Being a non-profit and non-politic, non-religious organization, I would not make too much comment on what’s going on in the political world these days. But, as most of us know, there’s a new phrase entered in our dictionary this week – “alternative fact”. Of course it does not exist. But interestingly, when you hear it over and over and over, it DOES seem to start sounding more and more like a truth. That’s the tricky thing about it. This day and age with internet, if someone says something loud enough, with confidence, and often enough; many who don’t quite understand what’s going on tend to easily get suckered in and believe that as a “fact”. I’m sure, somewhere along the way, you have heard some of the followings:
- Lydiard training is old-fashioned; all his runners had been long gone in the record book.
- Periodization is the concept of the past.
- No need to run 2-hour slow; run 1-hour FAST. You need Speed Endurance.
- East African runners are employing “modern training” that is far advanced from Lydiard training and that’s why their times are so much faster.
Sounds familiar? Seemingly a sound argument. I’d like to actually take this opportunity to attempt to explain these “alternative facts” one by one.
The first one…well, I would actually hope the records of athletes back in 1960s are absolute!! I don’t think runners directly coached by Lydiard had ever broken 28-minutes for 10000m. However, very few ever considered the fact that none of Arthur’s original runners were “professional” runner, having to work 8+ hours a day, often having to train before sunrise and after sunset; none of them had luxury of racing on fast rubberized track; they almost never (sometimes they helped each other) had well-paid rabbits to pace them to perfection for fast times; none of them got paid to run – period!! – , either train or race, let alone 6-figure cash reward for a record breaking performance. Very few people today even fathom a type of footwear, both to train and to race, Arthur’s runners had to deal with back in the days. Considering all these factors, or despite these factors, they ran pretty swift! Also, don’t forget, as many hardcore running students might remember; Peter Snell’s 800m PR of 1:44.3 run on a grass track – eight weeks after he completed a full marathon, I might add – has stood as New Zealand national record for over a half a century (since 1962). Is it Peter the person, or is it the way he trained? Ask Peter himself…
Many elite coaches today, even Coach Salazar, had stated that they don’t particularly follow certain blocks of different type of training – a signature of Lydiard Pyramid. That is enough for many “shallow thinkers” to jump to conclusion that “periodization is dead”. Someone posted on one of on-line message boards that, when he attended one of running clinics with Coach Joe Vigil, that he said “periodization is dead.” Knowing him and his training principles, I highly doubted he would say that. When I asked him directly, lo and behold, he said he vaguely remembered saying that, “because there are too many races throughout the year in the elite running circuit”, that it is very difficult to “periodize”. “If I could,” he said on the contrary, “I’d prefer cut any training plan in half and spend the first half just working on building aerobic base.” That, to me, is as “periodization” as can be. Of course, this day and age with year-around races, elite runners may have to “cut corners” to get ready for races in the winter. That, of course, does NOT mean “building the aerobic base” principle is dead. Alternative fact?
This third one I hear all the time and, speaking of “alternative fact”, it sounds so right. For someone training for 800m for example, running 7-8 minute mile pace over 2 hours sounds so counter-intuitive. “You are only running over for less than 2-minutes,” many high school enthusiasts would say, “why run for so long at slower than half of the speed you are expected to run?” Interestingly, this is EXACTLY the same argument they heard when Arthur’s Boys pushed Peter, an 800m runner, to run 100-miles a week with 22-mile run every weekend to race 2-laps around the track!! “Speed at which you run those long runs is so far from what you’re expected to run in the race; it’s just a waste of time…” A half a century ago and we are still arguing and reliving this!! The only thing is that we have gone beyond where we were back then; everybody knows you need to do “some” aerobic running (thanks to this scientific term, “aerobic”). How many of you have heard this phrase? “No need to run 2-hours slow; but maybe one-hour fast…” How much would one-hour run speed be closer to the 800m speed?” On the other hand, as scientific research today has already proven, very important development such as the number and size of mitochondria depends on the DURATION of the exercise, not the effort. In other words, running for an hour might be what Jack Daniels might call “no-man’s land”; it’s not fast enough, yet, not long enough.
When the 5k world record got down to 12:44, I called Dick Quax and teased him (as a good friend as I am); “You’d be a half a lap behind them!!” “When I set WR (13:12),” he explained, “I was all by myself after the first mile. Today, they have multiple rabbits, taking turns to pull you along… With the situation like today, I could have run that fast!” Well, he was always VERY confident; but let’s assume he could have. He would still be 7-seconds behind. We hear a lot about this “modern training” as opposed to Lydiard training like Quax employed. Assuming this “modern training” being available to anybody (especially with world wide web), with this “modern training”, Dick’s 5000m New Zealand record was bettered by less than 3 seconds by one runner. His 10000m record was bettered by 8 seconds…last year at the Olympics. Why nobody, other than Africans, is using this “modern training” to run some incredible times? Maybe only Ethiopians and Kenyans can handle such “modern training”…??? Has anybody wondered why so if that’s the case? Maybe, as Arthur used to day, they have developed a very good aerobic foundation when they were teenager by running lots of aerobic miles…
Years ago, someone wrote an anti-Lydiard article in one of the leading running magazines with a comment by a renowned exercise physiologist, Dr. David Costill: “Lydiard had done more harm than helped…” A bad news for the author was that I was not a person to just simply buy into what’s been printed. Moreover, I wanted to actually know what this credible expert meant by this. I didn’t care about “complaining” or “defending” Lydiard; but if someone at his caliber criticized Lydiard, I wanted to know in detail with what account. So I contacted Dr. Consill directly. “OMG (he actually used the whole sentence…), I never meant that!!” he said. “What I meant was: if recreational runners tried 100-miles-a-week schedule, it COULD hurt them…” He even went on to publish a letter of correction in the next issue. “Alternative Facts” didn’t survive this time. When you read or hear something, don’t be suckered into whatever you read/hear. Think about it first and ask yourself a question; does this really make sense? Here’s an example – my favorite: “Walk on this exercise machine; you’ll burn X5 more calories…” Have you ever wondered; “X5 more calories….THAN WHAT? Picking your nose? Maybe watching TV…”
Alternative Facts seem everywhere these days. You see them all over the web, blog, YouTube, TV commercial… There’s no such thing as alternative fact; it’s falsehood. Facts are facts. Stop and think if they actually make sense or not. In terms of training, think hard of what you’ve got and what you need. Rudisha may not have done 2-hour runs in his training, but if your VO2Max is not as high as his, or if you don’t have leg speed like him, or if you were not born at altitude like he was….or, simply, if you are not David Rudisha, you may need to do some 2-hour runs – just like your predecessors, like someone by the name of Peter Snell, did. Just remember; one of my favorite phrases (by Dick Quax): “Our physiology hasn’t changed since we stood up on two feet and crawled out of cave millions of years ago. Physiologically sound training method that worked 50 years ago still works.”