High Mileage

Is LSD, Arthur Lydiard-style training the only way to train as a distance runner?

A bit of a snippet from some of the reporting I’ve been doing for stories on Crossfit Endurance that will appear in the June issue. One of the things I’m looking into–both for myself as a runner and also as a journalist–is digging into the question, ‘Is LSD, Arthur Lydiard-style training the only way to train as a distance runner?’

As someone who has tried to follow Lydiard-style programs for 20 years now–and I say ‘tried’ becaue injuries have derailed me more than I care to think about–there comes a point when you have to ask, ‘Is there another way?’ Because I’ve the traditional approach has been a productive one for me.

Crossfit Endurance–loved by many who follow it, and dismissed by others as ‘snake oil’ (to quote a forum post on the subject) is without a doubt not based on the Lydiard model of training. CFE does away with the idea of periodization and strips the running program down to 2 to 3 running workouts per week, intervals, time trials and tempo runs.

In the past month I’ve been talking to a lot of people about CFE, and recently I’ve been reaching out to ask for feedback from runners and triathletes who have tried it, wanting to know if it worked for them or not. In the coming six weeks, as I prepare for the Rock n’ Roll Seattle race in late June using CFE, I’ll share some of that feedback with you.

Below is a quick bit of reporting from one of my interviews looking into one of the problems that arises from high-mileage training: “Breaking down” or “over-training” types of fatigue. Below are a few notes.

A possible advantage of dumping high-mileage for low-volume, high-intensity training might be overall health and wellness. Dr. Jeff Leighton is a pharmacologist and biochemist with deep roots in the biotechnology industry, and corresponds regularly with CFE’s Brian MacKenzie in developing sports nutrition products like recover protein and fish oil for Stronger Faster Healthier. He says that the deep fatigue produced by high-mileage training is a warning sign of unchecked levels of inflammation, free radicals and muscle loss.

“There’s a spectrum involved with muscle acidosis,” he says. “On the most severe end you have cancer. Why does a cancer patient waste away? It’s because the inflammation is so high the muscle degrades. It’s the same at a milder portion of the spectrum, like when you get a cold, or an infection, and you lose weight. It’s because of these high levels of inflammation.” Leighton explains that the common symptoms that arise from high-mileage training, muscle loss, fatigue and sickness, are cellular inflammation effectscaused by high levels of training stress. In Parker’s novel, “Once a Runner,” it’s called “breaking down” and is portrayed as a necessary steppingstone in the runner’s life.

“While there’s so much good being done from exercise, the athlete induces a lot of damage to their bodies by performing well,” Leighton says. He also says diets high in processed carbohydrates—like the infamous 12,000 calories that Michael Phelps eats that includes literally pounds of pasta—might replenish calories from high-volume training but come at a great cost because his insulin system is taxed so heavily. “I fear that by the time Phelps is 50, he’ll be overweight, with damage to his vascular health, and a Type II diabetic because of the stress he’s putting on his insulin system. There’s so much good to being an athlete, but this is why a couch potato can live longer than an athlete.”