The story behind the 80/20 training
It started in 1945, in a shoe factory of all places. Arthur Lydiard was working in a shoe factory when he came up with the crazy notion that the key to maximum fitness was lots of slow running. Lydiard was 27, and played club-level rugby and on occasion jumped on the track to run a mile or so. One day he was persuaded to run 5 miles by Jack Dolan, a central figure in the running community, trying to inspire more young men to take the sport more seriously. If he did well on this run, it wouldn't have made such an impact. As it turns out, Lydiard got his butt kicked badly.
Lydiard was severely humiliated by the experience. To have struggled so much to keep up with this middle-aged man. As a rugby player, Lydiard was good at sprinting. His raw speed was good. But speed was not the issue, it was lack of stamina. Lydiard realized that runners didn't need to get faster in order to race faster over middle and long distances. No runner, regardless of their skill and talent, could run anything close to their maximum speed for no more than half a mile. Yet some runners could sustain a greater percentage of speed over long distance than other runners-and it was those runners-not the "fastest" runners-who won the races.
Lydiard decided to first test this idea on himself. He began running every day. Once his body was comfortable running each day, he increased the distances of his long runs to 12 miles. Eventually all his runs were 12 miles, yet he didn't feel maxed out. He continued adding on miles, until he eventually reached 250 miles in one week. Feeling this was too much, Lydiard experimented until he finally found out that averaging 100 to 120 miles per week was his sweet spot. A typical week of running for him looked like this:
Mon: 10 miles
Tue: 15 miles
Wed: 12 miles
Thu: 18 miles
Fri: 10 miles
Lydiard discovered that no matter how fatigued he was from the recent training run, he could manage to run again by keeping the pace slow. He didn't always run slowly. Lydiard experimented with the intensity of his running nearly as much as the volume. His experimentation revealed that speed work was beneficial when it was implemented in small amounts on top of a large foundation of slow running. Unknowingly, he created the 80/20 training.
During his 9 years of conducting his 80/20 training, he achieved a national championship title in 1953, and another one in 1955. This attracted much attention to Lydiard, and he soon found himself surrounded by runners who wanted to be coached by him. One of his runners was a young man named Lawrie King, who worked with Lydiard at the shoe factory. In his first year of 80/20 training, King finished in 56th place in the Auckland junior cross-country championship. A year later, he won that race by about 70 yards. Lydiard's 80/20 training did not work overnight, but over time, produced big results. Lawrie King went on to win the senior New Zealand cross-country championship, and also set a national record for 6 miles.
By the Olympic year of 1960, Arthur's runners were making headlines. Five of them made the Olympic team. Halberg qualified for the Rome games in both the 5000 meters and 10,000 meters. Snell made the team in the 800 meters. Magee earned a spot in the marathon. Puckett and Julian earned two more spots for New Zealand in the marathon. There in Rome, racing against Olympic runners who trained using the interval method, Lydiard's athletes won 3 medals. Halberg took gold in the 5000 meters. Snell claimed gold and set an Olympic record in the 800. Magee claimed bronze in the marathon.
This was only the beginning...