Footprints: Remembering Arthur Lydiard

Footprints: Remembering Arthur

The Coach, Issue 27, 2005
Letter from Auckland

With the death last year of Arthur Lydiard, the sport of track and field athletics lost one of its most charismatic and successful coaches. Scott Winton, one of Lydiard’s athletes, offers these final reflections on a great coach:

It’s hard to quantify how many people have been affected by Arthur Lydiard during his lifetime. I can say with certainty that he has impacted my life profoundly. People come around periodically that alter or deviate the course of a given sport. Lydiard’s revolutionary ideas did more than that, they turned the theory of distance running of its head. It takes a special personality to do that and it’s been my pleasure to have been coached and mentored by Arthur, since I was 13 years old. … … “The talent is all around us, we’ve just got to give them the belief in themselves, the right training and anything’s possible”. His confidence in himself is common to all top sports people. … …

Arthur Lydiard was launched into the limelight one day in Tokyo when, within two hours of each other, two of his boys claimed unexpected gold medals in the 1960 Olympic Games. The whole world wanted to know more about New Zealand’s Murray Halberg and Peter Snell, and what they discovered changed the theory of distance running. Up until that time the majority of middle distance athletes, like the great Roger Bannister, trained predominantly on a diet of repetition work all year round. Lydiard theorised that it was the aerobic fitness, or the endurance of an athlete, which was the limiting factor; after all it is not always the quickest person who finishes fastest but the strongest or best conditioned athlete. After reading various studies on physiology and experimenting on himself, Lydiard devised a training schedule, which had heavy emphasis on endurance. So for all his athletes, even the 800 m runners like Snell, he prescribed a lot of marathon type work. This was the initial phase of their training, then came hill-work for strength, finally a phase of anaerobic training and they were ready to race. Being highly periodised, by and large this format has been adopted to most endurance sports from kayaking to cycling.

The notoriety of Lydiard’s methods and the success that came with it led him to coaching stints all over the world including the United States, Mexico and Finland, which resulted in success in the seventies with Olympic glory for Pekka Vasala and Lasse Viren. … …

He has a forceful and charismatic personality, and he oozes enthusiasm for a sport that he’s given a lot to, but one that has given him even more. Arthur shouldn’t be doubted which I learned early on in out relationship. One days when he was explaining something to me, I replied “Do you think so?”. This stopped him in his tracks. Then he looked at me with a disbelieving glare and said, “I don’t think so. I bloody know so!”. … … he never asked us for a cent. His reward was in seeing us achieve our goals. “How I can take money from these guys who want to run, when other young people are hanging around drinking and smoking”. … … but it was his people skills that made him the coach he was, as Olympic bronze medallist Barry McGee laments. “He was like a father figure to me. Arthur had that special ability to motivate athletes when they were down. If you went to see him feeling down, you would leave believing you would be the next Olympic champion”.

One of the most important things I learnt from Arthur was that there is a purpose to everything you do and it is important to know why you are doing every session. Only then do you get an understanding of the sport. … …Another time he told us how one of the coaches he was helping in America was waxing lyrical about an athlete he thought was going to be the next big thing. The guy was doing some amazing times for some 400 m reps and Arthur told us how he had said to the coach “As far as I know there is no Olympic title for a session of 400 m reps”. … it crystallises his point that repetitions are only one part of a complete programme. Arthur talked about it a lot, as he believed that us non-Africans sometimes put too much of an emphasis on anaerobic training. People wanting to emulate the Africans examine their training and see that there is a large speed component, but it is with some frustration the Lydiard explained that this wasn’t the whole picture. “Before these athletes are put into their training camps they have done a veritable lifetime of aerobic training as youngsters. So if you look solely at the work they do now, it looks like they do a lot of anaerobic work. When people try to copy this without having done the necessary endurance training they can burn-out or become injured”. … …

I remember one particular training session we did because it changed my attitude to the sport forever. We had a 10,000 m time trial planned, which we did around the local track. I wasn’t feeling that good trying to keep up with the others and at 6,000 m I simply walked off the track. After the warm down I received a wall of silence from Arthur and once he knew I wasn’t injured he let me have it. “No athlete of mine stops like that. Your competitors identify a weakness, knowing that they just have to put you under pressure and you’ll submit. Also, it gives you an option for the next time you’re feeling fatigued”. I’ve never stopped in a race since and at last yea’s London marathon Arthur’s sentiments came flooding back to me when I was feeling it in the last few miles. … …

Lydiard was not always embraced by New Zealand’s national body and because of this uneasy relationship, we have under-utilised one of the greatest minds in athletics. It all stemmed from his treatment in the 1960’s when “Arthur’s boys” were dominating distance running in New Zealand and the world, which helped athletics to enjoy unprecedented success and exposure. Crowds of twenty to thirty thousand people were going through the turnstiles to see Kiwis take on the record books and the pick of the world’s elite. For some reason, Lydiard was not given and official role at the Olympic Games in 1964 and it took a national appeal to raise his fare so he was able to attend and watch Peter Snell take the 800 m, 1500 m double. Feeling disenfranchised by the sport’s ruling body, he soon left his country-of-birth to further his coaching career. Thankfully that frostiness eventually thawed and in 2003 he was awarded a life membership into New Zealand Athletics. … … In his final years Lydiard was taken into the heart of the general public as well. Three years ago he was asked to be the starter of a mile race at the half-time break of a cricket international at Auckland’s Eden Park and he was humbled as the capacity crowd game him a rousing standing ovation. … He appreciated his accolades, but sadly he was in his ninth decade before he was given the recognition he so richly deserved. … …

Arthur was present at the Athens Olympics, but it wasn’t Athletics that held the biggest interest for him. New Zealand’s current sportsperson of the year is kayaking’s Ben Fouhy, who is coached by our most successful Olympian of all time, Ian Ferguson. Lydiard is personally connected here, as he advised Ferguson through his success in the 80’s applying his theories in physiology and adapting them to kayaking. In athletics, Lydiard isn’t surprised at how the Africans and England’s Paula Radcliffe have re-written the record books over recent years. “In the 1960’s we determined that performance was chiefly limited by your aerobic capacity. The limit of an athlete’s aerobic capacity is unknown”. … … he (Peter Snell) now works as an exercise physiologist at the University of Texas. Snell left for the United States soon after he retired from athletics and he has since distinguished himself in the academic world. It is the one subject Lydiard talks of with a slight hint of disappointment. “He retired too young at only twenty six. We never saw the best of Peter Snell”. That is saying something because in his relatively short career he won three Olympic gold medals, claimed several world records and his best 800 m of 1:44.3 on grass would still be competitive today. … …

… another point that he regularly made: “You must always run the second half of a race faster then the first”. … …

Texas was where Arthur passed away peacefully in his hotel room while on tour promoting his new autobiography and how fitting it was that he had lunch with his most famous athlete, Peter Snell, only two days before he died. They chatted about old times, but mostly talked about the future with optimism. Sitting face to face were two of New Zealand’s favourite sons and highest achievers, who changed each other’s lives forever. I am sure Arthur Lydiard will be remembered by many People in numerous different ways, but what will the history books say? It’s easy to look back and see how many records and champions Lydiard can lay claim to, but maybe this isn’t the best way to quantify the affect he has had. I prefer to look around the parks and streets and see joggers enjoying the simple pleasure of running. This will be has lasting legacy. I will miss him.

Scott Winton (author) was brought up in the Auckland suburb of Beachlands, just under a mile from where Arthur Lydiard lived. He began running when he was 13 and doesn’t plan on ever stopping.

Safe to say, he’s a long to short man then! :wink:

And one of the best historically … very inclined to low intensity stuff too!
Joking apart, it’s always great to remember successful coaches and great people such as A. Lydiard,and possibly discuss together the hidden and not so hidden reasons of their widespread success.
There are threads in the Archives packed with interesting discussions of A.Lydiard’s training approach and its possible common points with Charlie’s .

Here is one,but there’s more !

Very similar to CF, and as the great man himself mentions, AL liked slow or fast, no in-between speeds.

I can see some common points between the two training methods, but I can also see a more horizontal approach to Lydiard’s system, i.e., that of building up a big mileage base, strengthening on hills and then several weeks of speed training.

Is this correct?
And if yes, were at least some of these components present simultaneously at any given time? Which would make a big difference to the whole system.


Here is an adult sprint program of his, although not necessarily his specialist area it gives some insight into his thinking.

Adult sprint

B = Easy fartlek running
D = Hill sprinting
E = Steep hills or step running
F = Leg speed
G = Sprint training
L = Time trials
N = Relaxed striding
O = Fast relaxed running
P = High knee-lift exercise
Q = Long striding exercise
R = Running tall exercise
S = Calisthenics
W = Jogging
X = Sprints starts

For as long as possible:
Monday - BDE ½ hour
Tuesday - PQR and N 300m x 4 Wednesday - BDE ½ hour
Thursday - PQR and N 300m x 4
Friday - F 120m x 10
Saturday - 800m x 3 @ ¾ effort Sunday - B 1 hour

For 6 weeks:
Monday - BDE ½ hour
Tuesday - PQR 100m each x 3
Wednesday - N 200m x 8
Thursday - X 30m x 6 and O 100m x 6
Friday - F 120m x 10
Saturday - L 100m and 200m or 400m
Sunday - B 1 hour

For 4 weeks:
Monday - 300m x 3 or 500m x 2 fast Tuesday - XGS
Wednesday - L 100m and 200m or 400m
Thursday - H x 12-16
Friday - W ½ hour
Saturday - Race 100m and 200m or 400m Sunday - B ¾ hour

For 4 weeks:
Monday - H x 12 or 300m x 3
Tuesday - O 100m x 6 and X 30m x 6
Wednesday - L 100m and 200m or 400m
Thursday - GS
Friday - W ½ hour
Saturday - Race Sunday - W ¾ hour

For 1 week:
Monday - L 500m x 2
Tuesday - O 100m x 6
Wednesday - Race 100m x 2 and 200m
Thursday - G and S
Friday - W ½ hour
Saturday - Race 100m and 200m or 400m
Sunday - W ½ hour

For 1 week:
Monday - G and S
Tuesday - B ½ hour
Wednesday - L 100m x 2
Thursday - N 200m x 3
Friday - W ½ hour or rest
Saturday - Race
Sunday - W ½ hour

Continuation of racing:
Monday - S and X
Tuesday - B ½ to ¾ hour
Wednesday - L sprints
Thursday - F 100m x 6-8
Friday - Rest or jog
Saturday - Race
Sunday - W and N – 200m x 4-6

Very interesting,John,thanks. Do you have any further information / programs of Lydiard’s training approach not yet discussed in the past on this site ? Any personal experience?
Some swimming coaches from New Zealand adopted A.Lydiard’s training system in their sport under his close supervision and were quite successful with more than one athlete and in a number of different events,ranging from the sprints to long distance ( in swimming terms…read:events lasting anywhere from 20sec to 16min).

I think an extremely interesting part of the program posted here is the “FOR AS LONG AS POSSIBLE” weekly schedule at the very beginnig. To propose such a relatively costant and unchanging training format “for as long as possible” is a very dense choice per se,which brings along very complex implications.
It is also a key area of Lydiard’s programming- too often overlooked and unexplored nowadays-putting in place the training/adaptation reserve (“biological power”) and the desired body structures.


Thanks John and Pakewi!
A few more things on A. Lydiard:

Newton was the first, after the professional pedestrinas, to describe two components that are central to the training beliefs of the New Zealand running coach, Arthur Lydiard: the 100-mile (160-km) training week and the belief that the human body already has sufficient speed and lacks only endurance.

From the Training Synthesis of Carl Foster A. Lydiard’s core ideas:

  1. you can’t train hard and race hard at the same time.
  2. if you can run more than 100 miles (160 km) per week during the buildup period, don’t run more, run faster (i.e., volume standardisation with further improvements via intensification/intensity).
  3. and again, once the base training is done, success is related to a controlled buildup of training intensity.
    [4. 100 miles (160 km) per week is relatively easy: 20 miles (32 km) one day, 10 miles (16 km) the next day].

From Lydiard and Gilmour, 1978: it was Arthur Lydiard’s belief that athlete’s potentials are determined by their speeds over 100 m -explaining PERHAPS the 11-12% time difference between genders across distances (i.e., from 100 m to the marathon).

In A. Lydiard’s words “two brains are better than one” referring to the close relationship that coach and athlete should have.

As John posted, on the issue of time trials, A. Lydiard advocates regular time-trials during the peaking phase. Yet, it is clear that he’s also concerned about dangers of racing in training: "the word “time-trial” is often misleading. Basically, a time-trial is used to develop coordination in running races over certain distances and to find weaknesses and use the appropriate training to strengthen them. Time-trials should not be run at full effort, but with strong, even efforts, leaving you with some reserves (Lydiard and Gilmour, 1978, p. 76). … … “Remember that when you are doing time-trials, you are still training hard, so good times cannot always be expected. You cannot train hard and perform well simultaneously” (see 3rd paragraph, point 1).

I hope these are useful and indicative of his training methods and ideas.

More to come, if desired!

First off I am no expert on Lydiard and most of the info I have is recollection from tv programs and articles I have read. The only time I saw Lydiard was earlier this year as per that link earlier here. That said I will add a few points.

Like many world class coaches Lydiard never got on that well with officialdom, that was why he went overseas and worked with the Finns and Mexicans in particular.

He was very dogamtic in his views and fully confident that his way was the only way to train. His athletes loved him and became lifelong friends.

He also talked a lot about training being a long term proposition, there were no quick fixes especially in his middle - long distance specialist areas.

Much is made of the mileage his athletes did but what is often overlooked is where they ran. The most famous was the run the did through the Waitakere Ranges. I had a work conference there a couple of months ago and was able to see them and can see why he used them…man it would be a tough run with a combination of gradients and the only way is is to run out (2 or so hours) turn around, that builds mental toughness as well as strength endurance.

The big thing Lydiard used to go on about was how much stronger his athletes were physically than their competition, especially near the end of their races. If you ever get the chance to see Peter Snell’s 800m & 1500m double from Rome you will see that.

Many coaches and athletes here have successfuly adopted Lydiard principles those I know of include kayaker Ian Ferguson
[i] At the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, Ferguson was unstoppable, winning the K1 500, and on the same day – August 10 - teaming with MacDonald to win the K2 500. the next day he completed an amazing treble by winning the K 4 1000.

Ferguson and MacDonald dispelled thoughts their 1984 Olympic successes had been purely because of the Eastern Bloc bocyott of the Games when they produced a winning effort in the K2 500 at the 1985 world championships in Belgium.

In 1987 at Duisburg, the pair added another world title in the K2 1000, plus a silver in the K2 500.

By the time of the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Ferguson was 36 years of age, but he had trained superbly and he and MacDonald retained their K2 500 title, as well as winning a silver in the K2 1000. Ferguson was the New Zealand team flag-bearer at Seoul. In 1990 Ferguson and MacDonald took the silver medal in the K2 10,000 at the world championships in Poland.

Unbelievably Ferguson, at the age of 40, contested his fifth Olympics at Barcelona in 1992. He and MacDonald again performed extremely well. They competed in the K2 500 and K 2 1000 and made the final of the longer race.[/i]
Ferguson is now coach of Ben Fouhy who is the current world and Olympic silver medallist in K1 1000 kayak as outlined in Nik’s first post above.

Pakewi what swimmers were you referring to? Anthony Moss?
Danyon Loader?

FYI Loader’s old coach Duncan Laing announced his retirement from coaching a couple of months ago.

A.L. is one of the few coaches whom I have invested my very scarce supply of money into. I own “Running to the Top” and just as “Training for Speed” is my everything-I-need-to-know-about-speed, Running to the Top is my everything-I-need-to-know-about-endurance.
Every time I thought of him, it used to be with a moment of awe. But after he died last year, I follow up that moment of awe with a moment of silence, followed by another moment of awe. Arthur Lydiard was the man.