The Lydiard Rapid-Progression Base Building Review

After 38 days of consecutive runs, a total of 233 miles and a peak of 66 miles last week, I have finished this season’s Lydiard rapid-progression base building program – and survived to tell the story.

The full 10-week base building program (I used week 3 as a post-Marathon reverse taper and continued with the base building program through week 7).

The first few weeks of running as slowly as the program dictated was awkward. The music from my iPod didn’t match the tempo and I found myself skipping over all my favorite songs. The volume went up, the volume went down. Sometimes I turned the stupid thing off altogether and ran in silence. Everything seemed to be an adjustment, and it took a couple of weeks to settle down.

It was my husband who first recognized that recovery from these slow runs was much quicker – a fraction of the typical time. The intensity of running had been eliminated by running slow, and my body was able to recover much sooner.

By the third week, running had begun to take on a life of its own. Day in and day out. I can’t say that nothing hurt, but there were no issues that lingered. My knees were sore here and there, my legs were downright tired from time to time. And, it was interesting what kinds of troubles arose from repetitive stress.

Whatever the issue, things had to be dealt with immediately because there was no spare day for regrouping if something went bad. For example, one day the threads on the underside of the little “L” that had been sewn onto my left sock became unraveled and irritated the skin on top of my left foot. It was sore for hours.  A few days ago, I failed to notice a callus had developed on my little toe and it became so tender I could hardly run. Each time something happened, action had to be taken straight away to prevent this new issue from wrecking the next day’s run. A good lesson to learn for any training phase.

Lydiard’s claim was that pace would slowly improve without added effort and this became true for me. The same slow, barely-faster-than-walking effort was 15 to 30 seconds per mile faster when I finished the program. My aerobic system was improving in just 5 weeks’ time.

My husband asked me one day, “Tell me again, why are you doing this program?” I had to remind him that most of every race regardless of distance uses the aerobic (vs anaerobic) system and it was only logical that you spend some training time to develop this system. He said, “So you won’t know……” As his sentence trailed off, I finished it for him, “I won’t know how well it’s worked until I run another race.” This is true. (Two months later, I ran a personal best time at the 10k distance.)

This is the part of running that I enjoy so much. There’s as much strategy in this sport as any other. If you really want to continue to develop over the course of your individual career, you have to train smart all year. This base building phase will set the baseline for the training I pursue throughout the rest of the year.

Maybe the question is, would I do this again? There were days I would have said no. Reflection always provides valuable insight, however, and now that it’s over my view has changed.

Race-specific training requires an intensity that leaves you feeling a little like you’ve fought to run. The slow pace of base-building became comfortable, refreshing — leaving me rested and ready once again to take on the intensity of speed-work (despite having increased base mileage to a new personal high in a relatively short period of time).

Slow running over weeks of sequential days gave me a new perspective of the base-building phase. There are times to work hard, train fast and fight to do your best, but it is equally important to spend time focusing on the simple task of running. I thoroughly enjoyed endless days of I’m-not-training-for-a-damn-thing; to enjoy the running for the love of running.

I can’t yet report on how it would feel to run 70 consecutive days, but I can confirm that the body will adapt to strenuous training with careful restraint of pace.

Given the luxury of organizing your calendar to accommodate 7-day/week training for a number of consecutive weeks (no small feat), I would highly recommend the effort.

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