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Students of Lydiard

By Staff | Sep 23, 2011

I had the privilege of attending and speaking at the first Lydiard Invitational Coaching Seminar in Boulder, Colo., last weekend.

It was humbling to be in the room with running legends of the past and present, hear their stories and listen as they shared lessons learned and “secrets” they figured out. Six continents were represented (no one from Antartica) and many common “secrets” gelled as these runners all came to the same discoveries, although worlds apart in culture and distance.

All of these “secrets” revolved around discoveries of legendary New Zealand Coach Arthur Lydiard (1917-2008), whose runners produced 20 Olympic Gold Medals. To learn more about Arthur, go to his foundation site, listed along the side.

A few of the running luminaries shared their stories in this intimate forum.

Olympic Bronze Medalist and Boston Marathon champion Lorraine Moller along with Nobby Hashizume were the seminar leads and introduced the innovative online training tools which will allow any level of runner to understand and apply the Lydiard methods. Their passion for spreading Arthur’s message of health and sustainability made this event happen and will continue Arthur’s legacy.

Dr. Peter Snell of New Zealand, three-time Olympic Gold Medalist and original Lydiard pupil, was only a 4:20 miler on his 18th birthday and after following the Lydiard principles went on to win Gold in Rome in 1960 (800 meters) and Tokyo 1964 (800 and 1500 meters) as well as set a mile World Record of 3:53 and 800 Meter World Record.

I shared a meal and a beer with Peter and his charming wife Miki, who was also a barnstormer of her day pressing the movement of women’s running. Peter shared the story over dinner of how he financed his Ph.D. education by winning the “Superstars” competition. For those who were kids in my era this was THE show. Peter rocked the obstacle course and the bike. He is now researching and writing on fitness for the senior years.

A fellow competitor Jerry Siebert who ran against Peter in 1960 and 1964 was there to exchange barbs with him about their races. Both their minds are razor sharp on the details of these races 50 years ago.

Olympic Marathon Gold and Silver Medalist Frank Shorter shared his training stories and paid homage to Peter and the legacy of Arthur Lydiard. Frank is primarily responsible for making Boulder the running center of the Universe.

1983 New York City Marathon Winner and 1972 Olympic 1500 meter Bronze medalist Rod Dixon of New Zealand, and I shared principles of minimalist running and intelligent transition to barefoot and minimal shoes. In his racing years he used to cut his soles down to be thinner. Rod still looks like a million bucks at age 61. He is getting plenty of sun and health in LA coaching runners.

Likely, the most gutsy and toughest marathoner of all time was also in the room. Steve Jones of Wales (now Boulder) became World Class in the marathon while still working full time as a flight engineer with the Royal Air Force. This is near to my heart, as I’m still a USAF Reserve Flight Surgeon. Steve set the marathon World Record of 2:08.01 in a solo all out effort. There were no pacers and in Steve’s mind no barriers. Steve coaches elite and club runners now and like all of us is still searching for knowledge. Watch the video of his World Record linked along the side.

Silvio Guerra of Equador, two-time second place at the Boston Marathon, shared insightful lessons from over 10 years of international world class competition.

University of Colorado Coach Mark Whetmore, who has produced 12 Olympians, shared his long-term approach with collegiate runners. Some question the volume of running that Mark’s runners do, but he understands that they need progressively increasing volume if they are going to survive and thrive after collegiate running.

Likely the top high school protg of all time Melody Fairchild shared some of her lessons learned and gave important perspective as a female athlete facing pressures of the collegiate system. Melody is now hosting camps geared toward healthy living and training for young female runners.

These are just a few of the folks who were there. Each one in this group of 30 had fascinating stories, diverse backgrounds, and a shared passion for health.

So what were some of the key messages:

1. Peter Snell’s lead talk “Why Slower Running Makes You Faster” set the foundation. This is a shared theme in our Freedom’s Run Training Page. Building endurance is the key for health.and for fast running.

2. Do lots of things to promote good running form and elasticity, strength, an mobility in the muscle tendon units. For Lydiard this was a lot of hill running and hill drills which involved hopping and light bounding.

3. Intervals will make you faster, but only if you have an endurance base.

4. Rest and recovery are vitally important. Understand progressive adaptation.

5. The science eventually proves what all these legendary runners from different continents all figured out.

6. Easy runs of two hours will help you get faster as you start to recruit fast twitch fibers to use glucose and fat as fuel.

7. If you have target races, have a long term calendar that breaks down your year in specific periods.

8. Have fun!

9. These runners from a generation or two ago wore skinny shoes in their training and racing.

10. If you do not exercise what you eat will turn to fat. By exercise and depleting the tank your cells will accept the nutrients in a restorative way and not make you fat.

So why was I at this meeting and speaking?

Lorraine and I have a shared interest in youth running and health and have gotten to know each other over the last two years. There is a growing interest from runners and coaches on the topic of running mechanics and barefoot running. The experienced runners and coaches do not want to hear scientific theory without it being tested. Maybe my unique role is that of a medical doctor who can interpret the science side but also be a runner out there pushing the envelope a bit, discovering what it is all about, and teaching others. I have not won any Olympic medals but have achieved “sustainable runner” status by going against the status quo, taking risk and becoming an experiment of one.

This was Arthur Lydiard’s legacy. Everything he suggested he tested on himselfan experiment of one. He did the opposite of what most thought to be true over 60 years ago and his methods are just as applicable today and they were in 1960. From a medical side he was the first to institute exercise as a therapy for heart attack patients. Doctors of that day felt rest was the treatment. Arthur believed the opposite and today the world of Cardiac Rehab is filled with treadmills, not Lazy-Boys.

I encourage you to read about Arthur on his Foundation site, www.lydiardfoundation.org.