John Landy is the 2nd man to go sub-4 in the mile. His most famous race was the battle he waged with Roger Bannister in the Empire games, where he took 2nd when Bannister swept past him in the home stretch as Landy turned and looked to his inside. Landy ultimately set the mile world record, running 3:58, but that’s often forgotten as Bannister was the man to break the barrier.  The difference between Landy and Bannister is truly amazing.  They both were trying to accomplish the same goal, yet when their training is put side by side, Landy’s makes Bannister’s look extremely easy.  Bannister’s training resembled an “amateur”, while Landy appeared as if he was training as a full-blown professional.

Landy was influenced by the eccentric Australian, Percy Cerutty, as he briefly trained with Cerutty at Portsea before leaving because of a dispute.  Some of the same characteristics of Cerutty’s training are present in Landy’s but there are vast differences. To sum his training ideas up neatly, Landy remarked:

“To my mind the problem of running the mile is simply to blend stamina and speed.  Endurance is best obtained through long, slow running and the stopwatch is definately not necessary except as an         occasional check.  Speed, on the other hand, is obtained by running at speeds much faster than racing pace, and for distances shorter than 440 yard.  Such ‘sprints’ should be a little below full effort and again a stopwatch is no help in this matter.  I feel that running a strict fast-slow quarter mile routine causes you to fall between the two joint aims, producing insufficient pace in each quarter to develop speed and the training is not prolonged or gentle enough to give best results for endurance…I am very much a ‘train as you feel’ man.”

Landy’s training program evolved from year to year.  In 1952, to run a PR of 4:02.1, he ran at least 20 miles per week of slow running.  His normal long slow run was 7 miles in length.  To supplement this, he did 8-12 x 600 yard with 600-yard jogging recovery.  The pace was 65 per 400m pace, with 4-minute recoveries.  This repetition training was done 5 times per week.

In 1953 to 1955, his training took more shape and variation.  After the season, he’d take a period of time where he’d run mostly mileage.  After the 1953 season, he ran 300 miles of easy mileage before starting anything specific. In other words, Landy happened upon the idea of building a base.  In later years, he would run up to 50-60 miles per week during this base period, along with supplemental hiking and walking.  After this base period, he’d transition to faster runs with longer repetitions.  Some examples given are 7 miles in 39 minutes,  6x 1mile in 5 minutes, or 3 miles in 16:30.  After this period, from 7/21/53 to 10/1/53 he ran a total of 700 x 600 yards fast.  This averaged out to about 10×600 yard runs every night.  The pace was 66 through the 440, with a 600-yard slow jog after each. As you can tell, Landy wasn’t one for much variation!

In October, he increased his number of 600 yard runs to between 16-19 repetitions.  Instead of performing 600 yard repeats day after day, he would perform this workout every 2-3 days with a 30-minute jog on the days in between.  From November to December the 600 yard runs shortened to become 440-yard repeats and the pace was quickened.  A normal day would be 20 x 440s in 62 with 440 slow jog recovery.  Just like with the 600’s, these were done almost every other day, alternated with 30 minute jogs on the in-between days.

Starting in December, Landy began to race and do shorter more intense workouts.  A couple of the examples given were 10×440 in 57.5 with a 440 jog recovery, 4x1mile in 4:35 with 440 jog recovery, 3x1200m in 3:03 avg with 20 minutes rest in between, 4x1mile in 4:20 with 15 minutes rest in between.  Also during this period, 60 minute jogs were done with the occasional 90-minute jog.  During this period, he was running mile races in the 4:02ish range. This kind of racing and training continued throughout the track season which seemed to go from December until 6/21/54 when he set the mile world record. It should be noted that later on in his training, around May he began to do other repeats besides 440’s.  He introduced workouts such as 13 laps of jogging the curves, accelerating/striding the straightaways.  Also, he began to work on his sprint speed with workouts such as 10x100m sprints with 100 walk in between.

In 1955, he mentions doing 20x 50-220 yard sprints, not all out, up a gradual uphill that had a slope of 1 in 10 with a jog down recovery.  In addition to his running he did calisthenics for 20 minutes, and high rep low weight training.

 Landy’s training from a Modern Perspective

Landy was constantly tinkering with his training.  He took bits and pieces from all sorts of coaches and seemed to be a student of the sport.  It’s almost as though he combined aspects of what he learned from Cerutty with some of the more regimented training ideas of Franz Stampfl.

In looking at his training, you can see that he does, in fact, establish a base before he begins training extremely hard.  He’d consistently run easy 7 mile runs at what he called a slow pace.  While it might seem like common sense, this pure base phase was relatively rare during this time period. Once he finished up his base he has a short transition phase, where he does a mix of mileage and moderate repeats.   After the base period, he began to work on his high-end aerobic system, with his 7 mile runs in 39 minutes.  Longer repeats, like his 6x 1mile in 5 minutes, also served as a stimulus for his aerobic system, and might even be considered cruise intervals in modern lingo.  After this period, he goes into working at speeds that were about 2mile pace doing 600-yard repeats.

It’s important to note that although Landy may not have done what would now be considered a huge aerobic base, he still had an emphasis on the aerobic side of running.  The small base he put in and then a transition to threshold type workouts and then to some slower repeats that were completely aerobic shows this.  He showed progression by increasing the number of 600-yard repeats he did.  After transitioning to faster work with 600 repeats, he worked down into shorter and faster runs such as the 20x440s in 62.  Plenty of rest was taken so these were on the edge between aerobic and anaerobic most likely.

After this, the number of repetitions and pace dropped significantly.  Workouts got more intense and anaerobic training was done with the emphasis being on race pace.  However, it should be noted that even with the increase in pace and intensity, the rest periods were relatively long.  For example, 3+ minutes were taken between the 440s with his jog.  This is significantly more than the traditional 10x400s with equal rest to run ratio.  In fact, Landy did very few repeats with short rest.  For example, he takes 15 minutes in between some 1200’s which would seem an insane amount of time to some.  One thing that is important is even though he does lots of shorter intervals, he still does some longer repeats such as mile repeats at 4:35 pace which would be a good VO2max/ aerobic capacity type workout. It’s also interesting to see that his slow runs increased in duration from 30 minutes to 60-90 minutes.  This could have been because Landy recognized the importance of aerobic development and these runs could sustain his aerobic system while doing so much anaerobic work.  Once it became time to really run fast, it seemed as if he recognized the value of “sharpening.”  He does some short fast sprints and alternating sprints and jogs before his big races.  This might be from his influence from Cerutty who advocates doing just sharpening workouts such as these during the intense racing period.

One of the more important things to take away is that Landy sort of operated by a hard/easy principle.  There would be stretches of numerous hard workouts in a row, but in general, especially early in the season, repetitions were separated with days of 30 or 60-minute jogs.  This is important because it allowed Landy to recover for the next days work.

Like most great runners, it seems as if Landy was on the cutting edge of training during his time.  He mixed and matched different systems of training.  He recognized the need to periodize his training and to change things up as he got closer to the more important races.  It’s amazing to see that he followed a periodization of going from aerobic development to threshold running to aerobic capacity work to anaerobic capacity work to sharpening for a race.  This type of training resembles many modern programs and he did it in the 1950’s!  Perhaps, the most interesting thing is the amount of rest taken during workouts.  There are practically no short rest intervals in his training.  These short rest periods have become popularly more recently and it leads one to question why they have.  With taking a lot of recovery, Landy was working on his anaerobic system, but then allowing for his body to clear some of the built-up lactic in his body.  By doing this, he probably wouldn’t get as high lactate levels as someone would if they went hard with short rest.  So maybe, this was Landy’s way of keeping the workouts extremely intense, but not with as much waste products being built up, allowing him to do more repetitions at race pace, or doing more repetitions throughout the week.  For example, his body might only need a day to clear out all the waste products because although lactic was built up, it wasn’t maximally built up.

Key points to take away from Landy’s training:

  •   Progression throughout the year is important whether it’s from workout to workout or through periodization.
  • A base should be built before starting the demands of interval training.
  •  Interval training should progress from relatively slower longer runs to shorter faster runs.
  • Transition is important with such things as high-end aerobic runs in between the base and start of interval training.
  • Take recovery days when needed.  Alternating easy/hard might work well.
  • Sharpening with accelerations and short sprints helps one to peak.
  • According to Landy, the emphasis should be on hitting the paces in workouts, take as much rest as needed to an extent.

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