Arthur Lydiard

You’ve probably heard of the book 80/20 Running, perhaps even read it. But did you know that the original working title of this book was A High-Mileage Manifesto? I started writing it in 2013, a time when HIIT mania was in full bloom, CrossFit Endurance was making waves, and Run Less, Run Faster was the top-selling training guide for runners. Dismayed by these and other influences, I decided to push back in the best way I knew. It was only when I realized that the average runner can’t benefit from running more until they’ve first balanced their training intensities correctly—shifting from the typical 50 percent moderate-intensity routine to the 80 percent low-intensity approach of the elite—did A High-Mileage Manifesto become 80/20 Running.

Despite this evolution, I remain convinced that exercising a lot is a proven best practice in endurance training that not enough athletes at the nonelite level actually practice. Scientific support for this position keeps coming. The latest evidence arrives in the form of a study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology. Japanese researchers surveyed 587 runners (all male, unfortunately) about their training prior to their participation in the 2017 Hokkaido Marathon. Intensity data were not included in this particular study. The researchers were specifically interested in identifying links between various volume-related parameters and marathon performance—and they found them.

Among runners who trained with equal frequency, there were significant correlations between monthly training volume, average run distance, long run distance, and marathon time. In other words, given two runners who each trained five times per week, the one who packed more miles into these runs tended to perform better on race day. Interestingly, though, when the researchers compared runners at different levels of monthly volume, there were no correlations between training frequency, average run distance, long run distance, and marathon time. This suggests that monthly volume matters a lot, and how one achieves it matters less. But it does matter some, for when the researchers looked at runners who had the same average run distance or long run distance, strong correlations were found between these variables and monthly volume and marathon time.

On the basis of their findings, the researchers concluded, “These results indicate that monthly training volume is the most important factor in predicting marathon time and that the influence of monthly training volume is only significant if the running distance per workout exceeded a certain level.” The lesson I draw from this study as a coach is that, if you want to race a good marathon, you need to run high-mileage consistently. Get your volume up to a high but sustainable level and keep it there.

Photo from

Perhaps I’ll get around to completing A High-Mileage Manifesto one day. For now, here’s the overview to a proposal I wrote for the book.

In 1945 Arthur Lydiard set out on a five-mile run that changed his life—and the sport of running—forever. The young track racer struggled to keep up with a much older man on that relatively short jaunt and came home humbled, realizing he was not nearly as fit as he’d thought he was. Sensing that the secret to running faster in races was to run farther in training, Lydiard gradually built his endurance to the point where he was able to easily run well over 100 miles every week, which was unheard of in those days. In 1953, Lydiard, now thirty-six years old, won the New Zealand Marathon Championship. Afterward he was inundated by requests for coaching from other runners.

At the 1960 Olympics in Rome, three athletes coached by Lydiard won medals (two of them gold). Suddenly the whole world was interested in Lydiard’s high-mileage training approach. Within a decade this approach had been adopted by virtually every elite runner on earth and was responsible for a drastic improvement in world records at all race distances between 800 meters and the marathon. Today the essence of Lydiard’s training system is still practiced almost universally by professional runners and by most collegiate runners and serious high school runners.

Curiously, however, the vast majority of runners who take up the sport as adults do not run high mileage and are not even aware that this training approach is regarded by every true expert as the necessary path to the full realization of any runner’s innate potential. Of course, the average recreational road racer with a full-time job and a family cannot be expected to run more than 100 miles per week as the professionals do. But it is bizarre that such runners are not even encouraged to run as much as they reasonably can. No other sport is bifurcated in this way, where competitive young athletes and recreational adult athletes are not even taught the same methods to improve.

The split occurred when the sport of running exploded in popularity in the 1990s and it has widened steadily since then. The rapid minting of new adult runners has created opportunities for new coaches to guide and train them. Almost without exception, the opportunists who specialize in mentoring adult recreational runners have little or no background in serious competitive running and were never indoctrinated into Lydiard’s high-mileage training approach. Knowing no better, these pseudo-experts base their own training systems not on high mileage but instead on “new” methods such as high-intensity intervals and technique fixing, which are not new at all but in fact were tried by past generations of elite runners and discarded as inferior.

This madness has to stop. Every runner deserves to know the best way to train. While high-mileage running may not be for everyone, the method that Lydiard perfected sixty years ago yields better results than any alternative even when scaled to fit the lifestyle of the average recreationally competitive adult runner. It’s a crime that this truth, known to all of the sport’s true experts, has been hidden from the masses by lesser authorities. A High-Mileage Manifesto is an overdue corrective that rediscovers the lost secret to running better and motivates runners who are not already enjoying its fruits to give it a try in the way that works best for them.

Written by Matt Fitzgerald, whose previous books include the bestselling Racing Weight and the award-winning Iron War, A High-Mileage Manifesto does not badger busy runners to run more than they really want to. Instead it makes Arthur Lydiard and his method the heroes of a story of triumph against long odds and of lasting survival in the face of wrongheaded challenges. In this way the book gently persuades readers to make their own choice to embrace high-mileage running, which truly can be tailored to work for any runner, as the meaning of “high mileage” is relative.

Like Fitzgerald’s past books, A High-Mileage Manifesto is intended above all to provide a captivating and satisfying reading experience for all runners who enjoy running enough to purchase a book on the subject. Readers will enjoy the author’s rich portrayal of Arthur Lydiard, history’s most iconic running coach, about whom far too little is known by most runners today. They will also gain a new perspective on the history of the sport as Fitzgerald traces the evolution of training methods from the nineteenth century to the Lydiard revolution to today. And they will have their minds blown by Fitzgerald’s limpid explanations of fascinating new science proving the superiority of high-mileage running in unexpected ways that almost no one yet knows about.

The book is organized as a linked set of narrative essays arranged in a loosely chronological order. Chapter 1 lays out the problem to be solved. The next several chapters take the reader on a journey of entertaining persuasion that follows the story of Lydiard’s great idea from its unlikely conception, through its astonishing world takeover and subsequent setbacks, to its ultimate vindication. The concluding chapter tells runners of all experience and ability levels everything they need to know to benefit from high-mileage running. By the time they get there readers will be keyed up beyond all expectations to do just that.

As a runner first and a triathlete second, I am attuned to the differences between the two sports. One difference is that many recreational triathletes think nothing of working out twice a day, whereas very few recreational runners engage in this practice.

There is an obvious reason for this difference: Triathletes have three separate disciplines to worry about. A triathlete who wants to train just three times per week in each discipline has to “double” twice a week—three times if they want a day of complete rest.

But having only one discipline to worry about isn’t the only reason so few runners ever work out twice in one day. Runners also feel that they lack the time to double, that their body couldn’t handle doubling, and that two-a-days aren’t worth the bother, except for the elites. In this article I will address these concerns, make a case for the use of doubles by recreational runners in training, and offer guidelines for the practice.

Yes, You Can Run Double

Recreational triathletes who routinely double on one or more days each week and recreational runners who never double are the same people. They all have jobs, families, and other responsibilities—in other words, they’re all busy. Triathletes don’t have more time to train than runners do—they just choose to train more. Runners can make the same choice. It’s an adjustment, but doable for everyone except those with the craziest schedules.

Understand also that doubling isn’t necessarily an all-or-nothing commitment. If you go from seven workouts per week to eight workouts—a 14 percent increase in training volume—guess what? You’re doubling. What’s more, doubling need not be something you do all year, but perhaps only during the 16 weeks you’re ramping up for an A race.

There’s no rule that says those extra workouts have to be runs, either. If you’re concerned about injuries, add nonimpact cardio sessions on a bike or elliptical trainer instead. In fact, you can even reduce your run frequency when making the switch to doubling. For example, you could go from running six times per week to running four times and cycling four times. You’ll get fitter and lower your injury risk simultaneously.

Is it really worth the bother? Only you can decide how much your running performance matters to you, but from a pure performance perspective, the answer to this question is a resounding “yes.” High-volume training is incredibly powerful. That’s why it’s practiced universally at the elite level. Sure, you can realize most of your potential with a fairly low-volume running plan, but to run your best race you need to put in some serious hours. It’s the secret to achieving the “tireless state” of conditioning that Arthur Lydiard aimed for with his runners.

There is, of course, a law of diminishing returns at play in the relationship between training volume and fitness. The second hour of training you do each week is not as beneficial as the first, the third hour doesn’t do as much as the second, and so forth. But this also means that the next hour you add to your current training load will help you more than the next hour after that. So a modest increase in training achieved via doubling just might lead to a performance breakthrough in your next race.

How to Execute Running Doubles

The two most effective ways to improve running performance are (1) increasing the volume of training and (2) balancing the intensity of training more effectively. The second of these two methods should always come first. In other words, you should not increase the amount of training you do if the intensity balance of your current training is not optimal.

Recent studies have shown that runners of all ability and experience levels improve most when they spend about 80 percent of their total weekly training time at low intensity (roughly between 60 and 75 percent of maximum heart rate) and the remaining 20 percent at moderate (roughly 76-90 percent of HRmax) and high intensities (roughly 91-100 percent of HRmax). The typical competitive recreational runner does about 45 percent of his or her training at low intensity, another 45 percent at moderate intensity, and the rest at high intensity. So it’s very likely that you can and should seek improvement by breaking out of the “moderate-intensity rut” before you consider increasing your training volume and doubling.

Even when it is appropriate to increase your training volume, you can do it without adding a second workout to one or more days of the week. Instead you can simply lengthen the workouts you’re already doing. If the average duration of your daily workouts (excluding your Saturday or Sunday long run) currently is less than one hour, I suggest you lengthen them to one hour before you add doubles. If you’re already training about an hour or day (excluding your long run), then the best way to increase your volume is by introducing doubles.

Why not just lengthen your once-a-day workouts to 75 or 90 minutes? This is an option, but not the best one for most runners. It’s not an accident that elite cyclists ride once a day for a few hours, whereas elite runners run twice a day for about an hour at a time. It is evident that running for one hour twice a day is less stressful than running for two hours once a day.

The best time to add one or more doubles to your weekly routine is not during a race-focused training cycle but rather during the pre-base training period that immediately precedes a formal ramp-up for racing. You want your body to be fully adapted to the higher workout frequency before such a build-up begins.

Naturally, it’s important to avoid making huge leaps in overall volume. But this does not necessarily mean that you must limit yourself to adding just one or two workouts to your weekly routine at a time. You can jump straight from six or seven workouts per week all the way to 12 or 13 workouts without overwhelming yourself provided all of those additional workouts are very easy—that is, low intensity and relatively short. In fact, regardless of how many workouts you add, they should all be easy.

Another big decision to make is how many of these workouts will be runs and how many will be nonimpact cardio workouts. I can tell you this: You can attain just as much running fitness—or very close to the same amount—on a schedule of three runs per week plus X nonimpact cardio workouts as you can on a schedule of X + 3 runs per week. So if you are concerned about injuries or about general wear and tear, take the cautious route and keep the number of runs you do relatively low (one a day or less) and rely heavily on cross-training. If you’re durable and you much prefer running to any form of cross-training, then you may forego cross-training and just run.

Even if you decide to make liberal use of doubling in your training, be sure to alternate hard and easy days in your schedule. Do no more than three hard workouts per week and separate them from each other by at least two days. If you double three or fewer times per week, those days should generally coincide with days when you do hard workouts so that your easier days are much easier.

Training to run on doubles


Pick Your Double

Here are three examples of training schedules that include two-a-day workouts. Choose the schedule that is most appropriate for you and modify it as necessary.

Schedule A

This schedule is a good fit for runners who have never doubled before and are prepared only for a modest increase in overall training volume.

Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
A.M. Cross-Train


Easy recovery workout in nonimpact activity

Hard Run


(Tempo, hill reps, intervals…)

Easy Run or Cross-Training session Easy Run or Cross-Training session Hard Run


(Tempo, hill reps, intervals…)

Easy Run or Cross-Training session Long Run
P.M Cross-Train


Easy recovery workout in nonimpact activity

Schedule B

Use this schedule if you have time and energy to double on multiple days of the week but aren’t quite ready for Schedule C.

Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
A.M. Cross-Train


Easy recovery workout in nonimpact activity

Hard Run


(Tempo, hill reps, intervals…)

Easy Run or Cross-Training session Easy Run or Cross-Training session Hard Run


(Tempo, hill reps, intervals…)

Easy Run or Cross-Training session Long Run
P.M Easy Run or Cross-Training session Easy Run or Cross-Training session Easy Run or Cross-Training session

Schedule C

This is the schedule that most elite runners follow. In their case, most or all of the workouts are runs rather than cross-training sessions. But you don’t have to have elite talent to use and benefit from this schedule. You just need a solid background in training and racing and a strong desire to be the best runner you can be.

Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
A.M. Cross-Train


Easy recovery workout in nonimpact activity

Hard Run


(Tempo, hill reps, intervals…)

Easy Run or Cross-Training session Easy Run or Cross-Training session Hard Run


(Tempo, hill reps, intervals…)

Easy Run or Cross-Training session Long Run
P.M Easy Run or Cross-Training session Easy Run or Cross-Training session Easy Run or Cross-Training session Easy Run or Cross-Training session Easy Run or Cross-Training session Easy Run or Cross-Training session


Phil Maffetone is nothing if not consistent. In 1995, I copyedited his book Training for Endurance, a pro bono task I was given by my boss at Multisport magazine, the late Bill Katovsky, who was a close friend of Phil’s. At that time, I was just beginning to ease back into running after a seven-year layoff, and the book inspired me to give heart rate training a try for the first time. The other thing I remember about the experience is Phil getting miffed at me because I misspelled his full first name on the cover page, inserting an extra “L” in Philip!

Anyway, my point is that Phil was then teaching the same phillosophy—sorry, philosophy—of endurance training he is today. Same maximal aerobic function (MAF) concept, same 180 – age formula, same emphasis on avoiding overstressing the body. What has changed is the context in which Phil teaches his method. I’m thinking of one change in particular, which is the popularization of the 80/20 endurance training method that is practiced by most elite endurance athletes and that I myself promote through this website and the books: 80/20 Running and 80/20 Triathlon.

The vast majority of nonelite endurance athletes spend way too much time training at moderate intensity. Both the Maffetone and 80/20 methods take direct aim at this error, requiring athletes who adopt them to slow down to one degree or another. An unfortunate consequence of this overlap is that the two methods have been lumped together in the public consciousness, regarded as all but interchangeable. I’ve even encountered athletes who mix and match the two, for example by using Phil’s zones with an 80/20 plan.

In fact, though, there are important differences between the Maffetone and 80/20 methods, beginning with their origins. The Maffetone Method, as its very name indicates, is the invention of one man. It did not exist, and was not practiced, anywhere on earth until Phil created it and began to teach it to athletes. Like many popular diets, this method was arrived at via a process of nonempirical inference grounded in mechanistic physiological reductionism. With diets, this process typically goes something like this: “Because carbohydrates have biochemical effect A on the body, and fats have biochemical effect B, and proteins have biochemical effect C, the optimal human diet must therefore comprise X percent carbohydrate, Y percent fat, and Z percent protein.” When applied to endurance training, the same approach looks like more this: “Because low-intensity exercise has biochemical effect A on the human body, and moderate-intensity exercise has biochemical effect B, and high-intensity exercise has biochemical effect C, the optimal endurance training program must therefore comprise X percent low intensity, Y percent moderate intensity, and Z percent high intensity.”

This is essentially the type of argument Phil Maffetone uses to persuade athletes that they should completely avoid what he calls anaerobic training until they have fully conditioned their aerobic system through low-intensity training and are almost ready to race. In an article appearing on his website, Phil cites three specific physiological mechanisms that support this argument:

  • Anaerobic activity can lower the number of aerobic muscle fibers, sometimes significantly.
  • Lactic acid, produced during anaerobic work, may inhibit aerobic muscle enzymes necessary for aerobic function.
  • Anaerobic training increases the respiratory quotient (a measure of fat- and sugar-burning) indicating the body is burning less fat.

What is lacking from this argument is any concrete evidence that training exclusively at low intensity for a long period of time before adding in a bit of work at higher intensities for a few weeks yields better competitive results than other training methods. It’s a classic example of a biological plausibility story standing in the place of complete science. This doesn’t mean the Maffetone Method isn’t effective; there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that athletes who transition to it from the moderate-intensity rut yields good results. Personally, though, I need more than an intriguing hypothesis and a bunch of testimonials to entrust my own fitness to a training system, diet, or other method that promises to make me better.

The funny thing is, if you want to know which method of balancing of low, moderate, and high intensities is optimal for building endurance fitness, you don’t really need a physiologically grounded hypothesis. Heck, you don’t even need to know that lactic acid exists! All you have to do is look at what actually happens when athletes train with various intensity distributions.

Which brings us to the origin of the 80/20 method. Unlike the Maffetone Method, 80/20 wasn’t invented by anyone. Instead it evolved through a decades-long process of collective trial and error, in which elite endurance athletes tried different methods and retained those that proved more effective while discarding those that proved less effective. By the time exercise physiologist Stephen Seiler observed in the early 2000s that elite endurance athletes across disciplines and geographical boundaries adhered to an 80/20 intensity balance, these athletes had already been doing so for quite a while, and without having the foggiest idea why it worked. In fact, although controlled experiments have since demonstrated that an 80/20 intensity balance is optimal as well for mere mortals like you and me, we still lack a complete physiological explanation for its effectiveness. And that’s fine by me. I’d much rather know what works, but not why, than know why something might work but not whether it actually does.

Ironically, the original version of the 80/20 method, loosely speaking, was the training system developed by Arthur Lydiard in the 1950s. Like the Maffetone Method, Lydiard’s system entailed training exclusively at low intensity for an extended period of time before transitioning to phases featuring workouts at higher intensities. A big improvement on the interval-focused programs that had dominated the sport previously, it revolutionized endurance training, lifting elite performance standards to a whole new level. Over time, however, other coaches found ways to improve the method, most especially by allowing athletes to perform modest amounts of moderate- and high-intensity exercise throughout the entire training cycle—in other words, by further evolving the Lydiard/Maffetone approach into the 80/20 approach—and in so doing lifted elite performance standards higher still

The bottom line is that the Maffetone and 80/20 methods are similar but not the same. The table below summarizes the key differences.

Maffetone 80/20
Is there a place for moderate- and high-intensity training? Only in the last few weeks before competition. Yes! Up to 20% of training is done at these intensities throughout the training cycle
How is low intensity defined? Through a one-size-fits-all heart rate formula of 180 – age Through validated field or lab tests aimed at pinpointing an individual athlete’s current ventilatory threshold
How is training intensity monitored? Heart rate Take your pick: Heart rate, pace, power, perceived effort




One hundred years ago, Scandinavian athletes dominated elite distance running. They trained rather differently from today’s elite runners. Hannes Kolehmainen is a good example. His primary fitness activity during the long Finnish winters was cross-country skiing, and even in the summer he did more walking than running. He was, however, among the first elite runners to adopt the then-innovative method of interval training, and that’s a big reason he was arguably the best runner in the world in the late 1910’s.

Fast-forward to 50 years ago. By then, the Lydiard revolution had occurred, and most of the top runners around the world were running 100-plus miles per week, mostly at low intensity. If this formula sounds eerily similar to how today’s top runners train, that’s because it is. Although some innovations have occurred within the past half-century (among them vastly improved strength-training techniques and depletion workouts), the pace of evolution in best practices in endurance training has slowed markedly since Kolehmainen’s day.

This was only to be expected. The human body is the human body. It’s not changing (much), and for this reason endurance training methods can’t just keep getting better and better ad infinitum. But this doesn’t mean they can’t get a little better than they are today. So, what might be different in 2068-9?

Let me begin to answer this question by stating what won’t be different. A high-volume, mostly low-intensity approach will still rule, because it simply cannot be improved upon. The only real alternatives—training less and doing everything fast—have been tried and they don’t work as well.

When making any kind of prediction about the future, the tendency is to assume that science and technology will be the main drivers of change. This could well be the case with respect to endurance training. For example, imagine a technology that dramatically accelerates recovery from training stress and thereby increases overall training tolerance (so that athletes can train even more). Earlier this year I tested a product that is supposed to do exactly this by sending energy impulses into the body. Does it work? Probably not. But it’s entirely possible that something along these lines that doeswork will come along.

As a coach, I’m especially hopeful that advances in science and technology will enable both coaches and athletes make better decisions about how to individualize, plan, and adjust training. Some experts anticipate improved genetic testing to revolutionize training program individualization, but I’m not among them. Genes  tell us surprisingly little about what works best for an individual athlete. A much better picture is provided by starting an athlete off with a program that is based on what works best for athletes generally and then customizing and adjusting it based on ongoing measurements of how the athlete is doing. Already it’s possible to do this quite effectively by simply paying attention to performance in key workouts and how the athlete is feeling. But there’s certainly room for improvement.

For example, through proteomics, coaches and athletes might be able to determine when an athlete is heading for a setback and take measures to avoid it. More immediately, products like PWR Lab are using a similar approach (ongoing collection of vast amounts of relevant data) to predict when injuries are likely occur so that these can be minimized.

On the other hand, it’s entirely possible that the most impactful innovation in endurance training methods will be low-tech, albeit informed by science. These types of advances tend to come out of left field. In 1968, nobody imagined that intentionally depriving the body of carbohydrates before and during select workouts would be a best practice. Who’s to say that sleep-deprivation training (doing select workouts after skipping a night of sleep) won’t be a thing in 1968, having been found to upregulate certain genes related to mental fatigue resistance? Or perhaps endurance athletes will sometimes perform heavy deadlifts in place of active or passive recoveries between high-intensity intervals. And don’t rule out the possibility that elite runners will do some or all of their runs wearing weight vests of gradually decreasing weight over the course of a training cycle.

Unlikely, I know. If I had to wager on the endurance training innovation that is most likely to gain traction at the elite level within the next 50 years, I would put my money on some form of brain training. Specific contenders including zapping the brain with electromagnetic energy before hard workouts, performing mental exercises during certain workouts, and doing similar exercises at rest, between workouts.

May we all live long enough to find out!

Last week I received an email message from Dawn, a runner who had just purchased The Runner’s Diary, a book I authored back in 2008. Maybe “book” isn’t the right word. As the title suggests, it’s mainly just a training log, but it does offer some training and nutrition tips. Dawn told me that, although she loved “the feel” of the book, she was concerned about how old it was. The purpose of her message was to ask me if the information in it was still current.

The idea that certain training methods and nutritional beliefs become outdated is widespread in the running community. Many runners share Dawn’s concern about following training or nutritional guidance that isn’t “cutting-edge,” so I figured I would address the subject in this post.

Evolution of Training and Nutritional Methods

It is an unquestionable fact that the phenomenon of obsolescence in training and nutrition practices is real. Scientists, coaches, and elite athletes have been known to come up with new methods that work better than those that are regarded at the time as best practices. However, the mere fact that a certain training method or dietary practice has been around for a long time does not automatically mean it has been improved upon. I suspect that the influence of technology on modern life has given many runners false expectations about the evolution of training and nutritional methods, and I think it’s important to correct this misapprehension because it causes many runners to adopt inferior methods simply because they are (or seem) new.

The next time you’re watching a television news program and you hear something like this—“Researchers believe they are five years away from being able to grow fully viable human organs in vitro,” or “Space engineers anticipate having the technology to execute a manned mission to Mars by the year 2025”—stop and think about it for a moment. Whether or not these specific predictions turn out to be accurate, what is certain is that we can count on technology to get better and better every year. There must be some final limit to innovation, but it’s nowhere in sight. Everyone living in first-world societies today has absolute confidence that the medical, transportation, communication and other technologies that represent the bleeding edge today will be outdated in the future.

It is this environment that causes runners to vaguely expect training and nutrition methods to do the same. But there’s a crucial difference between technological and endurance sports domains, which is that endurance methods operate on the human body, which is not a piece of technology. Although (contrary to what many people believe) our species does continue to evolve, it is a very slow process compared to advancements smartphone features and robotic surgery techniques. For this reason, the optimal methods of maximizing endurance performance cannot just keep getting better. Once the best ways to train and fuel the human body for distance racing have been discovered, it is impossible to improve upon them further until and unless the human body changes enough for different methods to become optimal.

For example, in the 1950s, New Zealand running coach Arthur Lydiard discovered that a training system combining very large amounts of low-intensity work with small amounts of high-intensity work was more effective than any training system that had been tried previously. In the 60-plus years that have passed since this discovery, no other innovator has come up with anything better, and none ever will. Hard limits such as the maximum stress tolerance of various organs and tissues guarantee this.

There’s a parallel situation on the diet side. In The Endurance Diet, I identify five dietary habits that are practiced almost universally by top endurance athletes all over the world. Framed as rules, they are:

  1. eat everything
  2. eating quality
  3. eat carb-centered
  4. eat enough, and
  5. eat individually.

The book includes an historical analysis that shows these habits were not universally practiced by elite endurance athletes of past generations. Rather, they spread in much the same way Lydiard’s training approach did as it became clear these habits were essential to the maximization of endurance fitness. And as much as certain fad diet fanatics wish to believe otherwise, these habits will never be replaced by superior innovations, because again, the human body is not a smartphone.

Let me also repeat, though, that small but important innovations in endurance training and nutritional methods continue to occur. Depletion workouts are one example. I encourage athletes at every level to take advantage of any and all such innovations that achieve substantial penetration in the elite echelon and solid scientific validation. Just don’t fall for fads that contradict current core best practices in training and nutrition merely because these fads are (or seem) newer.

The term periodization refers to the practice of dividing the training process into distinct phases, each of which is defined by a specific purpose and made up of workouts that are intended to fulfill its purpose. Simply put, an athlete who practices periodization does different things at different points in the training cycle, whereas an athlete who does not periodize his training does the same thing week in and week out.

To put an analogy on it, an athlete who practices periodization is like a farmer, whereas an athlete who does not is like a factory worker. What sort of work does a farmer do? It depends entirely on when you visit the farm. In one season you may find him planting, in another administering pesticides, and in yet another harvesting. No matter when you visit the assembly line, however, you will find the factory worker putting screws in widgets.

Endurance athletes have not always practiced periodization in its current form. Like most modern training methods that we take for granted today, it had to be discovered. The idea that it is beneficial to train in different ways at different times is not terribly intuitive, which is why even now athletes who are not taught to periodize their training don’t.

While it hasn’t always existed, periodization was not discovered as a single event by a single individual—it’s too complex for that to have happened. Rather, it evolved piecemeal over time, with lots of different athletes and coaches representing a variety of endurance disciplines contributing to its development. In running, the most influential periodization model is the one that was created by the legendary New Zealand coach Arthur Lydiard. In this model, a phase of base-building that features increasing amounts of long, slow running is followed by a strength-building phase that features lots of hill running, then a speed phase dominated by short, fast intervals and finally a racing phase.

Since this model was developed in the 1950s, coaches and athletes have come to the conclusion that such a strict segregation of training types isn’t necessary. In his Hierarchy of Endurance Training Needs, noted exercise physiologist Stephen Seiler ranks “General Periodization Details” fourth in importance out of eight fundamental endurance training methods, remarking that there is a tendency to overrate the impact of sequencing different training stimuli in one way versus another. For example, some marathoners like to do a little bit of very high-intensity track work in the peak training weeks preceding a race, whereas others prefer to do almost all of their uptempo work at speeds closer to race pace. The evidence suggests that either can work.

Where there is less wiggle room is in how stress and rest are managed. Every runner, even those who don’t know the first thing about periodization, understand that their overall marathon training workload should tend to increase as they move closer to race day. But the best results seem to come not when athletes continuously do about as much as their present fitness level allows, as intuition dictates, but rather when they intentionally do significantly less training than they could handle at some times and intentionally overreach—that is, taking on a training load that would break them if they sustained it for very long—at other times—and this is less intuitive.

Most people exercise with a “get in shape, stay in shape” mentality. In a typical scenario, a sedentary person sees an alarming number of the bathroom scale or has a scary doctor’s appointment and starts working out. Initially, he can’t do very much, but as he builds some fitness he does a little more and a little more until he reaches a point where he’s doing about all the exercise he cares to do. From that point on, he follows the same exercise routine for the rest of his life (slight exaggeration to make a point).

Endurance training doesn’t work like that—or shouldn’t. If your goal is to achieve peak performance in a race, you need to train in a way that, to put it crudely, burns you out, so that after the race you need a break and after the break, having voluntarily give up some fitness, you must ease gently back into a new cycle of training.

Several years ago Stephen McGregor, an exercise physiologist at Eastern Michigan University, shared with me some interesting data he collected from professional cyclists. These were athletes who logged all of their training on TrainingPeaks, whose Performance Management Chart quantifies fitness through a variable called chronic training load (or CTL). In most circumstances, CTL is a very accurate predictor of performance. As a general rule, the higher your CTL is, the fitter you truly are and the better you perform in a races and other endurance tests. But in analyzing the data or professional cyclists, McGregor found that, over the course of a season, their CTL and performance decoupled. Early in the season, as the riders increased their CTL, their performance improved as expected. Then, as they maintained their peak CTL into the racing season, their performance level held steady—for a while. But after three months or so of this, their performance level began to decline even as their CTL was maintained.

In other words, the same training that made the cyclists fitter initially burned them out over time. On its face, this seems like an avoidable mistake, but training less in order to achieve a sustainable CTL is no alternative because in that case their peak performance level wouldn’t be as high. Peak fitness and sustainable training loads are simply incompatible, and this is the number-one reason it’s necessary to periodize.

Always remember, you’re a farmer not a factory worker.

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