Page 2: Running successes
Lydiard, Arthur Leslie
Runner and running coach
This biography, written by David Green, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2010.
The highlight of Lydiard’s running career came when he was selected for the 1950 Auckland Empire Games marathon. He ran 13th, having not slept properly for months because of a sick child. Lydiard won the national marathon title in 1953 and 1955 before retiring from competition. In 1958, aged 40, he re-emerged to run second to one of his own trainees in the national championships. That year he became manager at his brother Wally’s shoe factory, where he developed stronger shoes for road running.
Lydiard’s star runners
Lydiard’s fastest marathon was close to New Zealand’s best, but local distance runners lagged behind international standards until his coaching changed their approach. His first star was Murray Halberg, who started running as a teenager following a severe rugby injury. Halberg lacked speed, yet gained such strength from Lydiard’s training that he was the first New Zealander to break four minutes for the mile. From 1958 to 1962 he was virtually unbeatable between 2 miles and 5,000 metres, winning two Commonwealth titles and breaking two world records.
Lydiard’s greatest training triumphs came at the 1960 Rome Olympics. First the 800 metres was won by a near-unknown 21-year-old, Peter Snell; then Halberg won the 5,000 metres by sprinting with three laps to go. A few days later, Barry Magee came third in a world-best marathon. Lydiard was only in Rome thanks to public fundraising. New Zealand’s Olympic officials had refused to send a coach to avoid setting a costly precedent.
More world records
Lydiard came home a national hero and was made an OBE in 1962. As athletics was still an amateur sport, he supported himself by running a milk round and writing a newspaper column before being employed by the tobacco company Rothmans. This controversial arrangement at least kept him in New Zealand. Snell broke the world 800 metres, half-mile and mile records – on grass tracks – in one week in 1962, and overwhelmed his 800- and 1,500-metres opponents at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. In 1963 another of Lydiard’s stable, Bill Baillie, broke the world records for the time to cover 20 kilometres and the distance run in one hour.
Jogging for health
Athletes and coaches flocked to New Zealand to compete and to imbibe Lydiard’s growing understanding of the scientific basis for his regime. His uncompromising personality ensured that he was given no significant role in athletics administration. Lydiard instead inspired the founding of the Auckland Joggers’ Club. This began a movement for mass fitness, attracting men with heart problems, who unprecedentedly were encouraged to ‘run for their lives’.1 Jogging went global when it was taken up by the US coach Bill Bowerman. By the late 1970s, 1 million Americans were running road races, and by 2005, 8 million. Lydiard’s insight that distance running could benefit ordinary people was just as groundbreaking as his training methods.