After selecting a race comes the hardest part of training, picking a running plan. In the past I have used Greg McMillan’s plans and I have had good success. Unfortunately, I was sidelined with Plantar Fasciitis for most of the fall/winter of 2017. In April of 2018 I was recovering fairly well and I targeted a half marathon late in the year to give me plenty of time to ramp up my mileage. I considered different ways to safely ramp up my mileage, then I hit upon Lydiard running plans.
Lydiard plans are known for having a very long aerobic base phase. I knew that I did not want to incorporate any real speedwork until later in the year. The plan seemed well structured and the basic premise seemed to make sense. Build a strong aerobic base, then add on some hillwork to build more strength before adding on anaerobic speedwork.
Lydiard plans are not easily accessible, I believe that the only way to get a Lydiard plan is through a Lydiard certified coach or purchasing a plan through the Running Wizard website. The Lydiard Foundation website can be used to find a coach. Note that if you do intend to purchase a plan, if you donate $25 or more to the Lydiard Foundation then you will get a 25% discount on the plans for the calendar year on Running Wizard.
I purchased a 24 week half marathon plan through Running Wizard. This provided a detailed electronic version of the plan via the Running Wizard website as well as access to the plan through Final Surge. This worked out well as I was already using Final Surge because of the McMillan plan.
The Lydiard plans are based on effort or heart rate training and goal paces are determined based on your ability at the start of the plan (you enter your time for a recent race). It is a time-based plan, and due to the computer generated nature of the plan the times are a bit “odd”, for example, 29 minutes vs an even 30 minutes. There are suggestions for adjusting the duration or pace of each run, as well as a prioritization of the runs for the week to allow changing the schedule if you need to do so. I also just discovered that there is a Lydiard Facebook group for additional support.
So, what is the plan like? This description is for the half marathon plan with 5 days of running. While emphasis of the plan is on aerobic base development, it does not mean running every run slow. Fartleks are a huge part of the plan, as well as what is called an “out and back” run, where the pace is faster and the intent is to pace yourself so that the second part of the run is at an even pace or faster than the first part. There are also jogs, where the purpose is to keep your heart rate intentionally very low. There is a weekly long run, which for me (based on a max run time of one hour at the start of the plan) increased to an 11 mile maximum.
The longest run occurred in the aerobic base portion of the plan. The hardest run of the week, the “out and back” always occurred before the long run during the aerobic base phase. So in effect, it is forcing you to run the long run on tired legs. Sound familiar? Hansons is based on this principle.
The overall mileage of the plan is lower than other half marathon plans that I have followed. My plan averaged at about 25 miles per week, with the heaviest week about 33 miles. But it is not easy, my legs definitely felt it. Each phase changes things up slightly, and it would take my legs a week to figure out what was going on. The Integration phase at the end of the plan is particularly tough. Almost all the runs are fast (with the exception of a long jog) and I was dying for an easy run! The weekly workouts during this phase are the jog, two out and backs (one being the longest run of the week), a fartlek, and cut-downs.
A 5K or 10K tune-up race is in the plan the week before the half marathon goal race, during the 2 week taper. To be honest, at the beginning of the taper my legs felt anything but fresh. I signed up for a 10K race and my goal pace for the race according to the plan was 8:15 min/mile. 10K’s were never my best race and this is quite a fast pace for me, and would also best my 10K PR by over 2 minutes. I had every intention of hitting that goal pace, but the course quickly changed my mind as it was rather hilly. I had not run a lot of hills in training due to my foot injury as hill running seemed to aggravate it. My legs felt really good though and I felt strong throughout the race. I ended up with a 52:33, about an 8:28 pace. Slower than the target goal pace, but I felt very good about my effort overall and it was still about a one minute PR on my 10K. Coming back from injury and racing my first painless race in over a year, I was happy with that time.
I had a 53 minute jog scheduled the day after the 10K and I was a little worried about how my legs would feel. They felt surprisingly good and not at all sore. Then it was on to the taper before the half. The fact that my longest run was 11 miles and was several months before the race was a bit worrisome. For my previous half marathons I had run from 14-18 miles as my longest run, and I ran multiple long runs over 14 miles. Another difference in this plan is that Lydiard suggests not fueling during long runs. Since my longest run wasn’t really that long (I have run 18 miles without fueling) this was not an issue for me.
My goal race was the Madison Half, a race that is on the hilly side, with the largest and longest hill at mile 8. Race day was also on the chilly side, about 25 degrees at race start with the wind bringing the temps down to the high teens. In the back of my mind I knew that a PR in that race would be difficult. The result? I finished in 1:58:14, about a 9:01 pace. My half marathon PR is 1:56:33 on a flat course in perfect running temps. The last 3 miles of the race were tough, though I wouldn’t say it was considerably tougher than the end of my previous half marathons. Considering my pace at the beginning of the year I was satisfied with the performance.
I am curious about how a Lydiard marathon plan looks, and how the plan would look if I did Lydiard for another half marathon cycle. My understanding is that each new Lydiard cycle builds upon the last one. My next half will be in April and most of my weekday running will be on the treadmill due to my early AM running schedule and the midwest winter. I think the changing of speeds necessary for the Lydiard plan would make following it on the treadmill difficult so I will be going back to McMillan plans for my next half. Incidentally, Greg McMillan trained under Lydiard and he was mentioned on the Lydiard forum as a “true” Lydiard coach.
- There is a lot of variety, both in the types of runs and the paces. You won’t get bored.
- The “out and back” and progress runs (faster steady state type runs) teach how to pace yourself and to pitch your effort over the entire run. They are tough runs, but I grew to look forward to them and enjoy the challenge of hitting the goal paces.
- The plan is very structured in terms of pacing and HR. Great if you need or like to follow a detailed plan. Like myself. 😉
- The Final Surge interface makes tracking the plan easy and it will send reminders of the plan details for the day.
- The Facebook Lydiard group is a good resource if you have any questions about the plan.
- Lack of the longer runs, and placement of the longer runs near the beginning of the plan, if you need those runs mentally.
- You will get sick of fartleks 🙂
- Lack of easy running in the last part of the plan, called the Integration phase. I have a feeling that this may lead to injury in some runners.
- Very structured in terms of pacing and HR. Not great if you want to just go out and run or if you don’t like training by heart rate.
I felt that the Lydiard plan was quite challenging. I think it succeeded in getting me up to speed quickly after my injury. I can easily see my improvement across the plan due to the similarity in workouts. I think all the fartleks have helped me to naturally increase my cadence to the fastest that it’s ever been. I have also noticed that my easy pace is now faster than it was previous to my PF injury. I believe the Lydiard plan did raise my base running fitness.
The cons listed aren’t really cons, in that the plan can be adjusted to fit individual needs. I like to follow a plan “as is” at least once, to see how my body reacts to the training. I feel that as you progress, using the building blocks from different plans and rearranging them to fit your individual needs is the way to go.