I can’t be the first, nor will I be the last, to hear Jack Daniels name and immediately think of the brown colored liquid consumed in bars the world over.

In the running world, Jack Daniels is a legend. I was first introduced to Daniels in my RRCA class where we received a copy of his most popular book, Daniels Running Formula. I spent quite a few weeks diving into the book and pulling out the main concepts, as well as going more in depth into important sections of the book.

Daniels Running Formula – Main Concepts.

1) Every workout serves a purpose. Daniels harps on this idea throughout the book. Frequently he asks this question in regards to different parts of a training cycle and asks why a specific workout is present. Even for a rest day, the right balance of workouts and rest is important.

2) Running at correct pace. Daniels’ Running Formula is known for inventing VDOT and the corresponding tables included in the book. Daniels makes a point to understand the velocity at VO2max (vVO2max) is the key to dealing with workouts. The relationship between economy and VO2max remains. If a runner has great economy but poor VO2max, they would remain on par with a runner that has a high VO2max, but low economy. VO2max identifies the rate of oxygen uptake better explained as the volume of oxygen consumed in one minute. VDOT allows a coach to compare performances across distances and, in theory, look up the correct paces with which to train (more on this later). With the correct VDOT number, a coach (or athlete) can dial in paces for corresponding distances and workouts at various distances. The book revolves around this theory as all of the subsequent chapters revolve around predicting VDOT and using the paces to become a better runner.

3) Duration – not distance. For the majority of Daniels’ workouts, he uses a cross between duration and distance. Daniels notes that a 10k runner who finishes a race in 50 minutes works at roughly the same intensity as a 10 miler who runs 50 minutes (assuming that in both instances, the runner was pushing hard). Duration is important for his interval workouts and especially for many of his plans which focus on elite runners, Daniels tends to assume a six min/mi pace is relatively normal.

4) Three weeks build – Daniels uses periodization in explaining the ideas behind his training schedules. He believes that you should stick to a set of workouts for three weeks before changing them up or before moving onto a new VDOT level. He sticks to the three weeks theory as a staple in his progressions, including setting his training levels into six week blocks (2 x 3 weeks).

5) Four phases of training: – Daniels preferred approach is to break a 24-week block of training into four phases of six weeks duration (again, using the three weeks build above and using two of the three weeks build). The helpful part in Daniels’ book is he provides the length of time a runner should stay in a certain phase if an athlete does not have the optimal time to train (i.e. 24 weeks). For instance, if you have 16 weeks, you simply count the number of weeks that Daniels recommends in each level and train accordingly. This is an interesting part of the Daniels book as most plans are very set on how many weeks the training should be and do not offer a simple way to adapt the plan.

Training Phases

Phase I – Foundation and injury prevention. Phase I includes steady, easy runs for building base. The issue is not to increase mileage too soon because the stress and intensity of the workouts is very low. Thus, the focus here is to get into a good rhythm and schedule.

Phase II – Early Quality Daniels prefaces this portion with two questions. “What type of training can the athlete handle considering what we have done” and “What will best prepare him or her for the next phase?” The goal is to begin to prepare the body for what i to come in the tough Phase III (Threshold Quality) and Final Quality Phases. Strides and repetitions begin to make an appearance and helps to strengthen the muscles for more intense training to come in the next phase. So, you begin to shift stress to mechanical systems and not aerobically. Lessening overload and chance for injury.

Phase III – Transition Quality Phase (TQ) – The most stressful part of training. Daniels begins to emphasize optimizing the components of training and stressing proper systems. Daniels also believes knowing individually what works best is the way to go in planning workouts that help you optimize your training in Phase III. This is the time to focus on hitting paces and taking care of the body. Daniels also recommends shifting your training to ensure you get in the workouts and do not let weather cancel them. You can also throw in shorter or longer races to experience a change of pace. Longer races are more for 800-1500m runners, not for 1/2 marathon or marathon! You may throw in a 10k or 15k for 1/2 or full training to work on speed.

Phase IV – Final Quality (FQ) Prepping towards race conditions. Elements and focusing on strengths. If your race will be hot, make sure these runs are done in the heat. Daniels recommends focusing solely on acclimating in Phase IV, which would be six weeks in length. FQ is also to focus on your strengths as a runner which will give you a physical or mental boost. Daniels consistently mentions finding the right workouts for each individual in this phase and dialing in your training as specific as possible.

Daniels Training Levels

In relation to the VDOT paces explained above, Daniels categorizes his paces as follows:

(E)asy – easy
(M)arathon-Pace – relatively easy
(T)hreshold – comfortably hard
(I)nterval – hard
(R)epetition – fast

Daniels refers to each of the paces with the letter in parenthesis.

Easy – Simple, easy based training. Minimum 30 minutes in duration. Also, long runs (L) are steady (E) runs. Recommends 25-30% of weekly total mileage and no longer than 2.5 hours, even for marathoners. E runs are part of base training. Daniels also opens up the discussion of M pace in this section as well, but devotes it to it’s own section. He mentions 80-85% of running is done at E pace.

Marathon Pace – 90-150 minutes in duration. Not going longer than 16 miles. M runs are great to practice in a 1/2 marathon setting. Daniels believes that running all the time in E pace can cause injury because the running is slow. Thus, Daniels recommends finding a M pace by performing a progression run of a few miles at various paces to find what your true M pace is. You can move your VDOT M pace where you need to. Daniels uses the section on M pace to discuss hydration and heat training as well as giving a handy fluid loss calculator. He reocmmends to be aware of indivual needs and also mentions hyponatrimia, giving tips to include salt in the diet or adding in salty foods during training.

Threshold Training – Daniels uses T pace in two very specific types of workouts, tempo runs and cruise intervals. Tempo runs are a run done at a specific pace that is faster than E and M pace. This is comfortably hard. Cruise intervals are short intervals done at T pace. Daniels recommends five minutes of running with one minute of rest in between for cruise intervals. If you decide to do two mile repeats at distance, the two minutes rest is best. The cruise intervals provide the opportunity for the runner to his threshold and function with their legs at a high blood-lactate level. Cruise Interval example: 8-10 x 1000m with :30-1:00 min recovery. Slower runners should pick a shorter distance or duration for cruise intervals. The recommended max is eight miles or 50 minutes.

Tempo runs are ideally a 20 minute run at T pace according to Daniels. However, he does advocate for longer tempo effort runs that are less than T pace but still steady. He provides tables that adjust the T pace runs for the difference in distance and duration. Tempo runs should be done on flat terrain to remain steady and consistent. They are a mental and physical component of training. Daniels believes that threshold training and be incorporated at various times in the training cycle depending on the runner. However, in his plans, he places the T training in Phase III for the 1/2 marathon and full marathon distance. Shorter distances rely on more threshold training than easy runs and therefore have more threshold training included.

Interval training – Daniels defines VO2max training as the greatest benefit of I training. Interval training accumululates time working at 95-100% of VO2 max. It takes roughly two minutes to reach 95-100% of VO2 max during your workout. If you shorten the interval, you need to shorten the recovery to emphasize the time spent at VO2 max. Optimal interval length is 3-5 minutes each. Longer than five minutes generates too much lactate accumulation (Ryan’s note: possibly out of date, but five minutes begins to generate fatigue, regardless of the system promoting it). Recovery should be less or equal to the length of the interval.

Repetition – Daniels utilizes R training as a way to improve mechanics and anaerobic metabolism. R pace helps increase speed while remaining relaxed. R pace challenges your body to provide energy anaerobically. Recruting the correct muscle fibers and getting rid of compentation patterns is accomplished during reps. The biggest difference in R training and I training is the recovery. R training has a full recovery, equal to or more than the repetition itself. This allows for the runner to maintain the correct biomechanics, in turn helping each repetition to be as efficient as the previous.

Preparing for races

The concluding chapters provide prebuilt race plans and the thought behind them for the following distances.

Cross Country
1/2 marathon and full marathon.

All of Daniels’ plans give an outline of the quality workouts that go along with it. You are expected to supplement the plans with cross training and easy/recovery runs on the non-quality days. The quality days are done on your choice during the week, with long runs generally occurring at the end of the week on Saturday or Sunday.

Daniels makes an important distinction between 1/2 marathon and full marathon training. He believes that elite 1/2 marathon runners should train for a 10k and hold on as the duration of an elite 1/2 marathon is slightly over 60 minutes, the time it takes an average runner to run a 10k. The same for an average 1/2 marathoner where Daniels believes you should follow his elite marathon schedule, since the longer runs are only 2.5 hours, a time on the high side but still around an average 1/2 marathon finish.

Daniels provides his 5k-15k programs together. You can adjust the distance for each of the runs based on the distance and your level.

Daniels presents three marathon plans:

Program A: The most basic marathon plan
Elite runners
New marathon program.

As mentioned above, Daniels provides the quality portions of the schedule and you fill in the difference. The long runs and some of the quality runs are determined by your total milage for the week since Daniels believes certain types of runs shouldn’t exceed a percentage of total mileage (long runs should be 25%-30% of total mileage, for example)

His first time marathon program encourages runners to decide their peak mileage and then to run off of feel for easy, threshold and marathon pace runs, instead of focusing for time. The VDOT tables do not go higher than a 4:45 marathon, so many new marathoners will not find a corresponding VDOT table that works for them.

My thoughts

Daniels provides a concise look into running as a whole. The beginning of the book dives into the science and Daniels makes it clear his conclusions are based on both his experience as well as the science and methodologies he used in the lab over the years.

For new runners, Daniels leaves much to be desired. His plans are tailored to the elite or advanced runner as evidence by his lack of VDOT levels that go higher than a 4:45 marathon. Also, many of the references to pace put two miles at 12 minutes, a six-minute mile, something that a large majority of citizen runners do not accomplish.

Daniels does provide concrete examples and training advice that coaches can take and use with their clients. Coming from a mostly heart rate based background, Daniels made me think about incorporating pace more into workouts along with heart rate. While many may knock Daniels Running Formula, his success at SUNY Cortland and in the world of Division III running speaks for itself.

All in all, Daniels Running Formula is geared for more of the elite athlete with quite the extensive science background. For those looking to read a often cited book in the running world, Daniels Running Formula does the trick. It may take you a few times to get through, but the end result is worth it.

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