Phedippidations 174 concentrated on the coaching of legendary New Zealander Arthur Lydiard – specifically a lecture given by him in Japan in 1990. My eyes generally glaze over when coaching theory becomes more complex, my lack of any background in the sciences letting me down badly. However, Steve presented extensive word-for-word extracts from the lecture and I found myself caught up in the great man’s theories. Let’s see if I got it right.

Lydiard lists the three essential elements of training for successful running as (1) aerobic work, (2) anaerobic work and (3) speed. The relationship between all three is all-important but not always well understood. He was one of the first to formulate the theories of periodisation.

First of all he asserts that aerobic capacity is theoretically infinite – i.e. the body’s capacity to increase the efficiency of heart, lungs and the processing of oxygen around the system. The anaerobic capacity of the body is however limited. Therefore an athlete who trains predominantly anaerobically – e.g. with interval training, will inevitably soon reach the point where improvement will be difficult, if not impossible. Improvement will become possible if aerobic capacity is increased and therefore, as they are linked, anaerobic capacity will also improve and times will come down.

This is where Lydiard’s theories were (and are) questioned. It just seems ‘wrong’ to send an athlete out to run easy for 160 miles per week when they should be suffering on the track. Lydiard insists the two must go hand in hand. He quotes the case of his athlete Murray Halberg who, with three laps of the 1960 Rome Olympics 5000m to go, put in a 60 sec lap to which his interval-trained rivals could not respond. This was (Lydiard claimed) because his man was used to running long and steady whilst his rivals’ bodies were expecting a rest, as in interval training.

He also insists that speed must be a constant throughout the training period and should incorporate technical work and hill runs – the latter for leg strength (uphill) and leg speed and stride length (downhill). He was not an advocate of weight training.

Needless to say, this is not a recommendation of Lydiard-type training – I have not got the background to say that it is right or wrong. But it has enthused me to start looking a little deeper into the science of this running business.