If you are looking for an advanced marathon training plan, Pfitz and Jack Daniels are two of the most popular options. They are often recommended to runners asking questions at /r/AdvancedRunning.
Runners tend to find their way into one camp or the other. As a result, many runners lack a full understanding of the other plan – and you can tell that from the advice they give. In particular, I find that a lot of people who have only used Pfitz don’t fully understand both the similarities and differences between a Pfitz and Daniels marathon plan.
I’ve used both plans and I’ve read through both books. So I thought it would be useful to write up a thorough comparison of the two plans – highlighting their similarities but also answering the question of which is more demanding.
Overview of the Pfitz 18/70 Plan
If you’re not familiar with either plan, here’s a quick overview.
Pete Pfitzinger is the author of Advanced Marathoning, and the book contains several versions of his marathon training plans. There are twelve week and eighteen week options, with peak mileage ranging from 55 miles per week to 105 miles per week. For our purposes today, we’re going to focus on the 18 week plan peaking at 70 mpw – often called Pfitz 18/70.
The periodization of a Pfitz plan prioritizes threshold running first, followed by VO2 max intervals as you get closer to race day. Long runs will progress to a peak of 21 and 22 miles. There’s also a midweek long run progressing to 15 miles. Overall mileage pops up and down a bit, letting you briefly hit a peak and then come off it for recovery. The last part of the plan also recommends several tune up races.
Overview of the Jack Daniels 2Q Plan
Jack Daniels is the author of Daniels' Running Formula. The book starts with his philosophy of training, and it then includes a series of training plans for different distances. The marathon section contains a few different versions, but we’ll be focusing on the 2Q plan that peaks at 70 miles per week. But he offers other plans at peak mileage similar to that of Pfitz.
The periodization of a Jack Daniels plan puts VO2 max and faster running earlier in the training cycle, transitioning to a heavy focus on threshold and marathon paced running at the end. Mileage rises to a sustained peak for the middle third of the plan before tapering off. The plan includes two hard workouts – quality sessions – each week. One of these is a long run, peaking at 20 miles. The other is a little shorter, peaking at 17 miles.
How Do You Compare Different Training Plans?
At the end of the day, both of these training plans are intense. They are in a different league from something like Hal Higdon’s beginner plan. They require a good base to begin, and they’ll get you to the start line in good shape. But there are certain metrics you can use to compare the two plans and determine which one is more challenging.
I’m going to focus on the following characteristics of the two plans:
- Weekly and Total Volume
- Length of Long Runs
- Length of Medium Long Runs
- Volume of Quality Running
- Other “X” Factors
Pfitz vs Daniels: Comparing Weekly and Total Mileage
Both plans peak at 70 miles per week, but Jack Daniels 2Q requires slightly more mileage than Pfitz 18/70.
Ignoring the final taper week, Jack Daniels prescribes a total of 1,064 miles in the first 17 weeks. Pfitz prescribes 1,037. That’s not a huge difference, but it works out to an average of 63 miles per week for Daniels and 61 for Pfitz.
Daniels also has more weeks at actual peak mileage. Four weeks are at 70 miles, and there’s less recovery time built into the middle of the plan. Pfitz only has two weeks that truly peak at 70. He has a more gradual incline, and there are two other weeks at 67 and 68 miles. But there are also additional recovery weeks, and Pfitz has more weeks below 60 miles than Jack Daniels.
When it comes to distance, the two plans are similar – but Jack Daniels is slightly more challenging.
Pfitz vs Daniels: Comparing Long Runs
If you look only at the length of the long runs included in the plans, Pfitz has a more demanding schedule. Over the first 17 weeks, his long runs average 17.3 miles. Two weeks hit 20 miles, and he also recommends a 21 miler and 22 miler.
Jack Daniels, on the other hand, caps out at 20 miles. He tends to recommend slightly shorter long runs across all of his plans. Over the first 17 weeks of his 2Q plans, the long runs average 16.8 miles.
In terms of mileage, the edge here goes to Pfitz. If you’re looking for a plan that emphasizes long long runs – put a mark in his column.
However, volume is only half the story. Jack Daniels long runs are slightly shorter, but most of them include a workout in the middle. In fact, only four of his are basic long runs. The rest include significant amounts of threshold or marathon paced work. Conversely, Pfitz only has four long runs with marathon paced segments. The other thirteen are basic long runs.
Comparing Pfitz and Daniels Midweek Long Runs
Frankly, this is the topic that prompted me to write this post. Time after time, Pfitz proponents will harp on his inclusion of midweek, medium long runs. This certainly sets him apart from easier plans like Hal Higdon – but he actually requires less than Daniels when it comes to midweek long runs.
Across the first seventeen weeks, Pfitz prescribes an average of 13.1 miles. These medium long runs range from a low of 8 (1.5 weeks out from the race) to a peak of 15 miles (which happens three times). The bulk of them are 14 miles.
Daniels, on the other hand, averages 14.6 miles with his midweek quality session. The shortest workout is 11 miles (1.5 weeks out from the race) and the longest workout is 17 miles. Another 4 weeks include 16 mile workouts.
Despite requiring more mileage, these midweek long runs in Daniels also incorporate a significant amount of intensity. Pfitz’ midweek long runs are all typical, moderately paced runs – while all seventeen of Daniels’ second quality sessions incorporate hard efforts with a mix of marathon, threshold, and VO2 max paces.
When you combine both long runs and medium long runs, both plans include ten runs that are 17 miles or more. But Jack Daniels has a total of ten 16-mile runs, while Pfitz has only two.
Comparing the Amount of Intensity in Daniels and Pfitz
A final characteristic that is easily quantifiable is volume of intensity included in each plan.
While the two authors use different terminology, they essentially prescribe the same general types of running – recovery, moderate, marathon, threshold, VO2 max, and faster running.
Pfitz includes several long runs with marathon paced segments, totaling 44 miles at marathon pace throughout the plan. Daniels incorporates marathon paced segments throughout many of his quality sessions, totaling 95 miles throughout the plan.
Pfitz prescribes separate threshold runs in a little over half of the weeks in the plan. The threshold portion of these runs adds up to about 49 miles. In Daniels, threshold running is incorporated into the majority of the quality sessions – for a total of 94 miles.
Pfitz again has separate VO2 max workouts. These occur less frequently than his threshold workouts, and they total 18 miles. Daniels is also more sparing in his assignment of interval sessions, and his sprinkling of I workouts totals about 19 miles.
Finally, each plan includes some running faster than VO2 max. Pfitz typically includes a weekly “speed” session that he labels 6 to 8x100m strides. Daniels doesn’t itemize strides throughout his plan, but in the explanation of 2Q he does suggest you incorporate 6 to 8 sets of strides twice a week. We’ll call that a wash. But Daniels does also include some actual R (mile paced) 400m intervals. These total just under 3 miles of work.
Note that Pfitz does include three recommended tune up races. I’ve counted each of these as a 10k and attributed them to 6 miles of threshold work. This does slightly underestimate their impact – but it also assumes that the runner actually performs each of the tune up races.
But regardless of how you quantify the amount of intensity in those tune up races, it is clear that Jack Daniels 2Q plan requires a much higher volume of intensity than Pfitz. He prescribes almost twice as much marathon paced and threshold paced running over the course of the plan.
Considering the X Factors
Based solely on the numbers, it would appear that Jack Daniels is much more intense than Pfitz. But there are some other things to take into consideration.
Potential Impact of Tune Up Races
One X factor is the tune up races previously mentioned. If you actually do run three tune up races, and you race them at max effort, that does up the intensity a bit. Jack Daniels doesn’t actually prescribe any tune up races, but if you choose to incorporate one or two that would also change up the amount of intensity in some ways.
Concentration of Weekly Mileage
Another is the frequency of runs and the concentration of volume. Technically, Jack Daniels doesn’t really care how many days a week you run. He prescribes two quality sessions, a total weekly mileage, and then he leaves the rest up to you. I think most people spread this across 7 to 8 runs.
Pfitz, on the other hand, tends to compress his plans into fewer, longer runs. Throughout the plan, he reserves Monday as a rest of cross training day, despite adding a short double in some peak weeks. Despite having slightly less mileage over all, this compression of the volume into fewer runs could be slightly more demanding.
Pace on Easy Days
Another variable is how you approach easy days. Pfitz differentiates between recovery days, which should be much slower, and general aerobic and endurance days, which should be on the faster side. He also suggests you push the pace a little bit on your long runs. For a three hour marathoner, those moderate efforts might be 7:35 to 8:40 – and the recovery days slower.
Some people read the description of easy running in Daniels, and they stick with an easy, conversational pace on “E” days. But the range he gives in his VDOT tables is actually not that “easy.” For the same three hour marathoner, the easy range in the book is listed as 7:35 to 8:33.
On paper, this should be a wash. But in practice, if a Pfitz runner pushes the pace to 7:45/mi on his moderate runs, while a Daniels runner jogs along at 9:00/mi, you’d be right to evaluate the Pfitz plan as more demanding on easy days.
Jack Daniels’ Optional Workouts
Finally, Jack Daniels includes some “optional” workouts. He lists them in bold and suggests you convert those days to regular medium long runs if you feel beat up. Depending on if, and how often, you take him up on that offer you may end up reducing the intensity of the plan quite a bit.
The Bottom Line: Which Marathon Plan Is Harder?
Ultimately, this is going to depend a little bit on the actual implementation and execution of each plan. One runner could follow a Pfitz plan and execute it in a more demanding way than someone who takes a laid back approach to the Daniels plan.
But as written, I don’t think there’s any question. Jack Daniels 2Q requires a significantly higher volume of intensity, and despite having fewer really long runs, its collection of 16+ mile runs is more demanding.
Which Marathon Training Plan Should You Pick?
Both plans are great, and both can get you in great shape for a marathon. But my suggestion, after having done both, is that Pfitz is a good choice the first time you hit a new peak mileage. Daniels is a great choice when you want to push the envelope without increasing your peak mileage in a given training cycle.
Last fall, I tried to bump up from a peak of 55 miles per week and peak at 70 miles per week for the first time. I followed JD 2Q, and I ended up with a minor injury after my tune up half. I think I just pushed too hard.
This spring, I used the Pfitz 85 mpw plan to push my peak mileage again, and this time it felt much more manageable. I’ll switch back to Jack Daniels 2Q for my next marathon, but this time I think I’ll be much more prepared for the peak mileage. Hopefully. We’ll see come September.
There are also other considerations – like scheduling flexibility vs. plan specificity – that you might want to consider in choosing a plan.
Regardless of which plan you choose, make sure that you read the book that goes along with it. You’ll find a lot of important information in the text that doesn’t always come across in the training schedules.
If you’ve used both plans yourself, I’d love to hear you sound off in the comments below about which one you found more challenging.