Lydiard and Relevance

By David

I’m pleased to see Lorraine Moller is doing a lecture tour of New Zealand in support of the Lydiard method of coaching. New Zealand needs it; so does the United States. Unfortunately her message will probably fall on deaf ears. There are none so deaf as those who choose not to hear.

But first, who is Lorraine Moller? Well she was a pretty good runner. She represented New Zealand in four Olympic Games and won a Bronze Medal in the Marathon in the 1992 Barcelona Games. She also won the prestigious Osaka Marathon three times and the London Marathon once. Today she lives and coaches in Boulder, Colorado.

This is how Athletics New Zealand described the purpose of Lorraine’s lecture tour:

“Moller’s visit will be especially pertinent as she has recently expressed concern about a decline in interest in New Zealand in the coaching principles of legendary New Zealand athletics coach Arthur Lydiard. Moller, the co-founder of the Lydiard Foundation in the United States, wishes to renew affirmation of Lydiard’s methods and demonstrate a fresh 21st century application of them. She will call on her own extensive coaching experiences of the Lydiard way.”

The highly regarded American “Runner” magazine described Lorraine’s message like this.

“Lydiard disagreed that in order to get faster the runner must tackle interval training from the early stages. He saw this as more of a quick-fix strategy that, in the long haul, only results in injury. Instead, Lydiard emphasized easy miles first, combined with aerobic threshold training runs, to increase the body’s ability to access and metabolize oxygen. The stronger a runner becomes, the higher the aerobic threshold. Reaching anaerobic states at this phase in training is counterproductive to producing speed. As Moller comically illustrates, interval training early on is “like putting fast wheels on a Volkswagen. You’re better off with slow tires on a Mercedes. With the Lydiard system you can have both.”

Her message is a valid one. In both New Zealand and the United States, swimming is full of interval training junkies and coaches who value the quick fix. The casualty rate is horrendous. Twelve year olds are battered by the burden of a dozen 400 IMs for time and bruised by a score of descending 100s. The Florida Gold Coast Swimming region recently spent a valuable portion of its Annual Meeting discussing the vast numbers dropping out of the sport in their teenage years. Perhaps Lorraine could swing through Florida on her way home. Her message would be relevant to their concern.

The United States gets away with it because it has a limitless number of young people it can throw at the problem. Eventually, a Phelps survives and beats the world. It’s been called the broken egg method of coaching. If a million eggs are throw at a wall most will break and fall to the ground. One, however, will survive. That one will be an Olympic Champion. New Zealand, however, does not have the resource (or the eggs) of the United States. It’s the same in track & field. I see that the Women’s 800 meters at the Sylvia Potts track meet in New Zealand last week was won in 2.13. Alison Wright and Lorraine Moller were ten seconds faster than that thirty years ago. But then, they trained the Lydiard way.

All this is relevant just now to our small team in Delray Beach, Florida. Last week was the tenth and last week of the Lydiard aerobic conditioning build-up in preparation for the 2008 summer season. It has been a long haul, ten weeks of seven days, ten weeks of 100,000 meters, ten weeks of long steady swims, ten weeks of health benefits that will last a lifetime, ten weeks of making sure swimmer’s careers are long and prosperous.

Here is what Lydiard wrote in his Introduction to my first book on swimming, “Swim to the Top”.

“As in many sports several years are needed to gain the top possible results in swimming. David has patiently followed my advice. It has been both a challenge and a pleasure to me to have to have been part of that winning development”

Thank you, Arthur. Your message is a tough one, but the challenge, education and pleasure has been ours as well.