Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sat, 26 Aug 2006 06:14:44 -0400

Long Live LSD

RUNNING COMMENTARY 638

(continued from RC 637)

In the mid-1960s I was starting to see that books could be read for pleasure and not just as school assignments. The first novelist to speak truth to me through his fiction was John Steinbeck.

Steinbeck wrote in the early 1950s a paragraph that I read in the mid-1960s and still remember 40 years later: "Looking back, you can usually find the moment of the birth of a new era, whereas when it happened it was one day hooked on to the tail of another. There were prodigies and portents, but you never notice such things until afterward."

In 1966, August 19th seemed nothing but a Thursday following a Wednesday. But recent hints of change were leading me away from my old short-and-fast running ways for good.

Long-and-slow was first an escape from speed, then a way to train for a marathon, and finally a system with a rationale. I first explained it in article for Distance Running News titled "The Humane Way to Train." (A typo there made it "Human.")

Later the article grew into a booklet that acquired the title Long Slow Distance, or "LSD" for short. (The original material plus updates now appear on the web at http://www.joehenderson.com/lsdbook.)

LSD, the term, wasn't my coinage. Browning Ross introduced me to it in his magazine, Long Distance Log.

The practice of LSD wasn't my invention either. I borrowed and blended ideas that Arthur Newton, Arthur Lydiard, Ernst van Aaken and Bill Bowerman had already promoted.

I wasn't alone in adopting this practice. The five other runners featured in the LSD booklet (Amby Burfoot, Bob Deines, Jeff Kroot, Tom Osler and Ed Winrow) all came to the same conclusions independently and simultaneously. Others surely did too at a time when the training pendulum had swung too far toward short and fast.

Neither the name LSD nor the practice of it were my inventions. But as the earliest writer on this subject I became its focus of praise and target for blame.

I deflect most of the praise to others who are at least as deserving. My only role with LSD these days (besides running it) is to define and defend it.

This is a misunderstood approach because the words "long slow distance" set it up for misunderstanding. They urge runners to go as long as possible, as slowly as possible and to pile up as much distance as possible. This can be as self-defeating as going too fast, too often.

By my definitions the practice that came to be known as LSD is:

1. More a recovery system than a training system. The easier-paced runs let you heal between the infrequent hard efforts.

2. Neither too fast nor too slow. The ideal pace for most runs is one to two minutes per mile slower than you could race the same distance.

3. Not speed-free. The best way to "train" for races is by racing, mainly at distances shorter than your target race.

The harshest critics of LSD rarely have read the original material. They say this type of running "led to the decline in U.S. distance talent," that "long slow training makes you a long slow racer," that "these are nothing but junk miles."

My defenses are many and usually brief. I might respond to the critiques above by saying, "Two words. Ed Whitlock."

He trains for hours at little better than nine-minute mile pace, races often at short distances, and might soon break three hours for the marathon at age 75. Okay, you could argue Whitlock is a freak of nature, a runner blessed with great native speed who succeeds despite his training method, not because of it.

Ed Whitlock lets the results speak for him. I let the years speak for me.

A practice that didn't work would have died a quick and quiet death. LSD must have value if it has won the Darwinian struggle to survive this long.

It hasn't lasted 40 years just because I won't quit talking about it. Or just because my racing has slowed almost to a stop.
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