Athletics: Lydiard’s LSD took over world

By Terry Maddaford

Arthur Lydiard was a great advocate for LSD. But his drug of choice was worlds apart from the hallucinatory kind.

Lydiard built his reputation on LSD (long slow distance) as the basis for what became the gospel according to Arthur.
From a self-taught, humble beginning Lydiard became the guru of distance running worldwide and was still spreading his simple message at the time of his death in Texas on Sunday.

Quickly, the "slow" became "steady" as the Lydiard disciples increased their speed using those kilometres in the bank as the basis for incredible training regimes.

His son Gary recalls those early days more clearly than most, the times in the late 1940s and early ‘50s when runners of all shapes and sizes drifted in and out of the modest Lydiard home in Mt Roskill.

"I was very young but I remember heaps of guys coming around, going for a run, having a cup of tea and going home," the younger Lydiard recalled yesterday.

"Some you would see only once or twice. Others kept coming back."

One of those was Peter Snell.

"I clearly remember his first Sunday run," Lydiard said.

"Most of the guys had finished Waiatarua [the testing 35km run from the family home around the Waitakere Ranges].

"Dad was concerned Peter had not made it back with the rest so he sent me out on my bike and I found him struggling along Hendon Ave.

"My thoughts then were, ‘This guy won’t be back’, but he did - and kept returning.

"We did not think about it too much at the time but running became a way of life for our family. Mum never complained. The whole thing sort of grew and we went along with it."

Lydiard said his father was a proud, hard-working man who thought everyone should own their own piece of land. Eventually the Lydiards - mum, dad and four kids - moved out of their state house to live in Titirangi.

Medals for Snell, Murray Halberg and Barry Magee in Rome at the 1960 Olympics - where Jeff Julian and Ray Puckett, other Lydiard pupils, were also in the team - changed the Lydiard family life forever. Arthur Lydiard, Snell, cricket legend Bert Sutcliffe and rugby goalkicking hero Don Clarke later worked for Rothmans, in its sports foundation.

Lydiard was given power to spread the message, get people off their bums and on to the roads and into the parks. Jogging became a worldwide phenomenon. His LSD methods, initially dismissed by so-called experts who could see no correlation between big training mileage and the speed needed for middle-long-distance track races, became universally accepted.

While some in the sport’s staid hierarchy in New Zealand joined the sceptics, others could see what the former milkman/shoe manufacturer was trying to achieve.

"Dad was invited to Mexico. He and mum lived there for a year," Gary Lydiard said. "They also spent time in South Africa and, in 1967, he went to Finland, where he lived for almost three years.

"Our family life suffered at that time and eventually led to their marriage break-up. It was hard for mum and my young sister, Fay."

Lydiard married Finnish Olympic gymnast Eira Lehtonen in 1977. She died of cancer in November 1984. Lydiard later married for a third time, his wife Joelyne 38 years his junior.

Being surrounded for so long by runners of differing abilities, Gary Lydiard was caught up by it all.

"He never forced me. I was too young but he had a group of guys at the Lynndale Club who he used, along with himself, as guinea pigs.

"Because of what was going on, I probably trained too hard. But he always insisted it should be enjoyable. I certainly had some great times in those days running at the Owairaka Club in the ‘60s and ‘70s."

Yet it was not until November last year that the boffins in head office finally got around to formally acknowledging the part Arthur Lydiard had played in athletics.

Thirty years after he had been given life membership of the Finnish Athletic Federation, Lydiard was handed a plaque honouring him with life membership of the national body in New Zealand.

At the time, at 86 years of age, Lydiard accepted he had slowed down. The effects of four strokes were catching up with him, he said, but he wasn’t losing his sense of humour.

As he battled the side-effects of drugs he needed after surgery, he said: "I used to talk too much. Now I can’t talk."

Drugs, or even the LSD he had so long championed, could not, a year on, avert the closing of one of the most colourful and successful chapters in New Zealand sport.

 

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