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Peter Snell 1.44 on grass in 1962

To follow is an excerpt from Dr Keith Livingstone's book,
Healthy Intelligent Training
Hit your racing goals. Enjoy your training. Reach your potential.

Keith was a leading Hunter athlete in the 1980s

How Peter Snell trained for 1.44.3 on grass in 1962
by Dr Keith Livingstone

Long Runs, Hill Circuits, very varied track work, morning runs.

Interestingly, in about August 1961, Peter Snell returned from a successful European
track tour exhausted from the frenetic racing and traveling, and didn’t feel inspired to
re-commence a buildup till September 17th. He established a twice a day routine of
running to and from his work, and by October 21st won an exhibition mile race in 4.13,
in the midst of accumulating the first 100 mile week of that buildup. By November he
was able to cover the 22 mile Waiatarua circuit confidently, covering 4 miles to
Lydiard’s home before running the full course in 2 hours 11, his best since before his
Rome Olympic 800m triumph.

The following day he started two weeks of hill circuit training, with Wednesdays given
over to club races, presumably over sprint and middle distances. After the first week
of circuits, he ran a picnic meeting mile in 4.14. He continued his long Sunday runs,
as well as morning runs of 10 miles during the week. At the end of his second week of
hill circuit training he competed in the Owairaka marathon. He stayed with the leaders
in a top field, being 4th at 20 miles. Half a mile later he was reduced to a walk, and at
24 miles he had to sit down.
He dredged himself to a very tired finish in 2 hours 41. Later that day he played in a
social cricket match, and when he batted he “lasted about three balls before being
clean bowled… vision was obscured… there was no coordination at all”.
Obviously, Snell had managed to totally deplete his glycogen reserves.

He recovered all week, running another Waiatarua circuit the next weekend half an hour
slower than usual, then the next Monday started track work with a 4.10 picnic meeting
mile and last 440 yards of 58.6 seconds. Thereafter followed a variety of track work on
several afternoons a week, with 10-mile morning runs every day, and the weekly long run.

He recorded a 9.18 two mile in his first week of track training, followed soon after
by a ? mile in 3.04.5, and for the next few weeks, in training or at picnic race
meetings, a number of hard time trial efforts over distances between 440 yards and
three miles.

On Christmas Day he ran a 1.52/ 4.15 half mile/mile double. Four days later he ran ten
half-mile efforts in 2.10 average, with half mile recovery jogs. All the while the 10 mile
morning runs and long Sunday runs continued. In the next few weeks he ran sessions
including a 9.12 two mile the day before 10 x 440 yards in an average of 59.8 seconds,
a half mile in 1.51, and a windy three miles in 14.23 (equivalent to about 14.50 for
5000m), a few days before a 440 yards in 50 seconds.

He then started to ease up the pressure for a few days, before winning an international
race series 880 yards in 1.48.2, passing through 800m in 1.47.7. Although due to run
another international half mile the next Wednesday, he felt strong enough to run his
usual 22 miles on the Sunday.* The next day he ran half an hour in the morning, and
8 x 150 yards, working up to sprint speed in the closing stages of each.
(* Barry Magee says that Snell’s long runs during the business end of his track season
were slow and restorative, about a minute a mile slower than his best aerobic speeds
achieved in his buildup.)

On the Wednesday he ran 880 yards in 1.47.1, passing through 800m in 1.46.3, tying
his Olympic record time. The 10-mile morning runs continued.
A week later on the 27th January 1962, he ran a world mile record of 3.54.4 with a last
440 yards in 54.8s.
The next week, on the 3rd of February, he ran a world record 1.44.3 for 800m on grass,
enroute to 1.45.1 for 880 yards.

8 months later he won the 880 yard/mile double in the Commonwealth Games.
30 months later he won the 800m/1500m double in the Olympics.

So what?
Well, obviously regular long runs don’t harm one too much. When we look at what
Snell did while juggling training, working, and a racing tour around the country, we
can see one certain fact.
Snell ran his world 800m record within 3 months of completing his first and last
competitive marathon.

What Was The Physiology Again?
Before his marathon he’d run a number of hill circuits over a fortnight, which restimulated
his powerful IIB fast twitch fibers with plyometric input that reversed the
normal “size principle” of muscle fibre recruitment. He’d also re-developed a
substantial aerobic capacity with consecutive 22-mile runs.

In running the marathon at a constant hard pace, Snell ran to the limits of his slow
twitch fibre capacity, and then exhausted the glycogen stores in his fast twitch fibers
to the point where he had to sit down. He recovered his glycogen reserves slowly over
a week, and the training effect was to force some fast twitch fibers to adapt. They were
now quite possibly acting as type IIa fast twitch fibres, with aerobic endurance
characteristics as well as a very large anaerobic glycolytic potential.

This potential, of course, couldn’t be realized until a variety of hard fast workouts and
races capitalized on their emergence. The rest is history, and we can learn from history.

While most modern coaches wouldn’t recommend a full marathon so close to track
racing, at least one great coach of the 1970’s was paying attention. John Walker ran for
over 20 miles at the head of New Zealand’s tough Rotorua marathon in April 1975.
Then he jogged off the track, with his mission accomplished, amidst quite a few ruffled
marathoners’ feathers. Why?

A couple of months later he was the first man to smash the 3.50 mile barrier. His coach,
Arch Jelley, was a member of Owairaka Athletic Club, and applied the Lydiard
principles famously.
Walker broke the world mile record with 3:49.4 in 1975 after a period of training
over the Waiatarua circuit with Kevin Ryan, the top New Zealand marathoner of the

Eight years later, in 1983 he trained on the same circuit with marathoner
Chris Pilone, and subsequently he ran his PB over the mile, 3:49.08, still the New
Zealand record.