Arthur Lydiard is widely recognized as the greatest athletics coach of all time. He was born in Auckland, New Zealand, in 1917 and as a young man was a keen rugby player.
In his late 20s he initially took up running to improve his health and fitness, and rapidly became a competitive athlete, thus beginning a life-long quest to find a training system which would produce peak running performance.
Lydiard won the New Zealand marathon title twice in the 1950s and, using himself as a human running experiment, he found that by running medium to high weekly mileages he could outperform younger and faster men over the middle and long distances.
After running weekly mileages of up to 500 km a week (a marathon every morning and afternoon every day of the week), he found that for fit, elite athletes a weekly mileage of 160km produced best results in establishing the necessary endurance base for championship performance.
Lydiard is also credited with developing the principle of periodisation, which involves changing one’s training as one approached important competition to achieve peak performance. In Lydiard’s system, which is followed in some form or another by all successful middle and long distance runners, an athlete progresses from 2 to 3 months of an (1) endurance phase, followed by four to six weeks of a (2) strength phase, including hill-springing and hill running, before moving into a (3) speed phase of anaerobic track work, including sessions from 60 metre to 1600 metre repetitions. Finally, the athlete moves into a (4) racing phase lasting six to eight weeks, when she or he would attain peak performance, where the emphasis would be on racing and not training hard, embodying Lydiard’s belief that “one cannot race or train hard at the same time.” See the section on training schedules in this website.
After refining his training system, as an active coach in Auckland, New Zealand, Lydiard, produced his most famous athletes, known affectionately as “Arthur’s Boys” in the late 1950s and early 1960s, including the Olympic medallists, Murray Halberg, Barry Magee, John Davies and Peter Snell, whose three Olympic gold medals won in 1960 and 1964, earned him the accolade of “New Zealand sportsman of the century”.
After 1965 Lydiard accepted coaching assignments all over the world and had most notable success in Finland where he is credited with establishing the coaching structures that led to four Olympic golds for Lasse Viren in 1972 and 1976 and an Olympic gold for Pekka Vasala in the 1500 metres in 1972. Lydiard came to South Africa on an extended coaching tour in 1979. Several Lydiard-influenced champion athletes and world record holders emerged in the 70s and 80s, most notably, John Walker and Dick Quax and a long succession of great Japanese marathon athletes culminating in 2000 Olympic womens’ marathon champion, Naoko Takahashi.