A shot of Jack Daniels’ Running Formula

Daniels' Running Formula

Click image to buy the book (Photo and link: Amazon)

My Dublin Marathon training will begin in July – a 16-week summer of long runs, fartleks and recovery shuffles, winding down to a taper seasoned lightly with maranoia.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not running already. Since March I’ve been following a plan from Daniels’ Running Formula to get me in shape for my marathon training.

First published in 1988, Daniels’ Running Formula is one of the most popular and trusted athletics training manuals out there. Its author, an Olympic medallist in the modern pentathlon, has been called the world’s best running coach by Runner’s World magazine. In the foreword, the mighty Joan Benoit credits him for her recovery from injury ahead of the 1984 U.S. Olympic marathon trials – and you know how that story ended.

And yes, his name is Jack Daniels. (The American whiskey was created by Jack Daniel, so that’s Jack Daniel’s whiskey you’re drinking. The American athletics coach is called Jack Daniels, and that’s Jack Daniels’ Running Formula you’re following. Mind those apostrophes.)

Combining scientific and athletic cred, Daniels’ method is best known for its VDOT scale, whereby runners can calculate their most appropriate speed for training paces varying from easy to threshold to interval. VDOT isn’t strictly an acronym, but derives from VO2max (or “V-dot-O-two”, as in the scientific notation there’s a dot inside the V), the value for how efficiently an individual uses oxygen. So there’s the science of it.

Daniels’ book has competition training plans for all distances from 800 metres to the marathons – and it also has intermediate plans for runners who want to work on their fitness ahead of launching into a targeted race plan. This latter is what interested me.

And so, in March this year I got my copy of Daniels’ Running Formula, worked out my VDOT based on my 2012 Paris Marathon result, and prepared to follow Daniels’ Red Intermediate Plan.

The Red Intermediate Plan consists of four four-week phases of four or five days’ running per week, at around 40 or 50 minutes of running time per day. Each week has two sessions with a comfortably hard ‘threshold’ element, and two other days at an easy pace (with some strides – short, light 30-second sprints – thrown into one of them). There’s no long run in the normal sense of something well over an hour.

I love this running plan. Although I’m always watching the clock on all my runs, with no long run where I can space out and shuffle along blissfully, the structure and rigour of this schedule makes every session satisfying. At the start, I was zipping around on my threshold runs a few seconds ahead of my VDOT-determined target pace. Now, though, the accumulation of three months’ training has helped me find my proper rhythm – every threshold session is constructively challenging without affecting my recovery.

Though I won’t be as scientific as Daniels, the benefits for me of this training plan were clear: structure, challenges, objectives and a tangible sense of progress. Other training plans exist, of course, and perhaps other runners haven’t found Daniels’ plans as beneficial or enjoyable. Also, it mightn’t be the best plan for you if you do all your running on the street – running at a slightly faster pace while keeping one eye on your watch, you might be a greater hazard to other road users or to yourself.

I have one four-week phase left in the Red Intermediate Plan, which will take me right up to the start of July, 16 weeks out from the Dublin Marathon. By then, I’ll have decided if I’ll stick with Daniels and use one of his marathon plans too. So far, though, I’m a satisfied customer and I may be returning for more.

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