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A. Lydiard, 87; Facilitated Jogging Boom

December 15, 2004|Jon Thurber | Times Staff Writer

Arthur Lydiard, a top New Zealand track coach in the 1950s and '60s whose methods revolutionized training for distance runners and helped fuel the worldwide boom in jogging, has died. He was 87.

Lydiard, who was on a U.S. speaking tour, died Saturday in Houston of an apparent heart attack, according to an announcement on the website of Runner's World magazine. Lydiard's health had declined over the last few years after he suffered a stroke during knee-replacement surgery.

Born in Auckland on July 6, 1917, Lydiard dropped out of school to be a cobbler, making women's shoes. He ran cross-country as a boy, but his favorite sport was rugby, which he played into his late 20s. He used distance running as a tool to get into better shape for that game. After World War II, he quit rugby and turned to competitive distance running.

Lydiard won several New Zealand marathons -- his best time was 2 hours, 39 minutes, 5 seconds -- by developing a training routine that became known in running circles as LSD: long, slow, distance. The regimen called for logging up to 100 miles or more a week, adding hill running to the mix after several months and then integrating some speed work as race day approached.

The favored regimen in those days -- as it had been for decades -- was interval training: basically short, fast runs, generally on a track. But Lydiard thought a high level of aerobic activity (long distances) at a measured pace increased the body's ability to utilize oxygen and would produce the stamina needed to compete better at everything from middle-distance events to marathons and ultra-marathons.

His methods were considered controversial and, though Lydiard trained some of New Zealand's top runners, he was not included in his country's coaching staff for the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome.

He had to pay his own way to Italy and buy his own tickets to get into track events. The men he coached trained with him outside the grounds of the Olympic Village.

But his runners had considerable success: Peter Snell won gold in the 800 meters, Murray Halberg did the same in the 5,000-meter event and Barry McGee won a bronze medal in the marathon.

Their achievements provided convincing testimony to the effectiveness of Lydiard's methods.

In 1964, he received credentials for the Tokyo Olympics. Snell won gold again in the 800-meter race and added a top medal for the 1,500-meter event. Another runner trained by Lydiard, John Davies, won the bronze in the 1,500-meter race.

After those Games, Lydiard turned his attention to teaching his methods to other coaches. From the mid-1960s through the early '70s, he lived in Mexico, Finland and Denmark, spreading the gospel of long, slow, distance.

One of his converts was Bill Bowerman, track coach at the University of Oregon and a founder of Nike. Bowerman, who had been a believer in interval training, went to New Zealand in the early 1960s to study Lydiard's methods.

He returned to Oregon as a convert, and helped spread Lydiard's jogging philosophy in the United States.

Lydiard believed that his methods worked not only for elite runners but also for the average person seeking to stay in shape. He became an international guru of distance running and lectured widely. His methods were featured in top running publications, and he co-wrote several popular books.

"His philosophy of long, slow, distance was much more transportable to the masses than interval training," said Adam Bean, features editor at Runner's World. "Arguably, there would have never been the marathon running boom without Lydiard's philosophy."

Lydiard is survived by his third wife, Joelyne, and four children from two previous marriages.

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