Don’t take the LSD! (Long slow versus Long steady distance)

Arthur Lydiard first popularised the term “LSD” meaning “Long STEADY distance” as one of the mainstays of a successful athletic development programme. Unfortunately, over the years the concept came to mean “Long SLOW distance” which combined with the often misused phrase “miles make champions” started the descent into “logging miles for the sake of it” or “mindless miles”. When we first tested the Lydiard system, we made the same mistake that many novice runners make today and simply shuffled through the allotted time trying to rack up a nice high number. Our own results were abysmal. Once we shifted to “steady” running marked results happened within a period of less than 6 weeks.

The problem is that all elements of your preparation must be specific to the event in which you compete and contribute directly to building the physical, technical and psychological confidence to compete effectively on the day. We select duration for our runners that allows them to complete their workouts with proper running mechanics. Steady here does not mean threshold or tempo running or anything of the sort, but it is a definitive shift in gears up from “plodding”. It feels like you’re “moving somewhere” and discourages sinking into a “shuffle” or a “jog”.

Lower aerobic effort, while it may be fine for joggers and fun runners, does not exert the desirable pressures on the cardiac and respiratory systems that an athlete needs. – Arthur Lydiard, Running with Lydiard

The cost of ignoring the basics

We learned early on that while this method better prepares runners for racing and for faster work than “long slow distance”, many modern runners struggled to do any meaningful duration before suffering issues such as shin-splints. As speed mounts so do the forces the body must cope with and thus the demand on the skill level of the runner. This began our almost puritanical obsession with getting the fundamentals of the movement right first – as Vern Gambetta once put it “you cannot ask someone to compose the great American novel without first teaching him ABC”. In order to run significant distances with a proper running stride and recover to do repeat it often enough for significant adaptation, you must first invest time mastering the basics. All great champions shared this trait: a commitment to getting the fundamentals right first and then adding volume, intensity and complexity.

If you don’t know the alphabet you can’t spell a word, if you can’t spell you can’t write sentences, if you can’t write sentences then you can’t compose paragraphs or write an essay much less write the great American novel. Master the movement ABC’s and go higher faster and stronger. – Vern Gambetta


Master the fundamentals of running

Our Running workshops have one clear aim – to arm each runner with the knowledge and practice to refine the fundamental movements relevant to running and embrace a training philosophy of purposeful practice. It is not the miles that make champions, it’s the mindfulness put into the miles – the constant deliberation, the ceaseless focus on how each workout contributes to the end result you envision – be it completing a marathon, winning a mountain race or running a blistering mile. As Lydiard put it: “It’s simply a matter of understanding what’s required and discipline yourself to do it”. This means understanding the physical, technical and psychological demands of your event or the challenge you wish to undertake.

Consider changing your paradigm: do not chase mileage numbers for their own sake – attempt to put the maximum quality of movement into each step you take and invest your other exercise time in practicing other elements directly relevant to your discipline. We have mountain runners practicing their “bear crawl” or their ability to safely catch a fall, because this feeds DIRECTLY into their event. You only have so much time, so make every minute count towards the end goal. This will condition you for racing successfully. High mileage targets will come in time, and the rewards will be all the greater when you have the ability to execute them properly. Make the short-term investment in getting the basics right to reap the long-term rewards. Short-term gain invariably leads to long-term stagnation or worse – setbacks. Do not be distracted by workouts that have little or no direct relevance to your event, they may not injure you directly – but they will steal away your time, focus and energy levels – all finite resources you could hone in on your main target.

Changing our paradigm for running

If you’re considering embarking on a training programme with “x amount of miles” of easy running, we’d like to suggest an alternative: spend the time available learning to run with proper technique and to conduct whatever duration you can initially handle with the highest possible quality. The whole debate around “Long Slow” versus “Long Steady” may be a distraction that has lasted too long: what you need is “Correctly Executed Distance” but then again, CED doesn’t sound very catchy!


Liked this article? JOIN US in in our workshops to learn the fundamentals – the ABCs and write that “great novel!”

Also published on Medium.

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Director and coach at Borg Coaching Services
Rene Borg is the head coach of Glendalough AC and a passionate runner competing over all distances and terrains.