Spring Marathon Training: A Plan Based on the Lydiard System, Maffetone Method, and Reflections on My Fall Racing Season

As my first effort to post more general training advice, I am going to discuss the training plan I designed for my spring marathon training, which is based on: 1) Arthur Lydiard’s training system; 2) Dr. Phil Maffetone’s “180 Formula;” and 3) input based on the strengths and weaknesses of my fall racing season. This plan targets the Inaugural Queens Marathon. This is the first post in a series of posts about this training plan.

As an initial matter, in order to discuss the plan I need to provide some background about the Lydiard System, Maffetone’s training philosophy, and how I’ve adopted them to my own training. Further, because Lydiard’s overall training plan contains five phases, this post will address why I adopted this plan, and subsequent posts will address each phase of the plan.

Arthur Lydiard Background

Lydiard (July 6, 1917-December 11, 2004, born Auckland, New Zealand), trained Olympic medalists Murray Halberg (Gold, 5000 meters, 1960 Olympics), Peter Snell (Gold, 800 meters, 1960 Olympics, Gold, 800 and 1500 meters, 1964 Olympics), and Barry Magee (Gold, Marathon, 1960 Olympics). He revolutionized endurance training with his phased training plan. This “periodization” has become the basis of most modern training programs. To learn more about his life and his system, check out this link.

Lydiard’s Training System is broken into five phases, identified as follows:

  • Aerobic Base Training, which lasts as long as possible
  • Hill Training and Leg Speed, which last four-six weeks
  • Anaerobic Development, which last four weeks
  • Sharpening, which lasts four weeks
  • Freshening Up (a/k/a Tapering), which lasts approximately two weeks

The goal of the plan (and why I find it so intriguing) is to allow a runner to hit peak fitness and performance at his goal race.

Dr. Phil Maffetone Background

Maffetone, a doctor of chiropractic, was one of the first coaches to employ heart rate monitors in training endurance athletes. He trained, among others, Mark Allen, the six-time Ironman World Championship winner. He champions a training system in which endurance athletes perform most of their training at or below their “maximum aerobic heart rate,” a number determined by Maffetone’s “180 Formula,” by which a runner subtracts his age from 180 and then adjusts for other factors such as injury, illness, and experience. Such running is generally well below one’s fastest speeds. For example, at my maximum heart rate as determined by the 180 Formula (144 beats per minute), I can run at a top speed of 7:00/Mile, but can currently run a 5k at a 5:43/Mile pace.

Ultimately, Maffetone would have an athlete train at or below this maximum aerobic pace until his development plateaus, at which point he would incorporate anaerobic training for a period of no longer than 5 weeks. He would also have any athlete beginning to use his system to train at or below his maximum aerobic heart for at least three months (and preferably up to six months) before incorporating any strength training or anaerobic workouts. He also advocates other adaptations for athletes, including eating a diet high in healthy fats balanced with complex carbohydrates.

Reflections on My Fall Racing Season

As I’ve discussed, I ran well this fall, and PR’d at the half marathon and marathon distances. While I found that my aerobic fitness was solid throughout the season, I felt that my muscle endurance (how long the muscles can tolerate the pounding impact of road racing) was lacking. So, I wanted to incorporate more miles and longer long runs early in the training season to improve my muscle endurance.

Training Plan: Putting Together all the Attributes

Ultimately, because I spent the months between May and September training almost exclusively at my maximum aerobic heart rate (which incorporated swimming and cycling as well), I felt confident that not only could I increase my training volume, but also increase its intensity. As such, the idea of the Lydiard System, which requires a much higher training volume, appealed to me. So, I decided to develop my spring marathon training plan using Lydiard’s system as a skeleton. Here’s how I planned it out, in six easy steps:

  • I found my goal marathon, the Inaugural Queens Marathon, which is set for April 30, 2016.
  • I counted back two weeks to April 17, 2016, and designated this period “Freshening Up”
  • I then counted back four weeks to March 21, 2016 and designed the period between March 21 and April 16 as “Sharpening”
  • I then counted back four weeks to February 22, 2016 and designated the period between February 22 and March 20 as “Anaerobic Development”
  • I then counted back four weeks to January 25, 2016 and designed the period between January 25 and February 21 as “Hills and Leg Speed”
  • I then designated all time before January 25 as “Aerobic Base Training,” during which phase I would do most of my runs at or below my maximum aerobic heart rate as determined by Maffetone’s “180 Formula.”

To see the plan laid out, check out my Training Plan.

In my next post, I’ll discuss Phase 1: Aerobic Base Training, including why it’s important and how it fits into the overall plan.

Returning to Blogging!

Hard to believe I last posted on December 8! I don’t have a good reason for the delay between posts. Essentially, after the NYRR NYC 60k, I began to reflect on what I want to accomplish with this blog. When I started it in August, I knew that I wanted to write about my running, but had not developed the idea much beyond that. I started by posting about particular training runs I was doing, workouts I attended, and then branched out into race previews and recaps. After a few months, though, I hit a writing wall: What to do next?

Jim NP Cold Running

Getting in some stair running with November Project NYC in December!

That wall, unsurprisingly, coincided with the end of the fall racing season, a season during which I pushed myself and ran my first 10-miler (1:00:20), set PRs in the half marathon (1:20:51) and marathon (2:57:56), and ran my first ultra, the 60k, in under 5 hours (4:55:55), all within less than two months. I knew that my body needed a break; I did not realize my brain did, too. Hence, only a handful of posts since the 60k and now.

All this to say, I’m back! Expect updates concerning my training, but with a more global twist. Expect some posts about nutrition and other fun things I’m up to, such as the Road Runners Club of America coaching certification course that I’m taking in May. And get excited for race previews and recaps for the races I’m planning to run this winter and spring. I might also write more about some of the running books I’ve read lately (more on those below). My goal is to make this blog a spot for people to pick up tips and tricks to achieve their own running goals.

Jim NYRR Virtual Trainer Run

Crushing 10+ miles with NYRR’s virtual training crew!

Thankfully, the time away from hard running and the blog has reenergized me. Regarding training, I began the base building phase of spring marathon training in earnest at the beginning of December, and will likely run the Inaugural Queens Marathon on April 30, 2016. I spent approximately two months running long runs at an aerobic pace, throwing in some strides at the end of the runs, as well as tempo runs (for example, a 5k at 6:00/mile) and progression runs below lactate threshold. I pushed my weekly mileage up from 30 miles to 50-55, and am hoping to increase to 60-65. I’ve also been riding my bike indoors on my bike rollers at least once a week, and hitting the pool (though not as frequently as I would like). In the middle of all that, I ran an unofficial 5k in 17:45 (5:43/mile), and PR’d on the tricky November Project NYC 3.4 mile PR course with a time of 20:36 (6:03/mile). As of yesterday, I ended the aerobic base training phase of my marathon training and began the hill/leg speed phase as per Arthur Lydiard’s basic training scheme. Not bad for two months.

As for the blog and writing about running, I’ve read a bunch of running-related books these past two months. My friend Katherine loaned me “A Race Like No Other” by Liz Robbins (about the 2007 NYC Marathon) and The Oatmeal’s “The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances.” I also read “2 Hours” by Ed Caesar, a book chronicling professional marathoners’ journey to break the elusive 120-minute marathon barrier (current world record is 2:02:57 run by Dennis Kimetto at the 2014 Berlin Marathon). I also read “Running Ransom Road” by Caleb Daniloff, a powerful story about a recovering alcoholic who sought closure on his past by running marathons and other road races in locations where he was active in his alcoholism.

Jim Liysa Laura Ann Raul

Getting in a solid 11.5 miles with Liysa, Laura Ann, and Raul during the blizzard this past weekend!

And finally, I’m almost done with “First You Run, Then You Walk” by Tom Hart, my friend Patrick’s father. “First You Run” is a collection of essays written by Hart, a former high school English teacher, who picked up running at age 31 after he quit smoking. He ran into his 60s, at which time he was diagnosed with lung cancer and had one of his lungs removed, rendering him unable to run continuously for more than a few minutes. His essays discuss a range of topics: running a sub-5 mile, running 37 miles on his 37th birthday, chasing age-group awards as a 60-year-old veteran, and eventually breaking 12 minutes for one mile while running with one lung. What makes the book so amazing, though, is Hart’s meditative writing style and honesty. Every other page I find myself thinking, “Yep, that’s exactly how I think about running.” He gets it.

And in other news, I had a nice Christmas with my family and my girlfriend’s family, was able to travel to Vermont for a few days over the holidays, and have been working and preparing for the spring racing season. Life is good.

Happy running, everyone!

Two Weeks Away from Running: An Abundance of Thanks

When I made my fall racing season training plan back in July, I always envisioned taking two weeks off from running after the NYRR NYC 60k. I stuck with this plan . . . for the most part (I jogged through two NP_NYC workouts). Tomorrow marks my first training run for winter races, and I am excited to get back into it.

For my ability to return to running, I’m thankful for good health and humor.

TCS NYC Marathon

I’m sure everybody wants to see more of this in 2016! (picture from mile 18 of the NYC Marathon)

A two-week break from running, however, did not keep me totally inactive. I rode my bike (once), went to the gym for core exercises, and joined Chris Mosier’s “Early New Year’s Resolution Deck-a-Day” workouts. Essentially, Chris posts five exercises every day, each one associated with a suit or the jokers in a deck of cards. You take the deck and flip over the top card, do the associated exercise for the number of reps on the card (Ace-10, Jacks = 11, Queens = 12, Kings = 13, Jokers are a pre-determined number), and continue until you’ve finished the deck.

Simple enough, right? Well, today is day five of the 35-day deck-a-day series, and while I’ve completed every day, some days have definitely hurt. Each day focuses on a specific muscle group. So far we’ve done quads, core, upper body, and glutes. Upper body was the hardest day for me. Even though I do pushups regularly, my upper body has always been my weakest muscle group. Glad that I have another 30 decks to work on it.

For deck-a-day, I’m thankful for NP_NYC for introducing me to so many cool people, including Chris and all the other folks checking in on the Facebook page every day.

Deck-a-Day Workout

Sometimes you get a hard run in the deck.

I also did Thanksgiving at my Aunt’s and Uncle’s house in Ridgefield, Connecticut, with my mom, dad, sister, girlfriend (Melissa), aunt, uncle, five cousins, one cousin’s wife, another cousin’s husband and two kids, and my grandma. While demonstrating some workout move, my cousin Kristen’s younger child, Brenner (a/k/a Baby Bren Bren), ran up to me with a giant smile and hugged me, refusing to let go. We stayed like this (see below) for well over a minute, turning what appears to be a pushup into a somewhat epic plank. So cute!

Jim Baby Bren Bren

I’m very happy!

Baby Bren Bren

Baby Bren Bren is even happier!

Earlier that morning I went hiking with my mom, dad, sister, and Melissa through Mountain Lakes Camp in Lewisboro, New York. Not only is it home to Westchester County’s highest point (a whopping 976 feet), it has some great hiking trails. The trail we hiked, a 3.4 mile loop, contained up-and-down single-track dirt paths recently cleared by the local Boy Scout troop, a 1.5 mile incline on a gravel road, and some downhill on pavement. We also hiked two side trails, one which took us to Westchester’s apex, and one which took us to a gorgeous vista. With 50 degree weather and no wind, we hiked about five miles and earned our turkey dinner.

Mountain Lakes Camp Vista

The vista

Family Mountain Lakes Camp

The family (minus the mom who is obscured by the dad)

Jim Melissa Mountain Lakes Camp

Melissa and some guy wearing a 60k shirt

For this hike, I’m thankful for my mom, dad, sister, and Melissa, all of whom made the day perfect.

After thanksgiving, Melissa and I drove up to Vermont to visit her parents at their summer/winter home in Wardsboro. We hit the trails for two different hikes, both of which were amazing.

We first hiked around Grout Pond in Green Mountain National Forest. The loop around the Pond was just over three miles, but getting to and from the loop added another three. The trail was uneven, covered in leaves, wet, and sometimes difficult to traverse. In other words, I loved every second of it. We hit the three-quarter point of the hike as the sun began to set, which inspired these magical shots. We also discovered a number of camping spots to which we could canoe. It’s not too early to make summer plans, right?

Grout Pond Trail

Grout Pond trail

Grout Pond Shot

Grout Pond late in the day

Jim Melissa Grout Pond

Melissa and some guy walking softly and carrying an excellent hiking stick

Finally, we hit the trail in Jamaica State Park, the same trail I ran shortly before the NYC Marathon. We hiked through a slightly cold 37 degrees, but the weather didn’t hinder the beauty. The trail follows a winding river that roars as it curves. It provided a natural soundtrack as we hiked along. At one point we went off trail, and Melissa and her dad absorbed the energy of the river while I attempted to cross. I’m not sure if any of us were successful, but we looked good trying.

For these hikes, I am grateful for Melissa and her family, who have welcomed me in with open arms.

Today I’m back to work, and tomorrow will be my first official winter racing season training run. Cold or not, I’m going for it!

Happy running, everyone!