluation of training. So that's the best thing I can do. The books with the schedules are a giveaway, of course. Converse is going to send a whole lot of them down here, and anyone can have them.

FLYER: Back in 1960, one of the most memorable marathons ever run was the Olympic marathon Abebe Bikila won in Rome, but not many people realize that a certain runner o£ yours, Barry Magee was third in that race. How do you look upon that race?

LYDIARD: I've often heard Barry describing that race. Have you ever seen the Appian Way in Rome? The Appian Way has been down there for a couple of thousand years, and it consists of rocks about one or two feet wide and they're all pushed into the ground, and they're far from even. And of course the race started in the daylight, but after they'd gone about half way, then it's dark. There are no electric floodlights out there, and as the runners came along, the spectators flashed their cameras. Barry Magee said it was very difficult. He only ran 2:17. He said it was very difficult because the road was all uneven, and he couldn't see because these flashbulbs were going off all the time. And he said your eyes were blind, you couldn't see where you were, the ground was uneven - he said all you did was try to run along and hold your balance. Now Abebe Bikila in his bare feet probably had a better grip on the road than anyone else. That's not detracting from Bikila, he was a great marathon runner. I saw him run and win in Toro, and undoubtedly he was the champion, but when people look at the times in that marathon, they've got to realize it wasn't on a nice smooth paved road in daylight; it was on uneven ground, the lights were such that it was very difficult to see the ground, you never knew when you were going to hit the ground with your heel, and also flashing lights blinding you all the time. So I always like to hear Barry describing this to young people.

FLYER: What is the most gratifying memory of your coaching career?

LYDIARD: You know, New Zealanders are said to be the greatest knockers in the world. If you're a Finn, and you succeed, they'll put you on a pedestal and give you acclaim. In New Zealand, if you get ahead of the other guy, they're going to kick you in the gut every way they can and pull you down to their level. We know this. And of course I was criticized. I wasn't one of the elite characters. I was just a guy that would train my athletes, running around the roads, and I got a lot of criticism. But we went on our own program, we ignored these guys. And I only trained the kids that lived within two and a half miles of my home. Eventually four of them won Olympic medals in 1960. Another guy, Bill Bailey, broke a world record, Halberg, 800 gold, John Davies, 1500 bronze, and Barry Magee, marathon bronze. So when I went out in Rome, I never went there with the team, I coached my athletes outside the fence, I ran 12 miles every day, ran the 3 miles there to train my athletes, ran back; then in the afternoon the same thing. So I trained them outside the fence. But I was sure Snell and Halberg were going to win. Sir Arthur Park, who was doctor to the Queen of England at that time, and one of the IOC's executives, went to the management of the New Zealand team, and he said, "What chance do any New Zealanders have, because if I (as a New Zealander) am going to present the medals, I want to put them around the neck of a New Zealander." So they called me there, and they said, look, you've trained these guys, what chance do your athletes nave, and I said well, I think Snell and Halberg will win the gold medals. Sir Arthur Park actually did put the medals around a New Zealander's neck. But that's how sure we were. Of course the rest of the world wasn't sure about Snell; they were pretty sure about Halberg, but they weren't sure about Snell. So that all happened in about a half an hour, we had two Olympic gold medals. Now in New Zealand that doesn't happen very often; in your country it happens quite often. But we've only got three million people, you could lose them all in the north of Chicago, so that was gratification to me. And you would think it would quiet all the critics. But there are guys in New Zealand who today criticize me for that, they're so thick skinned they can't admit I was right. Now I set out the basic training for our canoeists in in the last Olympics. Four guys went out and won seven gold medals. It's the same principle, physiology, mechanics. All you have to understand is the nature of the event, the fundamentals of physiology and mechanics applied in a balanced way, and you're going to get results. They still say I'm wrong - but it doesn't worry me. It's just how difficult it is in New Zealand.

FLYER: What do you do on your own, now; what's your own regimen of exercise? (He looks in tremendous shape.)

LYDIARD: I'm retired, I'm a few weeks off 70. I turn 70 on July 6. If you want to go for a twenty mile run tomorrow, I'll go for a twenty mile run. I've got by the sea, I live in a small area just south of Auckland with about 2000 people, you've got to go through about ten miles of race horse stud farms and so on. I get up in the morning about 6 o'clock and I probably run 5 or 6 miles, maybe I go to the park in the afternoon, and maybe I'll run for half or three quarters of an hour in a beautiful park right there by the sea. I don't get involved in races, though I was in a race two weeks before I came over here. John Davies was the promoter of it, he wanted me to run a 10 K race. David Moorcroft was in there, he finished third, actually. A Finnish boy won it. I wasn't any threat to them. But I ran it. And when I was in Finland about 18 months ago, Lasse Viren, you know I helped Lasse Viren, he said, "Coach, will you run half, the Lasse Viren Half-Marathon?" And if I'd known it was over hilly, not very hilly, but sandy hilly forest trails, I wouldn't have run it. But I ran it. Took me an hour and a half to run it, but the next day I didn't have any sore legs or anything, so..

FLYER: Thanks, Arthur, it's been great talking with you.


Arthur Lydiard's appearance in the Triad was sponsored by Converse and Omega sports. When Lydiard's little book of schedules referred to in this interview arrives, it can be picked up at Omega Sports. The Flyer will let you know mw when it is available.




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