Updated: Mar 13, 2019
Before you panic, rest assured I’m not referring to L.S.D (Lysergic acid), made famous by Timothy Leary and a generation of spaced-out hippies, nor to the Beatles psychedelic song, “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds”. Rather, I'm talking about the training principle of Long Slow Distance (long, slow-paced runs) and the only 'high' part of it will be the high mileage logged in training diaries.
LSD was made famous by US runner and writer, Joe Henderson; although Tim Noakes (The Lore of Running) believes the father of ultra-running, Arthur Newton, was the first exponent of the practice. Long, slow distance training builds the foundations of every successful training programme. Plenty of long, slow training runs develop strength and endurance in runners.
We are entering the mad season in the Comrades build up. Now is the most critical training time, and everywhere Comrades runners are obsessed with distance, more distance, long runs and even longer runs.
As we move through March and into April, these long training runs will stretch from 30 km (a little under 20 miles) to 42 km (26 miles), to 50 km (31 miles), 60 km (37 miles) and beyond. Yes, mileage should now start to climb precipitously. By the end of April, and in early May, many Comrades runners will determinedly join their club mates on a variety of different club long runs- which can be up to 70 km (43.5 miles) in one very long weekend morning.
Last weekend I enjoyed a nostalgic run and visit back at the Cape Gate Vaal marathon. The Vaal was the first marathon I ever ran back in 1977 and, two years later, the first I won. I was amazed to see runners completing the race and setting off, some at an alarmingly fast pace to run a few more kilometres. Some runners are becoming distance and speed obsessed.
Back In 1977, our Comrades long-run build up consisted of the Germiston 25 km Nite Race in January, the Springs Striders 32 km in February, the Vaal Marathon in March and the Pieter Korkie 56 km in April. Finally, in May, we ran our final long run in the shape of a club-organised long run, where we travelled as far as our tired aching legs allowed us. Those were the only runs we scheduled on our journey to the Comrades, and we all conquered the old 11-hour cut-off gun, with a bunch of us earning silver medals.
The class of 2017 are running far too many long runs and, worryingly, they are running them far too quickly. Whenever we youngsters felt the urge to 'go' on these long runs back in the 1970’s, the veterans - who we greatly admired and who were trying to mentor us - quickly reined us in.
“LSD, Fordyce. LSD. You’re going to be out there for a long time on race day, Fordyce. Get used to the feeling.”
And those gnarled, deeply-tanned old veterans were correct. These long runs should be run very slowly, with the emphasis being on time spent on the legs, not on time or distance covered. I have never forgotten the wisdom they imparted and, to this day, I time every long training run I embark on from the moment I get out of bed and stand upright. As you'll read in my 'up run' eBook, my watch continues to tick away as I stop for drinks or to tie a lace. It runs as I stand chatting at the end of a run. Finally when I sit down, hours later, I look with interest at how long I stood upright and am unconcerned about the distance I have run.
It may help to think of a slower Comrades runner starting in 'H batch' on June 4th. That runner will stand for up to an hour in the Comrades starting area before Max Trimborn’s cockerel crow, and will then run, shuffle and walk for 12 hours. He or she will remain in a vertical position for nearly 13 hours. It’s a terrifying thought. Building that remarkable endurance is the purpose of the long training run. The necessary speed and stamina is created later in other training sessions, and will be the subject of a later column. (Though you can read about it now, if you'd rather not wait).
The litmus test of whether the long run has been run slowly enough is whether or not the runner is able to run an easy 10 km (about 6 miles) the following morning. If a rest is necessary and a couple of training days have to be missed, the long run was too hard, too fast and too damaging.
The best way to ensure long runs are run sufficiently slowly is to always run at a conversational pace. It should always be possible to chat to fellow runners while running or, better still, to jog along slowly while humming “Lucy In the Sky with Diamonds”.
With thanks to Citizen newspaper, South Africa.
THE FORDYCE DIARIES
THE '86 AND '88 COMRADES MARATHONS
CONQUERING THE UP
TACKLING A DOWN RUN
The must-have books for everyone who wants to run - or win - ultra-marathons.
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