A New Way Of Thinking
In reality, Lydiard’s idea of base training phase included two workouts.
The first was a fartlek workout, in which pickups ranged anywhere from 30 seconds to 5 minutes of harder running with a long recovery interval between each repeat. The pace of the pickups was anywhere from 5K to half marathon pace, depending on the length of the repeat and the recovery in between. The effort was designed to be moderate and run by feel rather than a specific pace. Lydiard was a big proponent of running by feel, a concept that’s virtually absent in training these days thanks to GPS watches.
The goal of the workout wasn’t to run hard – in fact, Lydiard discouraged against running hard enough to accumulate lactic acid. Rather, these sessions were simply meant to turn the legs over and provide a change of pace. It may seem like semantics, but there is a difference between this type of workout and what we usually think of as speed work, or running a set of intervals or a hard tempo run at a specific pace.
Lydiard’s feel-based fartleks help maintain efficiency by stimulating the central nervous system and gradually introducing faster running into a training program. Many runners get injured when they try to run at speeds their body isn’t ready for yet. These base-phase fartleks help prepare the body for the harder workouts that come after the base phase.
The second workout staple in Lydiard’s plan was the steady state run. Like the fartlek, this steady state run was designed to be a moderate effort – not hard. Based on my reasing, Lydiard’s interpretation of steady state was current marathon pace — not goal or “dream” marathon pace. There is a big difference!
While some of his star pupils eventually worked up to one hour steady state runs at marathon pace in their base training phase, it’s advisable to start with 20 to 30 minutes at a little slower than marathon pace and slowly increase the volume and the effort as you get stronger and develop fitness.