Lyle Knudson has coached at the high school, college and elite level. He’s coached Olympians and novices. He has coached sprints, jumps, distance and multi-events. He has run the USATF Junior Elite Training Camps, (which I can say are outstanding) and is hoping to get started again in 2009 or 2010.
He has a very long resume. Lyle has a coaching philosophy based on what he calls “Speed/speed-endurance/specific-endurance based training.” I’m grateful for the time Lyle gave me discussing his views on current US distance running development.
Mick: Please describe, as you see it, the current state of US distance running (youth, high school, college and pro, if you want). Then you can describe where we can be and how we can get there. We'll fit in all the questions from yesterday after this lead-in.
Lyle: Where we are at the pro/open level (other than African imports) relative to the rest of the world is a disgrace. In youth, HS, and college we generally compete against ourselves, it's not so obvious. Despite and considering the great improvement in numbers of athletes and opportunities in U.S. distance running, we're not running as fast at all levels (youth, HS, college, and open) as we did 40 years ago. There's one simple reason. Training methods; With interval training through the 60's, we dominated the world in distance performances at all levels. Now, with the dominance of the LSD based pyramid model, we're not even competitive. Not recommending that we go back to pure interval training, modified interval training (now allowing variation in training types and full recovery-adaptation between training bouts)(or as I prefer referred to as "speed/speed-endurance/specific-endurance based training") can get us back to predominance.
Mick: I think most people would agree with you that the US is not where it should be. I'm familiar with some interviews you've done and would like to continue on the problem of disappearing talent.
Lyle: Two problems with disappearing talent: 1. Training methods - Runners get to certain levels of performance in middle distance and distance events in youth or HS by training at certain volumes. Then they move to HS or college running the same or slightly longer events, and the coaches ask them not to train faster at those events but double-triple the training volumes, usually at slower paces. And they wonder why those athletes get injured, performances deteriorate, get frustrated, and quit?????
- As students/athletes mature chronologically and mentally, they more expect and demand that teachers/coaches/parents/teams/schools serve their individual interests/needs, not the egos and interests of those teachers/coaches/parents or their rah-rah teams/schools. This first becomes obvious between 9-10th and 11-12th grades for girls, and HS and college for boys; and becomes more of an issue thereafter. When individual athletes' interests/needs are no longer being served, they go elsewhere.
Mick: A lot of kids start running now at age 10-12-14, along with playing other sports. What do you think is important so these kids can continue improving for 10-20 years?
Lyle: 1. Having fun at 10-12-14 and 16-18-20-22 -... External fun (positive feedback from parents, coach, teammates, friends, etc.) is necessary early, but internal fun (positive feedback from self) is most important early and throughout. Emphasis on what's good for individual development, not satisfying the egos of parents and coach, or sacrificing individuals for the team. If you do what's good for each athlete's individual development, individual development will happen and the team thing will take care of itself.
- The Training Program. If young, as well as older, athletes train longer and slow, they will break down mentally and physically. And even if they survive, will adapt to run longer and slow. If they train and compete shorter and fast, they will enjoy training and competing more, remain healthy, and continue to improve over many years at a range of shorter to longer distances.
Mick: Can you give me a few of the key components of your training program.
Lyle: Speed, speed endurance, specific (to event) endurance, anaerobic threshold, aerobic endurance; strength, power, quickness; technique; dynamic flexibility; psycho-social - love of running, feel good about self, ........
Mick: By systematically training down to and up to the objective competition distance, you mean developing better speed and better strength?
Lyle: Please don't use "strength" to mean "endurance". Scientifically, "strength" means the ability to apply force, obtained in a weight room. "Endurance" is the ability to sustain a movement pattern. Having said that to relieve me of a major peeve, training up to and down to the objective competition distance means properly developing "specific endurance" (i.e., endurance specific to the event).
Mick: Do you make minor individual adjustments if you think an athlete needs extra attention on speed or extra attention on something else? Do you group athletes in training or do you have everyone training on their own? Do you group by age or ability?
Lyle: When I coach teams, we divide the team by training event (800, 1500/1600, etc.) based on individual desires, needs, physical characteristics. etc. With private coaching, I train athletes individually or in like small groups, with various arrangements. Most live at different locations across the U.S., whom I provide the training program and counseling via email/phone/website directly to the athlete or through a parent or coach at their site. I only work here on a daily one-on-one basis with selected elite adult runners.
Mick: How would you define LSD? (What is long, slow distance?)
Lyle: Long Slow Distance. Long and slow running; often referred to as aerobic endurance training!!
Mick: Is LSD 6:00 pace, 7:00 pace, 9:00 pace?
Lyle: Depends on the level of development of the runner. If their AT (anaerobic threshold) pace is 5:00, AR (aerobic) pace may be 6:00. If AT is at 6:00, AR perhaps 8:00; etc.
Mick: Is LSD measured by HR?
Lyle: If developed elite runner, perhaps 120. For younger less developed athlete, perhaps 140.
Mick: What effort does an athlete need to run in order to get good benefit?
Lyle: There is little benefit to LSD training. In limited amounts, contributes to warmup, warmdown, and recovery from specific training. In fact, there are negative benefits to excessive LSD running (i.e., negatively affects speed, speed endurance, and specific endurance development).
Mick: At what point is it not LSD?
Lyle: When it's shorter and faster
Mick: Is the problem (of LSD) the length of the run, the pace or a combination?
Lyle: A combination
Mick: What do your athletes do for distance running?
Lyle: They train specific to the demands of the event all the time. I.E. - on the endurance side, they train a balance between speed, speed endurance, specific endurance, anaerobic threshold, and aerobic endurance.
Mick: You can talk about aerobic recovery (AR) runs and aerobic tempo runs if you like.
Lyle: A limited amount of AR following a workout does aid recovery. Excessive AR, either just following a workout or on alternate days, prevents recovery and adaptation.
"Tempo runs" vary in definition between various coaches, so I don't use the phrase. "Aerobic" tempo doesn't make much sense, since to run aerobically you would need to run at a tempo slower than for any race shorter than an ultra-marathon. "Tempo" might be used for AT runs, but even that would be at a tempo slower than race pace for any race shorter than a marathon. The term "tempo" might best describe the tempo at objective race pace; and that's best developed by running speed, speed endurance, and specific endurance workouts.
Mick: Our audience is mainly youth and high school athletes, plus their parents and coaches. Before we get into more specifics, can you recommend a general 10 year progression of weekly mileage (and pace?) for young athletes?
Lyle: Mileage the same for a given training event (training event might increase in distance over time), pace commensurate with level of development.
Mick: I understand that training varies a lot by individual.
Lyle: Why? All runners are basically the same regardless of age, gender, or level of development. The only difference is how fast they run. So, with the same training event, the workout for a 10 year old female beginning runner should be the same as for a world-class 30 year old male runner. The only difference is how fast each runs the workout, one perhaps walking and jogging and the other very fast.
Mick: I understand that everyone (10 year old, world-class 30 year old male runner) is not the same and the training for every athlete should be adjusted individually as you go along.
Lyle: As I said in a previous interview, everyone IS basically the same. The only difference is in how fast they run over a given distance. The only difference in training should NOT be in volumes for a given training event, only in pace.
Mick: With regard to training methods, do you mean that mileage should stay the same and just run it faster?
Lyle: For the same training event, yes.
Mick: Do you increase mileage and run it faster?
Lyle: For the same training event, why increase mileage? The event distance doesn't change. Yes, as the athlete is capable of competing faster, they should train faster.
Mick: I understand what you mean about not running faster. I have seen programs where mileage and pace stays the same for four years and the kids don't see much improvement. Whitney Anderson said in a fastwomen.com interview that she ran about 37 miles per week. How did her mileage develop over time? Fastwomen.com article
Lyle: Her training event and weekly mileage remained the same over the 20 months that I coached her. But her training paces and performances in competition improved dramatically.
Mick: Is 37 miles a week the ideal in your program?
Lyle: For a given training event. Too much for shorter distances, not enough for longer distances.
Mick: What is your recommendation for pace at sea level vs. altitude?
Lyle: Regardless of sea level or altitude, as fast as possible considering the workout length of reps, number of reps, and recovery periods. We never time a workout, or run a workout on a track or measured course; so we don't know what paces we're actually running in workouts. To increase pace, especially at altitude, we do all workouts down hill, of course not possible at sea level. To find out how fast we can run, they have measured tracks/courses and stop watches at meets.
Mick: What did her training week look like during cross country season or track season?
Lyle: The same.
Mick: I'd also like to talk about adaptation and how the body responds to stress.
Lyle: The athlete trains (applied stress to his/her body). Over the next 48-72 hours the body recovers and adapts to a higher level specific to that stress. At least, if the stress is properly applied, and adequate rest is allowed before the next high-stress training bout.
Mick: What does your summer training program look like?
Lyle: The same as the fall, winter, and spring program; only with less psycho-social stress.
Mick: What does it roughly look like?
Mick: Would your high school athletes race 3 seasons? (xc, indoors, outdoors)
Lyle: If not in other sports - 4 seasons; XC, indoor, outdoor, and a 2-3 road races during the summer.
Mick: How do you train for that? Can you give me some specifics, like mileage, pace, etc?
Lyle: Select the "training distance", generally under the objective competition distance. Then systematically train down to and up to that training distance over each 1 or 2 week cycle, with number-of-reps/pace/recovery periods and total volumes consistent with the training distance, on alternate days with limited aerobic and anaerobic threshold running in between. I choose to keep specific workout cycles, types, volumes, etc. private to my athletes, associated coaches and clients.
Mick: Do you have a favorite season? Does the whole year revolve around preparation for that season or for a particular race?
Lyle: No. Each season has its particular values, developmentally, and the rewards from competition. The roads are (or should be) the least formal, a good test of summer development, and great for interacting with a wide age/gender/ability range. XC is more formal, a good test of fall development and fun. Most distance runners like running around in the short circles of indoor track, and coaches like to stay warm and dry. The outdoor T&F season offers the greatest opportunities.
Mick: Do you have a favorite event that you like coaching?
Lyle: Early in my career, I loved and had success coaching all T&F events and XC. Perhaps my favorite was coaching multiple eventers (pentathletes, heptathletes, & decathletes). Mid, because of outstanding assistance sprints/hurdles/jumps/throws coaches I was able to hire (e.g., Mike Holloway, Scott Irving) and later, where I've been located (mountains of Colorado), I've gravitated to distance. Distance running/coaching in the Colorado mountains is awesome!!!
Mick: What characteristics do you look for in a student/athlete that you think are important?
Lyle: Being alive. Other than that, I love the challenge of developing the other physical and psycho-social characteristics of an outstanding person and athlete.
Mick: Let's talk about training all the components of performance.
Lyle: Other models train different components of development at different periods within training cycles. We identify all the components of development/performance (speed, speed endurance, specific endurance, anaerobic threshold, aerobic endurance; strength, quickness, power; psycho-social characteristics - aggressiveness, confidence, ...;...) and train them systematically all the time (within each 1-2 week cycle, if not each 2-3 day cycle). Therefore, we "improve" each 1-2 weeks, if not each 2-3 days.
Mick: Let’s talk a little about training speed vs. distance.
Lyle: It's not about speed vs. distance; it's about training all the components of performance (speed, speed endurance, specific endurance, anaerobic threshold, aerobic, strength, technique, etc.) within a systematic program.
Mick: What is your feeling about coaching boys vs. girls?
Lyle: Coaching both genders, all ages and ability groups, is the same; just adjusted for psycho-social differences. Coaches should just do what makes sense. Approx. 2/3 of all athletes that I've coached in my career have been girls/women, but 1/3 have obviously been boys/men. I don't see any difference in how you should train each; other than after age 12-13 the boys will run faster; but they still don't compete farther. Mark Enyeart did the same workouts as my untalented group of female middle distance runners at Utah State (approx. 25 miles per week), and ran 1:44 800.
Other than devotion to Lydiard (style coaching), I don't know why coaches are so hung up on mileage; when common sense (train long & slow to compete short & fast?) and valid science (primary adaptive mechanism is structural & enzymatic, not cardio-vascular) contradicts it. But now that I'm getting back more into coaching (vs. academics), it's fine with me if they keep doing it; just gives me and my athletes greater advantage.
Mick: The problem that I see in high school is kids running 45+ competitions per year, often with multiple races, and 1 or 2 track workouts. I just feel there is too much emphasis on racing and not enough recovery time for most kids to really develop.
Lyle: I certainly agree with that. BUT, with LSD programs, at least that way they get some quality running in!!!
Mick: I would like to spend the rest of the interview talking about how a coach can set up and implement your program. Everyone agrees that we want to be racing faster. Let's say we have a girl who you decide can run 2:15 for 800m, how would you set up her training? How many races per season is ideal? What is a good training schedule if there are 2 or 3 meets per week? Do you race over and under?
Lyle: In setting up the training/competition program, the objective should always be the best developmental interest of each individual athlete, not serving the team or the egos of the coach/parents. Set up the training program back from the championship meet(s) each season. Then schedule meets that will best compliment the training program. And then schedule athletes into those meets and in events that will best serve their development. Contrary to using the most developed athletes in the most events and meets (to score points for the team, etc.), because those athletes will know how to extend themselves the most in their races, they should compete in the least meets and least events per meet. Whitney Anderson competed in a total of 14 XC and T&F competitions including national and international meets, seldom doubling in T&F meets, her senior year in HS.
Set up the training schedule (formal workouts MWF, MWSa, TThSa) so that a competition falls on a formal training day. Do run different events in different meets; preferably OD, UD, leading up the best distance at major meets.
Mick: Limited racing is such a huge advantage for kids.
Lyle: High school coaches need to take charge of scheduling meets, and scheduling athletes in events in meets, to best serve the development of their athletes. At the last HS T&F program I coached, the league coaches scheduled only one meet per week, specifically a JV meet each Tuesday. Then each school coach could schedule weekend invitationals for varsity level athletes. In prior HS coaching, if the league or AD scheduled multiple meets per week, I ran my JV athletes in any meet held during the week anyway, reserving varsity athletes for weekend invitationals. At the last HS that I coached cross country, my top runners competed only once each two weeks up until Regionals and State, with JV's running each week. In summary, if coaches can't control the scheduling of meets, they can at least control who competes in the meets and in which events.
Mick: Would you like to discuss racing strategies and tactics?
Lyle: Run for time in races, except in qualifying events. Physiologically, the best result will come from running even pace throughout the race. But that doesn't mean even effort. Rather than the natural tendency to "sprint at the beginning, jog in the middle, and sprint at the end", the athlete should run pace early, feel gradual acceleration to maintain pace thereafter through the middle, go all-out with 1/4 of race remaining, and then just finish.
Mick: What kind of progression of workouts that leads to a peak do you recommend? (if you need an event, let's say 800m)
Lyle: In my program, athletes "peak" each two weeks, if not each 2-3 days, through each macrocycle. The regular two-week cycle continues right up through the championship meets, with volumes reduced some to assure that the athletes are fully recovered and adapted to their formal training in light of naturally increased psycho-social stresses.