11 March 2009

Arthur Lydiard - Master Coach

I've just finished reading Garth Gilmour's biography, Authur Lydiard - Master Coach. It was a very interesting read about the pioneering coach of some of New Zealand's great middle and distance runners.

I've always known Lydiard was a respected coach and of his link to some of New Zealand's greatest Olympic moments on the track, but having read this book I now have a far greater appreciation of the full extent of what he accomplished, his theories on training and how well respected he is right around the athletic world.

It's not only in running that his methods have proven successful. His system of building up a base fitness by completing a large amount of slow aerobic work in order to boost any athletes endurance in their chosen sport is now pretty much universally accepted as the way to improve performance.

His training methods were self taught and were the result of endless miles of training, looking for what worked best for him. In the end he discovered that he could vastly improve his levels of endurance by running no less than 100 miles per week. Lydiard never sought to be a coach and rather than seeking out athletes, they seemed to gravitate towards him. Lydiard was only too happy to share his knowledge with those that were keen to learn and stay true to his system.

As his success grew, so too did his following and he soon had a whole group of young runners eager to join him and learn his methods. Two of those young runners ended up up being perhaps Lydiard's most famous success stories in Murray Halberg, who won Gold in the 5000m at Rome in 1960, and Peter Snell, winner of the Gold in both the 800m and 1500m in 1960 and again in the 1500m at Tokyo in 1964.

I think it remains one of New Zealand's biggest regrets that no one in those days seemed to appreciate what a truly world class coach we had in Lydiard and sadly in the mid 1960's he was forced to leave the country to pursue his coaching career further. Over the next 40 years Lydiard travelled the World spreading his word and training champions not to mention other coaches. There were plenty prepared to line up at seminars to hear the man speak. Even in his final years, right up to his death in fact in 2004, Lydiard was still conducting regular seminars in the United States to packed audiences.

Lydiard's influence was not only felt at Olympic level but he is also regarded as one of the fore fathers of the jogging revolution which has swept the World over the last 50 years. It was Lydiard's view that jogging had such health benefits that he started up the Auckland Joggers club to encourage recreational runners to take up the sport.

Lydiard's friend and fellow coach, American Bill Bowerman, seeing the potential jogging had to improve the health of millions of Americans, took the jogging message back to America and the jogging revolution was soon born.

For some classic early footage of Snell and Lydiard click here. Thanks to Ewen for bringing this fine piece of history to our attention in his blog.


Chad in the AZ Desert March 13, 2009 at 4:43 AM  

Lydiard was without a doubt ahead of his time. It's hard to imagine where running coaching would be today without him. A great visionary, indeed.

Ewen March 16, 2009 at 8:13 PM  

Sounds like a good read Bruce. It's a shame Lydiard had to venture overseas to make a living from coaching, but at least his ideas were spread far and wide.

robtherunner March 18, 2009 at 2:51 PM  

I'm a big fan of Lydiard myself. I wish I could actually manage to follow his training program.

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