Hail to the Human Potential!!

Dec. 17, 2020 — The story goes; one evening after the workout, coach Arthur Lydiard and the newly joined athlete, Peter Snell, sat in the car, discussing his training and racing schedule. “You know, Peter, the rate you are progressing, I think you can break some world records,” the coach announced. “Geez, I don’t think I can…I’m not that good”. Not fully realizing his own potential, Peter replied. “I don’t care what you think. I think you can!” The coach said convincingly. A few months later, Peter would go on and win the gold medal in the 800m at Rome Olympic Games; and a year and a half after that, on the short (350m instead of conventional 400m) grass track, Peter ran his first sub-4 minute mile: 3:54.4, the world record. A week later, 2 more world records — 800m and 880 yards — followed. And, incidentally, his 800m — once again, run on a grass track which is considered to be more than a second per lap slower — remains New Zealand’s national record 59 years later.

As much of a revolutionary exercise physiology path-finder, Arthur Lydiard was a master psychologist. He was a motivator. One of his start pupils in the early 1960s, Peter Snell’s teammate and a strong rival, John Davies, who turned his focus to coaching after his athletic career came to an end with an Achilles injury and coached both men’s and women’s 5000m world record holder (Dick Quax and Anne Audain), once said: “If you sat down at his house to talk, in about 15-minutes, all you want is to get some running shoes on and run!!” To get inspired, I remember asking Arthur, sitting at the kitchen table at his house, what this greatest athletic coach in history thought I could do in running a few days before I left New Zealand. “I don’t know,” was his answer! Then his “lecture” started. “You work on your aerobic base, every year, you keep on improving. Bear in mind, your Basic Speed (200m) is the determining factor for which event is best suited for…”. And he said, with a smirk, “I’m just waiting for you to show me what you can do with your running,” and winked at me.

©Lydiard Training & Academy

What he meant is: You keep working on developing your aerobic foundation each year and each year, you’ll keep on improving…. One of my favorite lines of Arthur Lydiard: “You wouldn’t know one’s potential until you train intelligently and systematically over several years…”. In fact, he didn’t like the idea of measuring your VO2Max and predict your race time. “Those things don’t mean anything to me. I have NO interest in it whatsoever!” he used to say. Of course, we have what we call “Race Time Predictor” on the homepage of our Lydiard Running Wizard website. It is a nice tool to see where you stand in terms of speed and stamina. For example, let’s say if your 5k time is 20:30, and if you plug in this time in our Race Time Predictor, you’ll get 5:58 for the mile, 42:45 for 10k, 1:34:18 for half marathon. If your mile time is 6:20, 41:50 for 10k and 1:32 for half, you’ll know you lack speed but have goos stamina. On the other hand, if your mile time is 5:45, 43:30 for 10k and 1:40 for half, you know you need to work on stamina. It’s fun to play around with and it’s a good tool to gouge where your fitness falls. But, other than that, like Lydiard said, “not much more value to it.” There’s a reason why we emphasize “Feeling-Based” and “Response-Regulated” training; NOT number-oriented. This is why we included Race Time Predictor at Running Wizard website and not at Lydaird Training & Academy website — we actually felt it’s against the “Spirit of Arthur Lydiard”.

Often we get too head-heavy today. We know too much. Science should help us; not to restrict us. I once heard this coach talking about: “My runner is high slow-twitch runner so she can’t handle fast workouts…”. Well, good thing Toshihiko Seko’s coach, the late Kiyoshi Nakamura, didn’t look at it this way — Seko was a high school middle distance champion. He won 800/1500m double at national high school championships two years in a row; but he finished 2nd in 5000m as a senior. When he entered Waseda University, he had a hard time completing 10k run!! I’m not sure if he ever had a muscle biopcy to check his muscle fiber composition but it’s safe to say he was probably a high fast twitch fiber guy. He worked on his stamina and became a marathon runner with a devastating kick. Perhaps if you become too “head-heavy”, it’s hard to battle against the odd.

Lydiard was often criticized with his comment: “Your anaerobic capacity is a limited factor; but there’s no limit to development of aerobic capacity…”. “That can’t be true,” many desk-top coaches had said. “Surely, there’s got to be a limit…”. Of course there is! But what Lydiard had meant is; we cannot cap, say, you can only improve your aerobic capacity by such-and-such %…. Dr. Peter Snell told me, when he was working for the Human Performance Lab in Dallas, that the lowest VO2Max he had ever tested was 17ml/kg/min. “It’s like, he would start to huff and puff walking across the living room!” Peter said!! That calculates about 15:00 for a mile. When Lydiard started the first-ever jogging program for a group of 20 middle-aged businessmen, a half a lap around the track (200m) was about all they could manage. Suppose their VO2Max was 17; eight months later, they were running 20-miles without stopping and 8 of them completed a full marathon in “around 4-hours.” A 4-hour marathon, by calculation, gives you 37ml/kg/min of VO2Max. That’s about 215% improvement in 8 months. That probably wouldn’t have happened if some scientist in a lab coat told them “You can only improve your VO2Max by 30%…”. Whatever the result of calculation might be, that’s only a reflection of what you are today. No one can tell you what you will be tomorrow or next month. THAT is the Power of Human Potential. A sound training system — such as Lydiard Program — and good motivation can go a long way. — Nobby Hashizume

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