Welcome to the November issue of Striders’ RUNdown. We have the usual round-up of Strider racing this month. There have been some fabulous races, including the popular Brampton to Carlisle 10 Mile Road Race and the Aykley Heads cross country fixture. A huge thank you to everyone who enabled our club to host such a brilliant cross country fixture. It ran really efficiently.
This month I interview Ian MacKenzie; experienced triathlon and running coach who has supported the club for many years. I won’t give any spoilers here but he is quite an impressive guy! As well as sharing his sporting journey he also tells us about the origin of Allan Seheult’s track sessions and the theory behind them, many of these sessions which we still use now.
Thank you to all run leaders and volunteers that continue to enable the great selection of runs, track and strength and conditioning sessions each week. We look forward to some festive runs and events in December, not least of which is the Striders’ Christmas Party and Awards Night on Friday 9th December. Thanks to all who have booked tickets. Looking forward to seeing you there!
Tamsin Imber (Writer and Main Editor of Striders’ RUNdown)
Malcolm Sygrove (sub-editor and Web Publisher)
The Strider Shout-Out!
Wooler Trail Races
A group of Elvet Strider took part in the Wooler Trail Half Marathon organised by Trail Outlaws. These are popular trail races taking place in the beautiful Cheviot hills, mists and bogs. Some Striders did a recce of the route a few weeks before and were chased by cows. No-one was harmed. Thanks Theresa for contacting the race organisers and letting them know prior to the race. The cows were in a different field on race day. Everyone had a brilliant time on the day. Especial big shout-out to Emma McCabe who did amazingly, coming 5th female! Also brilliant running from Alex Collier who came 16th overall! Sarah Fawcett came 4th in her age category and Heather Raistrick came 3rd in her age category. Congratulations also to Lotti Collier, Malcolm Sygrove, Alexandra Butler, Theresa Rugman-Jones and Kirsty Nelson.
Graeme Watt ran the Wooler marathon race which took place the day before the half marathon. He came 16th place which is a big achievement in this tough event which is actually 29 miles of up and down a slippery sub-vertical bog in the rain. Mike Burt and Rob Thirkell also completed the marathon.
Hardmoors 26.2 series – Goathland Marathon
Alex Brown continued his running of this race series. The Goathland Trail Marathon takes place in the North York Moors across the bogs and moors. Alex had a great time and ran really well.
Tommy 10k Memorial Run
This is a 10k race along the seafront at Seaham, which starts at the Tommy war memorial statue (Soldier Tommy Atkins). The race is organised by Wild Deer Events. Three Striders took part. Paul Foster ran really fast, coming 9th male and 1st in his age category. Andrew Davis and Fiona Harrington-Hughes also took part and ran good times.
Run Durham Hamsterley Remembrance Day 5 and 10 mile race
These are hilly trail runs within Hamsterley Forest organised by Run Nation. Tracey Scott and Sophie Dennis ran in the five mile race. They both did brilliantly, Tracey coming 6th in her age category and Sophie coming 5th in her age category.
Mark Griffiths ran the 10 mile race and flew round coming seventh overall and first in his age category. Well done!
Heaton Harriers Memorial 10k
This race took place along the traffic free footpaths of Newcastle’s Town Moor. The race incorporates the 2022 NE Counties Athletics Association (NECAA) and NE Masters Athletics Association (NEMAA) men and women’s 10k road racing championships. There was a good turnout from Striders. Graeme Watt came first Strider in an ear splitting pace of 34:59. Speedy results also from Phil Ray (35:15), Andrew Race (35:33), Bryan Potts (35:43), Lindsay MacEwan (39:46), Allan Renwick (39:48), Nina Bojadzic (42:18), Anna Basu (44:24), Terry Robertson (46:07) and Jo Robertson (46:08). Jo Robertson got an astonishing 5 minute PB! Lindsay and Anna Basu also were awarded bronze NEMAA age category awards for their performances this season.
Remembrance Run Organised by Saturn Running, Durham
This is a lapped course along the riverbanks. The event runs for 7 hours and you can choose your distance. Nic Down and Steph took park and ran their first half marathons and did so in an amazing time of 2.37. They were supported by Claire Austin and Paul Wilkinson. Well done guys!
Saltergate Gallows Fell Race
This is a 12.8 mile fell race in North Yorkshire, in the southern part of the North York Moors. It started at Levisham and went up onto the moorland. It was organised by the Esk Valley Fell Runners. Nina Mason took part and did really well coming second in her age category and winning a prize.
70th Brampton to Carlisle 10 Mile Race
Congratulations to all 39 of you that took on the challenge of this famous road race hosted by Border Harriers Athletics Club. A popular event with running clubs makes for fierce competition and a high level of racing, so it is an exciting event and an opportunity to put yourself against really good runners from all around. All Striders did amazingly well. Just to mention a few names though, Jean Bradley came 1st in her age category winning a prize. Anna Basu was first female Strider home and came 3rd in her age category winning a prize. Jim Nicholson came 7th in his age category, Roz Layton came 5th in her age category, Heather Raistrick came 8th in her age category, Karen Byng came 10th in her age category, and Graeme Watt was first male Strider home and came 51st overall in a swift time of 57:13!
Slaley Hall and Forest 10km and Half Marathon
These hilly, muddy trail runs took place in the extensive grounds of Slaley Hall and the half marathon also takes in Slaley forest. They are organised by Wild Deer Events. Anita Clementson ran the 10k race in a fantastic time of 1:09 and came 8th in her age category. I did the half marathon and came 4th female, in a time of 1:43. Last year I came first female but in a slower time of 1:46.
Aykley Heads NEHL Cross Country Fixture
Not quite as muddy as some years but a brilliant course, and arguably the best in the league! Huge thanks to our cross-country captains and to everyone involved in the organisation of this event both beforehand and on the day. It ran very efficiently. As for the running, all men and woman ran really well, so give yourself a well deserved pat on the back. In this race the men’s team came 6th in the first division and the woman’s team came 4th the first division. There are two more fixtures to go, Thornley Farm on 11th February and Alnwick on 4th March. Let’s see what we can do!
Steve Ellis ran his 200th parkrun this month and Claire Austin ran her 100th parkrun. Two amazing achievements!
Susan Davis continues to run strong performances as is illustrated by her 80.56% age grading at parkrun this month. There were also good performances from Bryan Potts getting a PB at Riverside of 16:48, Andrew Race got a parkrun win at Riverside this month with an amazing time of 16:29 and Liam Huntington came first at the Sedgefield purple parkrun. Please do keep me updated with any of your parkrun achievements, I expect there are many more.
Strider Chat: Interview with Ian MacKenzie
I was very interested to speak to Ian MacKenzie who gives a lot of his time and knowledge to our club at our Wednesday track sessions, and who has done for many years. It is clear that his natural modesty hides his impressive sporting and coaching achievements. Thanks so much Ian for sharing this with us, and for all your coaching input to our club. It is extremely appreciated.
When did you start cycling and why?
On my tricycle! 1950s Ireland wasn’t a wealthy place. Post revolution, post civil war, post WW2 – although we were ‘neutral’ in that. My dad used to race bikes pre-children – I was the 5th of 6. Bikes were part of the furniture, we used them to get to school. When I was ten we moved to Limerick, it was really out in the sticks, sometimes referred to as ‘Murder City.’ The book ‘Angela’s Ashes’ by Jim McCourt describes Limerick well in the late 50s and 60s. It was poor and rough. It had been a hotbed of revolutionary angst and civil war. We moved there because of my dad’s job; he was a music teacher and musician. We lived 5 miles from the centre of town, and I cycled to school and back every day. When I was 13 I started getting more interested in cycling and joined a cycling club, training three times a week and racing every weekend – school suffered a little bit. At the same time, I was playing the violin and doing lots of practice. The whole family was musical, so it must have been hell for the neighbours. Cycling and music created a bit of a conflict because if you are training for stuff it tends to consume your whole being – but if you are also training to be a professional violinist, that’s also all consuming. So I was either doing three hours practice on the violin or a couple of hours on the bike. At school I did enough to get by. From 14 to 18, the junior stage, I was pretty much a full time bike racer, apart from violin and school. We were actually very lucky, as Ireland was unbelievably interested in cycling. I was racing on a Saturday and on a Sunday and at least on one day during the week. It was kinda too much. Looking back now as a coach, I think, really? You were doing all that? Did nobody say it was too much?! (He laughs) but that’s the way it was. It was really good racing.
In Britain, race fields were limited to 40 riders in road races, and 60 riders for the Tour of Britain, largely due to the amount of traffic on the roads and the attitude of the motoring public. In Ireland we didn’t have this limit, there was a lot less traffic, and there was a real community feel to almost any sport. So the races I went to as a junior would typically have about 80 riders, junior racers with senior racers. If you couldn’t keep up with the peloton you just got spat out the back – you soon learned to keep up! Some of the people that you’d be racing with would be going to the world championships or the Olympic games, so not just your local club riders, and age group hadn’t been invented! From the age of 16 I was racing with the big boys. There were lots of 3 day and 4 day stage race events that were run as senior races with a junior category. They would take place over a weekend or bank holiday weekend, so we would be racing and camping. The juniors often didn’t really do anything much in the races in terms of shaping the action (we rode on restricted gears), they sheltered in the pack and survived. But if you got very good at reading a race, being in the right place in the peloton, going with the right moves then you could still be in the mix towards the end – where the Seniors with big gears would win the sprints. But some of the Juniors did a whole lot better than many of the seniors, who did go out the back. So this was my life from the age 15 to 18 years.
What are your proudest cycling achievements?
My club didn’t do much time trial racing and I wasn’t that interested in it. But I did win a 10 mile time trial in 1968 with a 22:04 time. Looking at historic records now (which we can do now in the age of the internet) I can see that this time wasn’t too far off the British junior record at the time which was 21:20 (achieved a year later by N. R. Lelliott, Worthing Excelsior, 1969). At the time I didn’t realise how good my time was. I did it on my favourite bike, a track bike with fixed wheel and front brake bolted on!
The biggest race I ever did was the Tour of Ireland 1970. It was a similar-ish level to the Tour of Britain. I had lots of shorter stage race experience which helped. This was an 8 day, 10 stage event. The big English clubs used to send over riders, and this was a Commonwealth Games year, so all the British nations had riders looking to impress the selectors. My 1970 race featured Pete Matthews from Liverpool Mercury (1968 British National Road Champion), Doug Daily (1972 British Road Race Champion, who became British Cycling National Coach) from Kirby CC, Brian Jolly (1973 British Professional Road Champion) and Geoff Wiles (1976 British Professional Road Champion) There were a 120 riders in the race and 70 of them were ‘top drawer’ riders looking for qualification for bigger events. There was a German team, and a composite Australian and NZ team also preparing for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow later that year. One of them was Bruce Biddle who won the road race at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow later that year, and would place 3rd in the 1972 Olympics. I was a first year senior club racer coming in 85th overall in this Tour of Ireland. I never got ‘dropped’ and I got into a few breakaway groups – I got into a bit of argy-bargy with Nigel Dean (British Junior Champion, around 1967) on one stage, and he found himself surrounded by a bunch of Irish riders who took him to the to the side and told him what’s what! I almost sneaked a stage win into Dungarvan, jumping into the final turn as everyone else was braking – but then I got swallowed up in the sprint to the line. So I showed I had some potential. I went home on the Sunday after the race, fell into bed at 3am and didn’t wake up till Tuesday! Looking back at the photos I think I look a bit weedy and really should have eaten more protein!
So I was in the competition to get to the 1972 Olympics, on the ‘long-list’ of junior possibles following the 1968 Olympics. I had been included in a 1968 four day training camp with Shay Elliot. Shay Elliot was the first Irish cyclist to compete in the Tour de France and first Irish cyclist to win the yellow jersey there, one of the super-domestiques for French cyclist Jacques Anquetil. In 1962 he had been 2nd at the Worlds, and 3rd overall in Vuelta Espana – this was at a time when English speaking riders hadn’t really registered in continental cycling. Then in 1969 there was another camp with Norman Shiel (World Pursuit champion 1955 & 1958, Tour de France rider 1960) who was head coach for British Cycling. They had an early version of mobile HR monitoring – he attached some electrodes to my chest and then hung out the window of the following car to pick up my readings! I was just at the start of the path to the 1972 Olympics, but then after the Tour of Ireland season I finally had to make one of those life choices – the tension between bike and violin wasn’t really manageable. I couldn’t fit in bike racing, so I stopped it completely to pursue a career as a professional violinist.
What has been your worst cycling moment?
Also in the Tour of Ireland. The longest day was 153 miles, which was split up into a 63 mile stage in the morning and a 90 mile stage in the afternoon. The 63 mile stage from Cork to Limerick we did in just under two hours. During the 90 mile stage (also very fast, 3 hours) I was so far out of it – I was riding my bike in a big bunch of riders but I was in a landscape where there was no colour. It was really really strange. My wife (and GP) Ellen Ann tells me it was something to do with my blood pressure and dehydration. I couldn’t give up as I was in a race. I hadn’t lost control – you can’t be in a bunch of that size and not be able to manoeuvre and hold your place. I remember there were points I thought I had to focus harder, try harder, as I wanted to stay with this group and not drop back. So I was still in control of that part of my brain, but I remember thinking this is so strange, you know, Ireland is 40 shades of green and all I had was 50 shades of grey! But I did manage to recover in time for the next day and rest of the race.
What happened after you left high level cycling?
I moved around for 15-20 years between Dublin, Belfast and Germany as a professional violinist with various orchestras. I found this 1983 video on youtube! (Sound on… it is music, after all!)
I actually did quite a bit of recreational running when in Dublin, along the beach at Portmarnock at midnight – I found it calming after a big performance. I did it too in Belfast in the mid-70s – that wasn’t safe, it was really a bit daft! But I used to do this with a couple of buddies from the Orchestra. We had a few ‘interactions’ with British soldiers, a bunch of guys out running at midnight on a Friday! But I wasn’t a competitive runner, not fast enough really, and the time commitment wouldn’t have worked. Later on, in 1988, we moved to Durham. This was just after the Good Friday Agreement which is back in the news again now.
What led you to becoming a triathlon coach?
I got into the triathlon scene in 2003, really by accident. We were at the point where our two sons were leaving home. I had turned into a couch potato, although I did some recreational cycling on a recumbent bike as I have a shoulder issue. So, in the 1990s my wife Ellen Ann was a cross country skier on the (Age Group) GB Team. She decided she needed something in the summer in the UK, outside of the ski season, to keep her fit. She was doing roller ski-ing but needed something more. So, she joined the Durham Triathlon Club and tried triathlon. I kinda went along as the groupie, taking photos of my wife. She did really well and came 4th in the world in her age group in Hamburg in 2004. She started doing more races. I took more photographs. As I was taking photos I started to look at the cycling, thinking that’s really not safe. So, I thought I could help out somehow, at least make the Durham Triathlon Club cycling a bit better.
So I did my Level 1 triathlon coaching qualification, along with Allan Seheult (former coach here at Elvet Striders and at Durham Triathlon Club). I found the cycling part fine but had to work on the swimming and running parts. Allan went straight on to do his level 2 triathlon qualification. I needed to improve my knowledge of the running side of things to get my level 2 qualification so I asked him if I could come along to track; he agreed and took me under his wing as I planned my four connected sessions to get the qualification. After that he welcomed me to continue with the sessions, and we went from there. Later on, in 2015/16, I did my level 3 triathlon coaching qualification which needed more running input, and the track sessions gave me the kind of exposure and experience I needed.
I did a bit of recreational fell running and paced a friend at the Great North Run, but my knowledge was really more from study and courses with Mike Antoniades at the Running School in London, and Lorraine Moller at the Lydiard Foundation. I was also taking the swim coaching more seriously, and did a number of courses with Paul Newsome of SwimSmooth. Video analysis was just becoming a real possibility for club level coaches at this stage so I did a lot of that for Run and Swim – it helps athletes zoom in more clearly on some limiting factor or action, or pattern of actions – and often it’s almost enough just to show them the video and point it out, for them to address the issue successfully.
Tell me about some athletes you have coached
I’ve been Head Coach at Durham Triathlon Club now for about 12 years and have helped many triathletes toward their goals. There’s less continuity of contact in the tri setting (compared to a running club setting) in terms of the coach/athlete – with 3 disciplines to look after along with work and family, the triathletes have to be very independent operators. But where I have had a more consistent arrangement with some athletes, they have had positive outcomes. That could be in terms of getting faster (Andrew Dixon was running 22 min for 5k and we got this down to 19 min over 18 months), or having a positive strategy (Tim Matthews, using run-walk in an Ironman marathon), or managing some medical issue or illness in order to maintain as much as possible and to get back into action without aggravating the situation.
I have coached and introduced Tim Matthews to the run-walk system, which is particularly effective for the run part (marathon) of Ironman triathlons. There is a perception in running that you mustn’t walk; but actually if you are an age group athlete and in a long-distance race then the run-walk system allows you to recalibrate your body and take on food and drink more easily at more regular intervals, and therefore to maintain a more even pace throughout the marathon. The system of running for 8 minutes and walking for two minutes takes practice because there is kind of mental permission needed – you don’t want to walk, you don’t need to walk – yet actually if you do need to walk in a marathon you are already behind the curve. Runners that have decided to use this strategy look quite different to those who are walking because the wheels have fallen off – they’re running with purpose, they’re confident it works, they’re getting ready to run again. Runners who are forced to walk adopt a kind of dejected walk, their body language tells they’re beaten. For someone running at a 10 minute-mile pace, fast walking is not actually that much slower in terms of distance ‘lost’, so you are not going to lose much ground and may overtake the 10 minute-mile runners later on in the race as they tire. The other part of it is that the run-walker has confidence. You can’t buy confidence when you are at a late stage in a race. It’s the same as in a track session; you get the recoveries, and you know how it helps you do the next interval – this is the same thing. The whole business of pacing is so important, whether you run at an even pace or use the walk-run strategy, to stop you setting off too fast.
John Lowe is another athlete I’ve coached. He was very comfortable running 6 minute miles and could run at this pace for a half marathon, but found it difficult to run at a 6.5 minute-mile pace, which he needed to do to complete the longer distance of a marathon. So we introduced the run-walk strategy where he would run the 8 minutes at 6 minute mile pace, then walk for 2 minutes, and this really helped and allowed him to run at the faster pace his body preferred.
Run-walk is a tool to be used when required, and – provided it’s been practised in training – it can be effectively deployed from the start or part way through the race. And it can be modified: 8min/2min is the model, but 4min/1min is the same thing proportionately, and it may be that 9min/1min is just enough for some runners. Other variations are allowed – but the key thing is the granting of permission, the ownership of the plan.
Do you enjoy cycling now in retirement?
I really like cycle-touring and have done a lot of this with Ellen Ann. I love going from one place to another place. We’ve done a lot in Holland – it’s just so easy to get to (and flat, and great camping); Denmark and Sweden, and some Germany. Because of my shoulder issue I ride a recumbent bike, so I look for places I can get to by ferry (recumbent bikes are a bit awkward in terms of boxing up for a flight!). I’ve ridden from Santander down to Faro in the Algarve, and back again – Ellen Ann was doing a tri camp there – that was 1000km and 10 days each way, lots of hills. And just before the covid period started we cycled down the Rhine – we took the train to Strasbourg.
We also like long distance walking. In the past I’ve done the Camino Santiago across the north of Spain, and together we’ve done some of the French GR routes – I’ve done the GR10 across the Pyrenees from Hendaye on the Atlantic to Banyuls on the Mediterranean. Actually, I’ve done both the French and Spanish routes across the Pyrenees. So we may do some more of that too. There is an organisation called ‘Slow ways’ <www.slowways.org> who are trying to get existing off-road routes between towns in the UK comprehensively mapped – I love the idea of just finding a walk/run route from (say) Durham to Leeds! It’s kind of mediaeval, that knowledge of ancient paths.
Tell me about the origin of Allan Seheult’s track sessions
For newer members of the club, Allan Seheult was a former highly esteemed coach at Elvet Striders. Many of Allan’s sessions are still used on Wednesday nights at Striders [Ed: Tamsin].
Allan’s track sessions are largely based on the work of a New Zealand runner and running coach called Arthur Lydiard. Allan was a big admirer of Lydiard. I am also very interested in Lydiard coaching techniques. I am a Lydiard Level 2 running coach and am currently doing their Level 3 course. As part of this course, I was on a zoom call with three of Lydiard’s athletes, one of whom was Barry Magee (Magee is the only runner in the world to have sub-3 hour marathons in every decade of his life, from his 20’s to his 70s!). It was very interesting to hear their experiences of being coached by Lydiard.
Tell me more about Arthur Lydiard
Arthur Lydiard ONZ OBE (1917-2004) is recognised as an outstanding athletics coach. Lydiard’s training methods are based on a strong endurance base. He said you can’t train speed unless you have the stamina under the speed. He also believed building a strong base was essential to avoid injury. So his runners did a lot of slow miles in their first phase. This was followed by a strength phase, then a speed phase, then a short phase of training specifically for the race they were entering. The idea of periodised training wasn’t quite new, but Lydiard refined and developed it, and he was a master at getting his athletes to peak at precisely the right time.
Lydiard believed there was a big reservoir of talent in any locality and that you could apply his methods anywhere and produce an elite runner. He started his coaching career in the 1950s by being a local town coach just outside Auckland. His runners were just local people, they weren’t drawn from across all of New Zealand. It would be the equivalent of inviting people just from Newton Hall you know, or whatever your local area is, and his methods certainly seemed to work! The young athletes he coached then started to do really well. They included Peter Snell, Murray Halberg and Barry Magee. When it came to the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, Lydiard wasn’t on the NZ coaching team, he was just ‘the guy who coached those runners from near Auckland’. The powers that be didn’t like him because he was a bit of a maverick and had ideas of his own.
So his runners were running over to the fence surrounding the stadium passing notes back and forth to him – they could really have done with a mobile phone (he laughs). But when his runners won two gold medals in the same evening, that was a big wake up call to the powers at the time; maybe you should listen to what this guy is doing, because everyone else wanted to know what he was doing (he laughs). Peter Snell won gold in the 800m, Murray Halberg won the 5000m, and Barry McGee won bronze in the Marathon. He was then accepted into the fold and became the New Zealand coach for a time. In the 1964 Olympics, Peter Snell won the 800m and 1500m, with John Davies 3rd in the 1500 as well.
Lydiard then coached other New Zealand runners who have done very well such as Rod Dixon, John Walker, Dick Quax and Dick Taylor – there’s a few big medals in that lot! He was also a good runner himself. He competed in the Men’s Marathon at the 1950 British Empire Games in Auckland, finishing 12th in a time of 2:54:51. Later he went off to Venezuela, Mexico, Finland and Japan and became a celebrity coach basically. He was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1962 for services to sport. In 1990 he was appointed an Order of New Zealand, New Zealand’s highest civil honour.
Lydiard’s Training Methods and how Allan’s Track Sessions derive from this
Lydiard’s method was that you began with a long endurance phase which consisted of running a lot of very slow miles. This built up a huge reservoir of resilience, and put you in a good position in terms of the strength of your whole skeletal system, making it robust and strong for the strength and speed work that would come later on. One thing noted about Lydiard runners was that they suffered very few injuries, attributed to the fact that they had built such a good strong system first. It comes down to the impact on landing as that’s where so many of the running injuries come from. Even if you are a good runner and have good form there is a lot of weight that goes through the landing phase; and if you are, say running at 180 steps per minute, or of that order, that is a lot of potential damage every minute. As soon as you take the speed out of it the impact is extremely reduced, and so you get the benefit of resilience building, plus you build a great fat-burning running engine. Another more recent presentation of this training method is the 80/20 method. When you look into the kinds of intense sessions elite athletes are doing – they spend very little time training at intense levels, but they spend lots of time at the easy level. It won’t just be 80/20, it may be more like 90/10 for some athletes, and it means that they have this huge reservoir of robustness. They can generally rely on their body not to fall apart. Injuries and weaknesses in the body are one of the main limiters in athletes – a weak hamstring, a constantly recovering achilles etc – but if you have built a strong resilient body first, then when you do the 10% (the intense efforts) – when they do press that button, they hit it with a hammer. And if you’ve been running like that for 2 or 3 or 4 years then all of that is cumulative – there’s a huge reservoir of resilience.
The Maffetone method of training also plugs into this general approach – you’re restricted to a relatively low heart rate for training which makes you run quite slowly in terms of pace, but you build this more efficient engine and reduce injury risk. Even in a 1500m race there’s a lot of aerobic running, around 90%, so good well trained fat-burners will use that energy system for part of the race, and have more carbs available for the later stages of the race.
So after this long base phase, there’s a strength phase then a speed phase, with these later phases laid on top of that solid base phase. Lydiard’s runners all did this, no matter which distance they were targeting. After this, from the group of athletes he had when preparing for the major NZ races, he’d have a meeting round his kitchen table and say “Okay you guys can go for the 800m, and you guys, you go for the 1500m, and you guys can do the 5k” and in this way he shared out the medals amongst his group of runners (he laughs). The training would end with a very short phase of race-specific training for each athlete. The idea of 800m and 1500m track runners doing high mileage went against the prevailing coaching norms, but his runners could turn up on the big day and turn it on. And in the Rome 800m, Snell had the endurance to survive the heats, semi-finals, and then the final which were all packed into a couple of days. The big favourite, the Belgian Roger Moens, was inconsolable after the race – nothing had prepared the Europeans for the arrival of the New Zealanders.
Lydiard’s strength training involved hill reps, but with a difference. His approach was not to be concerned with time and pace, the focus was on form when doing the reps. He would instruct them to run up hills using an exaggerated form, using the hill as resistance. We are talking about 1950s New Zealand; there were no glitzy gyms and centres with kit and equipment, you had to use what was available, and they had plenty of hills! The hill forms Lydiard asked for this training progressed from Steep Hill Running, to Hill Bounding, and then to Hill Springing. They all used an exaggerated degree of normal running form – the forward lean (provided by the hill itself), the straight-through-the-body drive from shoulders to toe-off, the high knees and mega-arm-drive. He was not looking for speed, he was just looking for the good demonstration of the particular exaggeration of form during each drill. Lydiard would use hills of different gradients so you could then regulate the load you put on. As his athletes became stronger he could use longer segments or steeper hills. It was a kind of functional Plyometrics, and was very effective. This type of training enabled his runners to have the strength to maintain their form in the latter part of races, where often runners can lose their form. This means his runners could maintain efficiency, keep up their speed, and avoid the injuries that arise from poor form under pressure. You can see these Hill Running techniques demonstrated here:
I do need to insert a Health & Safety warning here – these are plyometric exercises, so if you have current ankle, knee or hip issues, you should probably pass on this for the moment. And don’t rush the progression – many very fast runners don’t make it to the Hill Springing level, but make big gains from the first two stages.
This was all in times before multi-function sports watches, when the big metric was pace per mile. So once Lydiard’s runners had established what their functional threshold pace was (the pace they could sustain for about an hour) they would know the distance they could cover per minute at Threshold, and then estimate other intensities and paces from that. He used imperial measurements when he talked about efforts and intensity – so “run at ¾ effort, or run at 7/8 effort” , where in our system of might say 7.5/10 or 9/10 effort. But the essence of what he was doing was teaching runners that they could run at different paces and that they could control this. This is very beneficial in a race – and it doesn’t matter what sport you are in, if you have a deep seated feeling that you can control the pace, that you can push up your pace a bit if you want or push a lot for a limited amount of time (which is what we now measure with power metres on our bikes for example). In the Tour de France for example when someone makes a breakaway, the guys look at their power metres and think – well, he’ll last this amount of time, we’ll just keep steady pace and then he will be reeled back in; and it makes for very boring racing to watch! (he laughs). But it is exactly what Lydiard was getting at 60 years earlier with his control of pace, and he instilled this into his runners from their earliest interactions with him. It was an intuition from him, but he had some numbers to back it up, in his calculations of “oh they can do an extra 10% effort for this length of time, or an extra 50% effort for this amount of time, before they fade”. From our perspective now – because we can see data – we can say well that’s obvious, but at that stage it wasn’t quite so obvious at all.
There was a great demonstration of pace management in the 5000m at the Rome Olympics. Lydiard’s runner was Murray Halberg. He had a somewhat awkward running style – product of a shoulder injury from his earlier rugby playing days, and he had to ‘carry’ one arm. The big favourites were the Germans Grodotzki and Janke. When Halberg took off with 3 laps to go with his lumbering style nobody paid attention – some of the European athletes had laughed at him when they saw him training – but he knew exactly what he could hold for 1200m. When it came to 800m to go and the others realised he wasn’t slowing down, all their plans went to pot, they had to chase him, and the race behind unfolded quite differently from what the favourites had planned. They did close him down of course, but they never caught him.
The control-of-speed element is where Allan’s track sessions derive from in the main, he liked his runners to have absolute control over pace.
For these track sessions, using a start line (any line on the track can be used) is helpful to work out where your ‘finish line’ is, for an interval of a specific pace. Having a visualised finish line is a good step – and only running just as fast as is required, so you aim to reach your ‘finish line’ as the whistle blows. You don’t want to get there too soon or too late – the aim is pace control, running steadily at different fast paces, getting a real grip on that control. And then when you are in a race, a Lydiard runner will have this mental advantage and ability. The problem can be that sometimes runners don’t do the maths before the session where they work out how far they should run at the different paces for the specified times, but there are apps that do most of this for you, e.g. Jack Daniels' VDOT Calculator.
So you can set yourself up with visual goals – for example if you should run 230m in a minute, this is easy to ‘see’ as half a lap plus 30m, so it doesn’t matter whereabouts on the track you are to start, you can visualise your finish.
The apps use algorithms based on the race times of thousands of runners to generate times for other distances. In that sense the apps are surprisingly accurate. However it is also true that we are all individuals and there are little things that can drive you to a higher peak or maybe subtract something and make you run slower; so whilst the app-derived numbers are accurate in a population based way, a generalisation, you do get some individual variation – the apps are very useful as a guide.
The other thing Lydiard did was a bit like the jog and stride laps that Allan introduced at the track, the sense of unpaced running where you got into a flow, but for a very short duration. Lydiard called them wind sprints. You simply let the legs flow really fast, and the arms are going to be driving the legs of course, so the running form element was important to that; and you then just let it taper off naturally. So it may last for 7-8 seconds, maybe 10-12 seconds, depending on the runner and the sort of race distances they were doing, but it was the idea of just letting the legs fly, and then cooling it off with an easy period and then doing it then. The idea was that you could get up to running at faster than race speeds without the physiological stress of actually sustaining that high pace for even 30sec. So for example if you were training for the 800m and you were running one minute laps, just for easy maths, you might actually be running at 50 second lap pace for these little periods – which meant that your legs would actually become used to running at a slightly faster pace (actually 15% faster in this example!). Then when you came to the actual race and the race is on, you are ‘only’ running at 60 second lap pace, your legs aren’t stressed in the kind of way that your rivals’ legs are if they’ve been training just at 60 second lap pace. You have gone faster, but you haven’t stressed about it and haven’t even got your heart rate up doing it, and of course you have done all the other elements of the training as well, so this was one of Lydiard’s secret weapons.
The nice thing about Lydiard was that he had a simple system that was logical. And logical appealed to Allan! Lydiard did publish some of his sessions afterwards, and Allan used these and also devised his own based on Lydiard methods. Lydiard would have set the intervals by distance rather than time. Allan just did it by time as it works so well with a multi-ability group.
Allan’s 8 lap time trials were also a session used to learn control of pace, not just a fitness review. The ideal was always to run your first lap in the same time as your 8th lap. It is interesting as you see the same patterns in runners – they set off too fast, by lap three they have settled into a steady pace and then they switch it up for the final lap. However, if you can just hold your horses at the beginning and run at a steady pace you can get a faster time overall – but it’s hard as there is such a lot of adrenaline flowing. It can be helpful knowing where (visually) you need to get to in 30 seconds, and in the next 30 seconds, and your objective is to only just get to those points in this time. Then you have a better chance of keeping control and pushing up the pace a little at the end – though when it’s paced right, you shouldn’t have energy to push it up a lot at the end. For actual races, the runner should have some races simply as practices – similar to putting on a show, you would do several rehearsals, and that’s the same for racing.
Ultimately having pace control deeply ingrained in your body, and having a perception of effort and how it changes depending on the part of the race you are in, are very important. If you are doing a time trial, it will feel very very hard at the end, at the same pace as at your start. This is normal, and knowing how this feels and having the realisation that it’s normal, will give you confidence. Your effort may feel 6/10 at the start but 9/10 at the end, at the same pace. There’s a dynamic relationship between the pace and the feel, and the athlete has to have a good knowledge of this so they’re not surprised and can take it in their stride. Rehearsal allows them to experience this and to train their perception. It may be different if you are in a race where you are looking for the podium, you can’t really let the guys get out of your sight, but when you are just racing yourself, keeping a steady pace and knowing how it feels throughout the race is important.
I was on a zoom call with Rod Dixon recently, he was a Lydiard athlete, 3rd in the 1500m at Munich in 1972. He won the 1983 New York marathon and did it in the last 385 yards. That was all to do with pace. He knew that Geoff Smith of England and Gidamis Shahanga were in front, but he kept his own pace as he knew this would give him a good time, and he knew Smith must be tiring – he was running sub 4:45 miles, on pace for a world record – but he also knew that if he tried to go any faster he would come a cropper, he was right on the edge of that precipice. So he kept his steady pace, Shahanga came back to him at mile 17 but Smith was still 40sec ahead. The gap was 35sec at 20 miles and Smith’s pace was slowing: 5:02, 5;08, 5:15….. You know that feeling…..! But behind, Dixon was desperately calculating time-remaining v. closing-distance.
The psychology around this is very interesting. Dixon was having to fight the impulse to speed up and catch Smith, only 100m in front at 23 miles. Smith was reverse engineering the same calculation, but from his perspective there was now huge pressure. And both runners were cramping at this stage. As they completed mile 26, Dixon caught Smith and there was no response when he went past…. 385 yards left, the gap was 9sec at the finish.
A runner needs pace control, self-knowledge and belief, and to have rehearsed. Allan’s track sessions are perfect to learn these.
Allan used to tell a story about the indoor 800m world championship that he watched on TV. The runners lined up, all the big names, this was the final. I can’t remember the names, but that doesn’t matter here. At the end of lap 1 the big pre-race favourite was at the back of the field, the second lap he was off the back of the field, the third lap he was so far off the back of the field that the camera couldn’t get him in the shot and the fourth lap he overtook them all and won. When they looked at his splits afterwards, he had run the same lap time for every lap. He had also run every split at world record pace. He said afterwards that he thought as he ran “if these guys beat me, they’re going to beat the world record by 3-4 seconds which is highly improbable”. So, he knew that they were going to slow down – BUT it takes A LOT of belief in yourself to do that when they were so far ahead at the start. He knew they were going to die (he laughs). He knew they couldn’t knock 3-4 seconds off the world record, it doesn’t happen, typically 10th of seconds get knocked off world records, it’s that kind of margin. The possibility that a whole bunch of them were going to knock 3-4 seconds off the world record clearly wasn’t going to happen. But if you’re in the race and you’re the guy at the back, it’s very hard to look up the track and say gosh I know that they will come back, you need belief, super, super belief and you need control of pace – he knew he was running exactly to pace. He knew they would come back, but they hadn’t realised they were going to hit the wall and fade. It comes back to the idea of having paces that are realistic and having paces that you have trained at and having that feeling of ‘I can control my pace’, which is what the Lydiard method is very good at instilling in the runner and giving the runner belief. If you have belief based on the right training, you can do surprising things.
What advice would you have for runners?
Firstly, I notice as a triathlon coach that if triathletes get injured, 75-80% of the injuries are running injuries. Cycling and swimming injuries are much less frequent – the running impacts just generate a hugely higher injury risk. So, take your recovery a lot more seriously and do not over-train. Run a lot more, slower miles, this reduces your injury risk. When you are running fast, you can be putting around seven times your body weight through your foot on impact. So if you keep training at fast paces, that’s a lot of impact (even if you are not a heel striker). Reducing your pace reduces the impact going through your feet on impact, significantly. So suddenly you have less injury risk and you build more stamina and resilience as your training becomes more consistent without injury.
Secondly, look after your running form. This will have an impact in terms of your efficiency and reduce your likelihood of injury.
Thirdly, don’t be afraid of Slow Miles (different from mindless slow miles!) Training the fat-burning energy system is well known, but there’s an additional benefit that’s come to light more recently that directly affects much more intense efforts. The slow-running modifies the mitochondria and makes them more efficient at using the lactate produced during fast running, actually burning it as an additional fuel – so it’s a win-win! See this great GCN video on youtube featuring Inigo San Millan, coach to Tour de France winner Tadej Pogacar. Obviously it’s cycling centred, but the principles apply to all endurance sports.
And finally, when you do the 10% at more intense effort levels, don’t be afraid to hit the Fast Button. It’s a rehearsal for your big win!