My Experience with Phase II of Jack Daniels 5k-10k Plan

I’m currently in the middle of my spring training block.

I’m targeting two key races – a large, local 10k at the beginning of April and a half marathon in Delaware towards the end of April. After my fall marathon, my goal was to work on my speed before returning to marathon training for another fall marathon (Philly this year).

I decided to follow the “5k to 10k Training” plan found in Jack Daniels Running Formula. Although I have a few more weeks to go until my 10k race, I thought this would be a good time to look back and reflect on the early part of the training plan.

A Quick Overview of Jack Daniels’ 5k to 10k Training Plan

Jack Daniels’ Running Formula includes plans for a number of different race lengths. I followed his 2Q marathon training plan last summer, and I really enjoyed it. It was hard, but it left me prepared for the race.

So when I was looking for a 10k plan, I thought I’d stick with him. I had also looked at Pete Pfitzinger’s 10k plan from Faster Road Racing, but I really like the flexibility of Daniels’ plans. Similar to the 2Q marathon training plan, Daniels’ 5k to 10k plan essentially says – here’s your quality workouts, you figure out how much to run the rest of the week. It’s complicated where it needs to be, and simple where it doesn’t.

I’m going to briefly describe some of Jack Daniels’ running philosophy here, but there’s a lot more information on it in this past post.

The plan is broken down into four (really three) phases. Phase I is base building, and if you’ve recently trained for a race JD says you can skip this. I was in great shape coming out of my marathon, so after I recovered I spent a few weeks building my mileage up to prepare. But otherwise, I was ready to jump into Phase II.

Phase II of the plan focuses a lot on faster running (what Jack Daniels calls “Repetition” pace, or about mile pace). The main quality workout involves 200m and 400m repeats to work on running economy, speed, and form. the second quality workout is an increasing amount of “Threshold” running (according to Jack Daniels, the distance you could race for an hour). These workouts are typically cruise intervals of 1 to 2 miles, repeated at threshold pace. The final quality run is a long run – usually easy, but sometimes at a moderate tempo (aka Marathon pace).

Phase III of the plan moves away from the Repetition pace and places a new emphasis on Interval paced running – roughly 3k to 5k pace. This is where the plan hones in on race pace to prepare you for a 5k, through shorter reps (~800m to 1,200m repeats). The second quality workout is still focused on threshold running, although there are a few short 200m reps thrown in to keep you in touch with that top end speed.

Phase IV of the plan is the competition or racing phase. There’s a threshold paced workout in the middle of the week, but otherwise this is mostly easy running and racing on the weekend. If there’s no race, there’s a second workout for the week you can use.

My Experience with Phase II of the Jack Daniels Plan

At this point, I’m a few weeks into Phase III. There have been a few ups and downs, but overall my experience with the plan has been great. I’m in the best shape of my life, and I’m looking forward to some amazing PR’s in April when I throw down a few races.

But for now, I wanted to reflect on Phase II by itself.

I started the plan with Phase II towards at the beginning of January. I had hit a new peak of 60mpw for a few weeks in December, and my plan was to run 60 to 70mpw throughout the training plan. In those first six weeks, I ran 60, 63, 66, 63, 66.5, and 70. That mileage progression was the one thing that I borrowed from the Pfitz 10k plan.

Although I was worried about hitting 70mpw, it wasn’t an issue. I was feeling really comfortable at 60 going into the plan. I had been running some easy workouts, too, so it wasn’t too much of a shock inserting the quality workouts. I think I might have had more issues if I had gone from 7 days a week of easy running, and jumped straight into this plan.

The Repetition workouts – the main workouts in Phase II – were much better than I expected. Although I’ve been running on the roads and trails for the last two years, I haven’t hardly touched a track since I was in high school. I was a bit nervous about going to a track and running these workouts. But in the end, they were my favorite part of Phase II.

While there are a bunch of tracks in my area, only two of them are open to the public. One is a high school track in the city next door, and it’s about a two and a half mile jog there. The good part is that it’s within jogging distance, and I love starting and ending my workouts from my front door. The bad parts are that a) it’s at the bottom of a huge hill, so I had to jog 2.5 miles uphill to get home, and b) it’s only about 350m so it was a bit awkward to do the workouts. I used this trackout for the first couple weeks, but then I switched to a different track.

There’s a public track in a county park in another neighboring suburb. But it’s about 7 miles away – much too far to run to for a workout. Instead, I had to drive there, and traffic being what it is in my area that meant about 25 minutes each way. What could have been a two hour workout quickly became a three hour endeavor, including commuting. But in the end, it was worth it.

The workouts had a few different permutations. One was to warm up with a few 200m reps, then do a bunch of 400m reps, and end with a few 200m reps. Another one was to do cycles of 200m – 200m – 400m. The final permutation was to just do a lot of 400m reps – 12 of them. The reps always had equal distance recoveries – so 200m jog for a 200m rep, and 400m jog for a 400m rep.

Based on a recent 5k effort and a mile time trial in December, I estimated that my Repetition pace was about 6:00/mi (90 seconds per 400m), but my goal was to shade this down a bit over the course of Phase II. That is exactly what happened, and I was so impressed with the progress.

In the first workout, (4x200m, 6x400m, 4x200m), I averaged just over 6:00/mi. My 200m reps were on target (44-45 seconds), but my 400m reps averaged 91 seconds and were slowing down towards the end. Over the next three weeks, my times improved. My 200m reps worked down to 42 to 43 seconds, and I was able to consistently hit 89 or 90 second 400ms. In the final workout (12x400m), I was able to average 87 seconds per rep – and finish strong.

This left me feeling really good about my speed. I’ve been looking forward to time trialing a mile and breaking under 6 minutes. After these workouts, I’m confident that I could do it easily – even though I just tried to a trial a mile in December and hit 6:03.

The second workout of the week was Threshold paced running. This progressed from 4×1 mile repeats up to 6×1 mile repeats. It also usually included a few 200m repeats. I didn’t do these on the track, so the 200m reps were just 45 seconds of very hard running (approximating repetition pace).

My progress here was even more impressive. I went into the plan thinking that I could comfortably do a threshold workout around 7:05 to 7:10/mi. This was in line with my recent 5k. In the first workout (4×1 mile, with 1:15 rest), I started at 7:10/mi and shaded down towards 7:00/mi. The average pace for the workout was 7:06/mi. The next week (5x1m), I hit an even better pace – 7:02/mi. The next workout was a steady 3 miles at threshold pace, followed by 2 mile repeats. Those mile repeats were at 6:58/mi. The final threshold workout for the phase was 6x1m, and I managed to average 6:56/mi for that workout.

Considering these workouts are a little bit slower than 10k pace, this left me feeling really good about my upcoming 10k.

The final workout was a long run. Most weeks, this was simple 14 miles easy. But two of the weeks included ten miles at marathon pace. I planned to target around 8:00/mi for these runs, and speed up if I felt good. I managed to average 7:49/mi for the tempo portion of the first workout and 7:42/mi for the tempo portion of the second. In each case, I felt good at 10 miles – boosting my confidence that I could run a much faster pace (~7:00 to 7:15/mi) for my half marathon.

Final Thoughts and Takeaways About Phase II

Without a doubt, I’m in much better shape after six weeks of this training plan. And I anticipate getting much faster over the next six weeks.

Here are a few thoughts I’ve had about the plan.

Easy Days Are Important

As they say, you run your easy days easy, so that you can run your hard days hard. This is very true with this plan.

The workouts are intense. In the beginning, I wasn’t too worn out. But between the workouts and the added mileage, my easy days started to slow down. Going into the plan, I could easily run 8:45/mi on an easy day and feel like a jog in the park. Some days, my recovery pace would fall to 9:15/mi or 9:30/mi. It would usually pick back up towards the end of a run once I’d warmed up. But I wasn’t worried about pushing the pace.

There was plenty of time to run hard on my quality days – and those easy days needed to be easy.

Marathon Pace Workouts Aren’t That Hard

I had read a lot about the plan before attempting it.

One of the common criticisms I saw was that people didn’t like or understand the marathon paced tempo runs. They felt they were too hard, and they took too long to recover from. They also didn’t think they were useful for 5k to 10k runners.

In my case, I’m training simultaneously for a 10k and a half marathon. I’m also planning to return to marathon training in the summer. So, for me, a marathon paced run is still very useful.

But I was also surprised at how “easy” it was. Don’t get me wrong, it was a hard tempo. But I wasn’t beat up the next day. Although I had a few easy days scheduled after each marathon paced tempo, I could easily have gone into another quality workout with just one days rest.

Maybe it’s because I just came out of a marathon block. Maybe it’s also that I ran these by feel, starting with the pace I ran in an actual marathon, rather than forcing a pace related to my goal 5k pace. But I found these just hard enough to be both enjoyable and confidence building.

Running on the Track is Fun

It was fun to be back out on a track. I hadn’t done this in close to 20 years, and I was a little apprehensive. But it was a great feeling.

I still hate having to drive to a workout, and I’ll never be happy if I have to do this on a weekly basis. But I likely won’t have any other track workouts while I’m in marathon training, so it’s not too bad to drive for a few weeks to make these workouts happen.

My alternative was to run 45 second or 90 second repeats on my usual loop around the lake. And while this can approximate the same thing, it’s just not the same. There’s something rewarding about the precision of a track repetition – knowing that I ran exactly 400m in exactly 87 seconds. Going off GPS pace during a 90 second rep can get close, but there’s always an element of imprecision.

Another complaint about the plan I read online was that the Repetition paced work was boring and repetitive. I guess if you do a track workout every week, all year long, this might be the case. But for me, it was perfect. I didn’t need some fancy ladder workout – I just needed to run a bunch of reps hard and see my times come down week after week.

You Can Improve Quite a Bit

I wasn’t sure how much I could improve, coming into this plan.

My marathon plan left me with a really good foundation, but I hadn’t improved a whole ton in terms of a 5k result. I ran a 22:37 before marathon training, and I ran a 21:07 afterwards. Progress, to be sure. But I was hoping to be closer to 20:00.

These six weeks have suggested that I can improve a lot more over the course of this plan. My R pace has gone from 91 seconds to 87 seconds, and my T pace has gone down from 7:06 to 6:56.

I’m only halfway through, and I’m optimistic about 20 minutes for a 5k. I think I can get closer to 19 minutes, although I’m not all that confident I can break it. But I’d say that’s a huge improvement over 12 to 15 weeks. And it will set me up perfect for the summer / fall, where I’m looking to knock about a half hour off my marathon time.

We’ll see how the next six weeks go, and what I can do in my races this spring.

Have Faith in the Plan, It All Comes Together

Finally, I’d say to have faith in the plan. In the end, it all comes together. The Jack Daniels “train the systems” approach works.

Another criticism of Jack Daniels plans – especially with regards to half marathons – is that there’s no race pace work. His interval reps are a little faster than 5k pace, and his threshold reps are a little slower than 10k pace. The marathon paced running is off in no mans land – too hard to be easy, but certainly not half marathon pace.

But it works. You’d expect that with 6 weeks or repetition paced running, my R pace would improve. Likewise with T pace. But I only did two marathon paced runs in this phase, and my times improved significantly over the marathon I ran in October. And I chalk them up to a) increasing my mileage and b) putting in the work in Phase II.

Looking Ahead

From here, I embark on Phase III.

I’m actually a few weeks into Phase III, but it made sense to separate it into two different posts. So in a few weeks, I’ll do another recap of Phase III to see how my Interval and Threshold paces improved.

After that, it’s time to race – and time to wait for race reports.

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