Lydiard and Canova – coaches’ round-table

In part two of our series dedicated to comparing the teachings of Arthur Lydiard with those of enigmatic Italian coach Renato Canova, I asked a panel of experienced Lydiard-coaches of their opinions on the matter among them Colin Livingstone, coach of Welsh international Tim Davies, Keith Livingstone, author of “Healthy Intelligent Training” and manager of the H.I.T Squad, Christopher Kelsall, contributor to FloTrack and Athletics Illustrated, where he recently published the article Lydiard Basics, Trevor Vincent, the 1962 Commonwealth steeplechase champion, Nobby Hashizume, founder of the Lydiard Foundation, and last, but not least, Barry Magee, who should need no introduction if you are reading this.

I have tried to summarise the many interesting points made below under headings representing the different topics that were discussed. As the final discussion ramped up to 16 pages, I have made it available as a downloadable PDF rather than article format.

Download full article.


Are Canova and Lydiard essentially based on the same underlying principles?

Colin Livingstone: Canova is singing out of the same hymn sheet but does not realise it. Much the same as Cerutty and Lydiard and aspects of Gerschler and Igloi, Cerutty and Lydiard were chalk and cheese as individuals but very similar in application. Long runs, hills, fartlek, effort sessions, striding and so on, for instance, Elliott ran 30 milers as an 800 / 1500 runner (ed: similar to the way Snell trained as an 800m/1500m runner).

Keith Livingstone: If you look at Canova’s different hill circuits, short, medium and long hill reps, long relaxed runs and recovery, steady states, time trials, reps, sprints and long overdistance efforts (e.g. 30 miles run at steady 5.30 pace for 2.11 marathoner ). It all looks like the Lydiard mix in there.

A lot of these debates are trying to look at the same mountain from different directions and claiming their view is the ‘correct’ one. A bit like arguing what is the better colour: blue or red?

René Borg: So this is similar to what Lorraine explains in the article with Running Times, Lydiard Essentials, she uses the phrase “Principles, not formulas, are the keys to successful training”, she goes on to reference Ron Daws’ old quote that “good and bad training look exactly the same” but it depends on the contextual application of sound principles to each unique runner.

Nobby Hashizume: As far as I’m concerned, it’s almost silly and useless to talk about the DIFFERENCE between Canova and Lydiard because they are pretty much identical.  Of course, they LOOK different when you ONLY look at Canova’s marathon program and Lydiard’s marathon program.  The concept behind those two is almost EXACTLY the same.  You talk to most of Japanese coaches and they’ll tell you that they do Lydiard.  Of course, they don’t seem to look anything like Lydiard that you see in his books.  Some other people probably do the same thing but may look a bit different and they’ll tell you as if they invented it from scratch.  That’s just the difference in their attitude if you ask me.  The ONLY differences I can see from Canova and Lydiard is the concept behind hill training.  Canova and I actually covered quite a bit with this hill training, why and how and where he came about this idea – his alactic short hill sprint.  It sort of makes sense but I personally would not recommend it UNLESS you’re already strong enough.  It actually makes sense with some of top level Kenyan runners who may race almost year-round or some big cash race pops up all of a sudden and you may need to get ready for it in 6 weeks.  But what has happened today is that many young aspiring runners will read it, or read about Hudson using it, and they will go out and try it themselves when they have NO idea when they may race next.  Then what will happen is, in Arthur’s words, they will have no idea when they’ll peak.  A workout like that would sharpen you so quickly that you may get ready to run fast in 3 weeks; but of course your real race may not come until, say, 12 weeks from now.  Then you may face the classic case of running your PR in March but, by the championships race in June, you are completely over the edge and have no idea what had happened.

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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.

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10 Responses to Lydiard and Canova – coaches’ round-table

  1. A very interesting comment from an very good coach and runner who wanted to remain anonymous and posted by Christopher Kelsall on the discussion about this:      Here is the quote:
    It’s pure gold. Livingstone is one of the sharpest guys I’ve ever come across in running circles.On the Canova/Lydiard comparison: As a longtime student of social and political thought and intellectual history in general, this reminds me of discussions that often happen around comparisons between major figures from earlier historical periods and popular/influential figures of today. Here as there, there are a couple of things that are frequently misunderstood by those intent on cutting major figures “down to size”, or suggesting that some contemporary figure has surpassed in basic understanding the major figure. One is that, to have been a major innovator does not mean to have developed something wholly new, and out of one’s own completely independent research. Major innovators start out like anyone else, simply trying to solve a an existing problem/issue, or set of problems/issues. What gives them lasting important is the distance they manage to travel in addressing this problem/issue, and the directions for new thinking and research they manage to indicate. (And, of course, a few manage to move the masses and create large scale historical change). It’s not a valid criticism, therefore, to list the number of lesser known contemporaries on whom the master relied for insight. Major figures become important because they are usually great synthesizers, managing to make more out of a basic insight than those around them. The second thing is that major innovators form earlier periods can’t be faulted for not solving every problem. Even major figures are products of their time; they can’t be evaluated in terms of their ability to solve problems that could not reasonably have occurred to them in their day. Nor can contemporary figures be credited for having things to say about these same problems.Running is just running, of course, and Lydiard is not Karl Marx or Sigmund Freud; but, Lydiard is the closest thing distance running has to an innovator of that stature. It takes a bit of an effort of historical imagination to understand the context within which he was operating, and thus the full scale and importance of his innovation (or, you could just listen to some of the people who are either old enough to remember his impact or interested enough to do the research!); but, no one before or since has had even close to his impact on the sport. In fact, so important and basic has his contribution been that its origins have all but disappeared, such that many think it’s simply “common sense” that’s been around since time immemorial; or, that perhaps someone else, maybe even they themselves, came up with the ideas that are its basis (like J.M. Keynes “practical men” who are really “the slaves of some long defunct economist”)!Something like this is going on with a guy like Canova, who doesn’t seem to appreciate his debt to Lydiard, or who seems to confuse method with practical application. The result is that he imagines he has “improved” on or “corrected” Lydiard without really understanding the nature of his basic insight, or owing anything to it. At best, a guy like Canova is a talented under-labourer to Lydiard, destined to be remembered alongside of a dozen other lesser figures in the history of the sport. Worse, I think Canova is a triumph of image over substance– an opportunist and a colourful expositor of an ultimately minor and derivative version of what Lydiard and many of those he influenced were doing decades before him. As a European who has managed gain a special access to Kenyan athletes (and, let’s face it, how many European or North American coaches would be willing or able to spend as much time in Kenya as he has?), he is in a very unique position to self-promote (which he’s not shy about doing). He is clearly a knowledgeable and generally competent coach; but, how can we really compare his record to that of coaches without his special access to the largest single pool of athletic talent the world has ever known? Furthermore, it is widely (and quite reasonably) suspected that many of the top Italians from the era in which he did his coaching there were blood-boosting, casting still further doubt on his status as a top coaching mind. A nice and generous guy he may be, but he has no business whatsoever criticizing someone of Lydiard’s stature.

    • Hi John, apologies for the slow response, was away workshopping. For the moment we consider the series concluded as there were no open topics to discuss (that occurred to us anyway) but it remains an interesting subject so if you feel we left you with unanswered questions, just let me know and myself and our coaching advisor Keith Livingstone, should only be too happy to write up an article talking to the points.

  2. I apologize for being MUCH too late here. This of course is fascinating stuff. I would like to point out that Chris Carmichael was NEVER a true coach but rather a businessman, as so many self-title endurance coaches are today. (Lance Armstrong had a large stake in “Carmichael Training Systems”.) I know this as I was a National Team member when Carmichael “coached” the US National Cycling Team. Like most our purported coaches back then (early ’90s), he worried more about saving his job or creating a new one, the latter of which he obviously did eventually. Businessmen worry about trademarking phrases, whilst coaches worry more about the well-being and results of their athletes. After a successful athletic career, I now coach. Using Lydiard’s principles, needless to say.

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