Review of the 5k to 10k Training Plan in Jack Daniels Running Formula

If you’re training for a running event and looking for a good training plan, Jack Daniels’ Running Formula is usually a good place to look.

The book includes a variety of plans for distances ranging from the mile up to the marathon. This particular review will focus on the 5k to 10k plan. I used the 3rd edition of the book, and this plan is located in Chapter 11 (“5k to 10k Training”). However, the same plan can be found in the new 4th edition (Chapter 13, “5k to 10k”). I don’t think any changes were made to the plan between the 3rd and 4th editions.

Obviously, this plan is intended for use as a training plan to prepare for a middle distance event – i.e. 5k, 8k, 5 mile, or 10k race. However, it would also be suitable for longer distances – like a 10 mile or half marathon race.

What follows is a brief introduction to the Jack Daniels training philosophy, an overview of the plan, my own experience with the plan, and some pros and cons of the plan. Ultimately, you’ll have to decide if it’s the right plan for you.

Brief Introduction to Jack Daniels Running Formula

If you are not familiar with Jack Daniels, you should read his book Running Formula. In this book, Jack lays out a philosophy of running and coaching that underlies all of his training plans.

Two of the main tenets of his philosophy are a) that every training run should have a specific purpose and b) you want to do the least amount of work possible to promote growth and development. By running at specific intensities, you can target specific physiological adaptations. And by running just hard enough, you can promote those adaptations without risking injury.

To that end, he breaks runs down into five main categories: E (Easy), M (Marathon), T (Threshold), I (Interval), and R (Repetition).

Easy (E) runs are – as you’d expect – easy. He prescribes a general range for these runs, but the idea is to go at a conversational pace. Throughout an E run, you should not find yourself winded or notice your heart rate getting elevated.

Marathon (M) runs are steady state tempo runs at an intensity similar to what you would expect throughout a marathon. If you’re training for a marathon, your M pace would be at or near your goal pace. If you’re not training for that event, then this should be somewhere between your Easy pace and your Threshold pace. You will have to push the pace a bit, but you should be able to run this pace for 5 to 10 miles without being too drained.

Threshold (T) runs are at or around your lactate threshold. In Jack’s system, he suggests that this is the pace you could race for an hour. These runs will feel comfortably hard. Shorter cruise intervals (i.e. 1 mile) shouldn’t be too difficult, but longer segments may begin to feel a little challenging. For most runners, this will fall somewhere between their 10k and half marathon race paces. If these are broken up into intervals, there is typically very limited rest between them.

Interval (I) runs are at or around your VO2 max. These runs are hard, but not a sprint. The pace should be roughly in line with your 3k to 5k race pace, and you should be able to comfortably run the pace for 800m to 1k intervals. A typical rest period will be 2-3 minutes – long enough to catch your breath but long enough to fully recover. These runs are also sometimes called Hard (H) runs, if time is used as the measurement of volume instead of distance.

Repetition (R) runs are at or around your mile pace. These are much harder than Interval runs, but still not a full on sprint. You should be able to comfortably run this pace for 200m to 400m intervals, and these workouts would include long recoveries in between work bouts.

For a more in depth look at how Jack Daniels’ system works, check out this post or read the book. I can’t emphasize enough that if you are going to use this plan (or any of Jack’s plans), you should absolutely read a copy of Running Formula.

The VDOT Calculator is also a very useful tool which allows you to plug in a recent race result and get suggested training paces.

All of Jack’s plans break down into these five runs, although the periodization and mix of runs depends on the distance you are preparing to race.

An Overview of Jack Daniels 5k to 10k Training Plan

There are two versions of the 5k to 10k Training Plan. These two versions vary depending on what your typical weekly mileage is. The lower mileage plan is 40 to 50 miles per week, while the higher mileage plan is 60 to 70 miles per week. Obviously, both of these plans are for advanced runners who already have a strong base of mileage under their belt.

The plans essentially mirror one another, and the only real difference is the volume of work in each workout.

The plans break down into four, six week phases, for a total of twenty four weeks. Each phase focuses on a different mix of the five running intensities outlined above.

Throughout the plan, Jack identifies key workouts – called “Quality” days. There are three Quality days in any given week. The rest of the days are E running, and it’s up to you to divide up your total volume of running among these days.

Phase I is a preparation or base building phase. The plan itself doesn’t outline any specific workouts for Phase I, and if you’ve been training consistently Jack suggests you can skip it. However, if you’re coming off of a period of recovery, this is your opportunity to increase your mileage and begin to introduce some intensity. Throughout this phase, Jack suggests keeping with all Easy runs, with the exception of some easy strides and some easy hills. By the end of Phase I, you should be running near your goal mileage and ready for some more intense running.

Phase II introduces the intensity. In Phase II, the main quality session is a Repetition workout. This is something like 400m repeats. The second quality session is Threshold running, typically 1 mile cruise intervals. The third quality workout is your long run – usually easy, but sometimes with some M pace mixed in. In terms of periodization, Jack believes that the Repetition running will make you stronger and more resilient before you head into the third phase – which will have a lot more volume of intensity. The relatively short nature of the Repetition workouts should make them easy to recover from, even if the pace is quick.

Phase III shifts the focus from Repetition running to Interval running. For a 5k to 10k race, this is much more race specific. The first quality workout is some kind of Interval workout (i.e. 1k intervals). The second quality workout is still threshold focused, although the cruise intervals are longer in some workouts. These second Q workouts also usually have a small set of R-paced reps to keep your legs moving quickly. Finally, the third quality workout is still your long run.

Phase IV is a competition phase, so it is a bit more fluid. There are 3 potential quality workouts in the plan, but it’s also assumed that you’ll be racing in many of these weeks. If there is a race, then the main quality workout is abbreviated and the second quality workout is eliminated. The long runs also shift to exclusively easy runs – no more marathon pace. The goal here is to be recovered for your races, but still put in a little bit if work in the middle of the week.

My Experience with Jack Daniels 5k to 10k Training Plan

I recently used this training plan for my spring training block, from January to April. I was targeting two key races – a local 10k and a half marathon in Delaware.

Coming into the plan, I was comfortably running 60 miles per week. I had used Jack Daniels 2Q Marathon program, peaking at 55 miles per week, to prepare for my first marathon last October. After recovering, I spent a few weeks building up to 60 mpw.

My long term goal was (and is) to run the Philly Marathon in October, so I wanted to maintain relatively high mileage. That’s why I bumped up to 60mpw and chose to use the 60 to 70mpw plan. I also planned my weeks so that I would increase through Phase II and III of the plan to peak at 70mpw a few times. Throughout the plan, I averaged 65 miles per week.

I wrote extensively about each of the three phases in separate posts, so I won’t repeat it all here. Here’s my experience with Phase II, with Phase III, and with Phase IV.

Overall, I thought the plan was very challenging, but not overly so. I really enjoyed the track workouts in Phase II, as well as the Marathon paced runs. In Phase III, though, the fatigue started to get to me and I faltered a bit. I’m not sure if it was the volume of intensity or the overall volume of miles. As I entered Phase IV, I felt a lot better when I reduced back to 60mpw and started to lighten up on the workouts.

Due to fatigue and travel, I ended up eliminating the two 5k time trials I had planned. However, I did successfully race my 10k and my half marathon, and I ran a mile time trial. All three were solid PRs.

Coming into the plan, my most recent races were a 3:35 marathon in October and a 21:07 5k in December. The 5k time would translate to a 43:51 10k or a 1:37:10 half marathon. My tentative goals were to break 20 minutes in the 5k, and get as close to 40 minutes in the 10k and 1:30 in the half marathon as possible.

I wrote a race report about my 10k race here, and I ultimately ran just over 42 minutes. I wrote another race report about my half marathon here, and I finished in 1:32:58. I didn’t get a chance to race a 5k, but I’m sure I could’ve broken 20 minutes if I had a chance. I also ran a mile time trial and clocked in at 5:55 (previous best: 6:03).

So the plan definitely worked for me. I didn’t achieve my wildest dreams – the 40 minute 10k or the 1:30 half – but I did see clear improvements at both distances.

I wonder if I would have had different results with the 40 to 50 mpw plan. I think I would have made it through with less fatigue, and I might have gotten in better – but less – quality running. This might have led to better performances in the short term. But I’m gambling on the fact that the higher sustained mileage will pay off in November when I run my marathon. And I’m willing to trade some short term success for long term success here.

The Positives of the Jack Daniels 5k to 10k Training Plan

To wrap things up, let’s look at a few positives of this plan.

First, it is designed with a methodical system of periodization in place. You may or may not believe entirely with Jack’s system, but it’s clear that there is a definite method to his madness. I think it worked well, and the R work in Phase II definitely helped me get stronger in preparation for Phase III. I think this worked much better for me than if I had just done twelve weeks of a weekly tempo and weekly interval workout.

Second, the VDOT system makes it very easy to pick training intensities. Just run a time trial or a race before the plan, and plug it into the VDOT calculator. I ran the 5k in December to help with this, and then I plugged in my goal – a 20 minute – to see what those training paces were like. I used this to create a kind of sliding scale, so that I started on the slower end of the pace spectrum and advanced throughout the plan towards the faster paces.

Third, I really like the cruise interval workouts. I’d much rather do 6×1 mile with a brief rest than a straight 30 to 40 minute tempo run. Mentally, it breaks it up, and I think recovery wise it’s easier on the body. Jack really likes cruise intervals, and he uses them more than most plans.

Fourth, the flexibility worked for me. I start by planning out my week with the weekly workouts, and then I sketch out my target distance for each day. I’m not tied to a specific distance on any given day, though, and it’s easy to shift things around depending on work and family commitments. Likewise, the flexibility of the competition phase appealed to me. I planned with the end in mind, and timed Phase IV to coincide with my two goal races, but it wasn’t like a traditional plan that peaks for one particular race.

Fifth, I liked the long runs – including the marathon paced long runs. Some 5k plans skimp out on the long runs, based on the theory that it’s less specific to the distance. But again, I have long term plans that focus on the marathon distance. So the two hour long runs (14 to 16 miles) in this plan were right up my alley.

Finally, it works. If you follow the plan, put in the miles, and complete the workouts, you will end up in much better shape than you started. Stay healthy, and you will improve.

The Negatives of the Jack Daniels 5k to 10k Plan

But the plan may not be for everyone. Here are a few things to think about.

First, the flexibility that I love is something that other people hate. If you want to have each day spelled out for you, this isn’t the plan for you. You’re going to have to determine how long your daily easy runs are, and in some of the workouts you’re going to need to determine how many reps you want to run. I think this is great and it makes the plan adaptable, but some people dislike it.

Second, you really need to understand the system. To someone who isn’t versed in Jack Daniels, the notation of the workouts can be confusing. Terms like “VO2 max” and “threshold” may be more familiar, where as the jumble of E, M, T, I, R is a bit more cryptic. I’ve also heard people complain about the complexity of some of the workouts, like the threshold workouts that also include repetition work.

Third, Phase III includes back to back workouts on Wednesday and Thursday. I did this once, and it was great, but in subsequent weeks I just didn’t feel up to a second workout the next day. Many people who have reviewed the plan complain about this. It’s easy enough to shift things around, but if you follow the plan exactly as written this might be a turn off for you.

Fourth, there’s no 10k specific pace work. Daniels system is rigidly built around his five running intensities. While Interval running lines up pretty well with 5k pace, nothing lines up with 10k pace. Interval running is faster and Threshold running is slower. Similarly, nothing is half marathon specific. Threshold is a little too fast and Marathon pace is a little too slow. If you want workouts that target either pace directly you’re out of luck.

Fifth, there are some inconsistencies and vague concepts in the plan. It’s not always clear if you should have walking or jogging rest. Threshold work is designed for a 5 minute pace, and obviously not everyone is that fast. The prescribed rest and interval length in the workouts doesn’t always line up with what he suggests elsewhere in the book. There’s also no guidance on how many miles to run per week – other than 60 to 70 (or 40 to 50). In reading the book, you can figure most of these things out. But if you’re expecting to just read the plan and immediately implement it, you might be a bit disappointed.

Finally, this is clearly an advanced plan. I wouldn’t necessarily call this a negative – other than to say that it would make this the wrong choice for some people. But it’s also a high mileage plan. If you’re not comfortably running 40 miles per week, this probably isn’t the plan for you. You might very well be able to improve your 5k and run a decent time on 20 to 25 miles per week – but that’s another school of thought entirely.

Final Thoughts on Jack Daniels 5k to 10k Training Plan

In my experience, this was a great plan.

It had enough structure that I knew exactly what workouts to run every week, but it also had enough flexibility that I could make continuous adjustments to accommodate life. I felt challenged by the plan, but it didn’t break me. Throughout the plan, I most definitely improved, and I feel so much stronger coming out the other side.

Some people will be disappointed by the lack of race specific work, and depending on your training philosophy that might be a deal breaker. But for most people, I think Daniels “train the system” approach works – and focusing on his five intensities will help you improve.

Ultimately, consistency is king, and any good plan will help you improve. So there’s no magic special sauce here that’s going to make it better than other well thought out plans. But there are certainly bad plans out there, and this isn’t one of them.

If you’re prepared to read the book and put in a little work to fit this plan into your life, then it will serve you well. So pick up a copy of Jack Daniels Running Formula, give it a thorough read, and get ready to improve.

Review of the 5k to 10k Training Plan in Jack Daniels Running Formula

2 thoughts on “Review of the 5k to 10k Training Plan in Jack Daniels Running Formula

  1. Nice review. I have had this book for ages but haven’t used it and will be looking to maybe jump in after my next ultra in a few weeks. I want to work on the shorter stuff and try for a sub 3 marathon maybe next year. The slight flexibility of the plan is a plus for me so looking forward to it.

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