Training Explained: Jack Daniels Running Formula

Jack Daniels is an accomplished running coach, and his book, Jack Daniels Running Formula, is an excellent guide to training as a runner.

The training plans in his book are geared towards very serious runners, but the science and training philosophy behind it can be applied to most people on the running spectrum.

While you should definitely read the book yourself to more thoroughly understand these things, I’m going to try to outline some of the key points in the book and how you can use it to think about your training as a runner.

A woman balanced in a hand stand.
You need to find the proper balance between pushing yourself hard enough to get better without pushing yourself so hard that you get injured.

Jack Daniels Running Formula – Principles of Training

One of the early chapters of the book is devoted to Jack Daniels principles of training. These are some of the basic concepts and assumptions underlying his approach to training. Those concepts are briefly summarized here.

Running puts stress on the body, and the body reacts to this stress by adapting and becoming stronger. Specific types of stress will bring on specific responses, so you should target your training.

You should be cognizant of how much you are stressing your body, because too much stress is counter-productive. At the same time, a given workout or training regimen will become less stressful over time – and thus less productive. To continue to progress, you need to progressively and appropriately increase stress by modifying the workload, intensity, recovery time, or frequency.

Training harder has diminishing returns, and you don’t need to train at your maximal effort to get good results. If you do, you also run the risk of getting injured and quickly losing the benefits of your hard work. It’s also easier to maintain your gains with periodic maintenance efforts.

So ultimately, you need to find the sweet spot between pushing yourself just hard enough to progress, not pushing yourself so hard as to get injured, and to incorporate enough specific training stresses to maintain what you’ve already gained.

This sweet spot is the running formula.

The Science Behind Jack Daniels Running Formula

There is a section of Jack Daniels Running Formula focused on the science of running, as well. The major focus of Jack’s work is on something called VDOT – or the velocity that a runner can achieve when at VO2 max.

VO2 max is an old concept in exercise science. It represents the maximum amount of oxygen your body can take up and use. Oxygen is an important ingredient in making energy for endurance exercise, like running. So the old theory was that the higher your VO2 max, the better you would be at distance running.

Jack’s innovation with VDOT was to think not about the amount of oxygen a person could bring in, but on how they used that oxygen. Runners can use that oxygen more or less efficiently. Given the same amount of oxygen, a more efficient runner would have a higher velocity or VDOT value.

From this perspective, everything is relative to this velocity and to VDOT. Running at different paces, relative to this velocity, can be maintained for different periods of time. It’s something of a physiological law, and this allows for an extrapolation of different possible paces at different distances.

The end result is the VDOT calculator.

The book has a series of charts that help you estimate your VDOT value, but this calculator will let you input a recent race effort and get an estimate. It will then suggest comparable race efforts and training paces.

Different Training Intensities in Jack Daniels Running Formula

The goal, according to the framework of Jack Daniels Running Formula, is to design a training plan that targets specific running intensities so that you can become a more efficient runner. These training intensities are the building blocks of his training plans.

The most common type of run is an Easy run (E). This is your typical “conversational pace” easy run. It should form the bulk of your training load. These can be short recovery runs or longer easy runs. These help build your base and lay the foundation for all of your other training.

A less common type of run, which you would incorporate more in half marathon and marathon training plans, is Marathon Pace (M). These runs are, as the name suggests, run around Marathon pace. They’re a slightly harder effort than Easy runs, but they can be sustained for a long time – unlike Threshold runs. M runs are typically longer runs, or stretches of harder efforts inside longer runs.

Threshold runs (T) are slightly more intense. This is the pace that you could hold for about an hour, but not longer. These find their way into training plans as either steady state runs of 20-30 minutes or as longer intervals with brief periods of rest. The goal is to keep your body at around its lactate threshold point, so that the body becomes more efficient at clearing and processing lactate.

Intervals (I) are even more intense. These runs should be around the velocity you can run at VO2 max, or the pace that you could maintain for 10 to 15 minutes. Think about something a little faster than your 5k time. The goal is to bring your body to a state of VO2 max and keep it there. The intervals are of a medium duration (3-5 minutes) with a short recovery period (2-3 minutes).

Jack Daniels also sometimes refers to Hard running (H). This is essentially the same thing as I running. However, H runs are specified in terms of time instead of distance. To achieve these, you’ve got to know by feel what pace you should run those intervals at, and then hold that pace for a 3 or 4 minute interval.

Finally, there are Repetition training runs (R). This is your speedwork, run at your mile pace or slightly faster. These are essentially the inverse of I runs – short intervals with long periods of recovery. The repetition should be less than two minutes, and the recovery period should be long enough to fully recover. For example, 200m or 300m repetitions would be good with 200m or 300m recovery jogs in between.

These five types of running form the building blocks of his training plans, and once you understand the general approach you can mix and match them to build and refine your own training plan.

Jack Daniels Running Formula – Approaches to Training

Jack Daniels Running Formula includes specific training plans and approaches for a variety of races, and I’ll briefly take a look at 5k training and half marathon training.

In every case, you should start with a base building phase where you establish your weekly mileage and do some strength work to build some injury resistance. From there, you’ll go through three phases until your race.

For 5k training, Jack Daniels recommends a three phased approach. Your weekly mileage will vary, but you’ll want to run five or six days a week, including two workouts and an easy long run. In the first phase, you focus mostly on Repetition running. In the second phase, you focus mostly on Interval running. Finally, in the third phase, you incorporate Threshold running once a week, and you keep an Interval run once a week for maintenance purposes.

For half marathon training, you’ll also want two workouts per week and a long run. However, that long run will be more intense and more like a third workout. In the first phase, you should do some repetition work in one workout and threshold work in the second. In the second phase, you’ll focus more on Intervals and/or Hard running, with threshold work as your second workout. In the final phase, you’re just focusing on Threshold work, without either the Repetition or Hard running.

Possible Critiques of Jack Daniels Running Formula

If you follow Jack Daniels’ training philosophy and training plans, you’ll probably see improvements – especially if you’re not already an elite runner. But that doesn’t mean his plan is perfect and that it will work for everyone.

After reading the Science of Running by Steve Magness (read more about my take on the book here), I think one critique you could level at Jack Daniels is that he prescribes a pretty rigid training program.

There are pretty strict pace suggestions, based on efforts relative to VO2 max. The VDOT calculator adds to the precise nature of this, suggesting very precise paces for each intensity based on a recent performance.

The problem with this is that different runners, with different strengths and weaknesses, might actually need different paces to stress the appropriate systems. Knowing whether a runner is better at short distances or long could impact their repetition speed and their threshold speed.

Jack Daniels approach is based on performing workouts and specific intensities and spending time in specific ranges. On the other hand, Steve Magness would argue that you should target the adaptations you want and design workouts around these.

That might call for the same specific intensities that Jack Daniels suggests. But it could also call for manipulating volume, recovery, or other aspects of a workout.

Again, the Jack Daniels Running Formula is probably a good enough fit for most people. It won’t hurt you, and I’m sure you’ll see progress. But without adapting it to your personal needs, you probably won’t see the greatest possible progress.

Read Jack Daniels Running Formula Yourself

The explanation above should give you enough knowledge about Jack Daniels Running Formula and his approach to training to understand a training plan you find online. But you should definitely get a copy of the book and read it yourself.

I found the book very interesting and informative, and it really helped me understand the “why” and “how” of running training. While I wouldn’t say there was anything earth-shattering in the book, his philosophy offers a good understanding of how to push yourself hard without pushing yourself too hard.

He has specific recommendations for how much to limit each type of running in a given week, and he has suggestions for different kinds of workouts based on differently weekly volumes. There are also a bunch of canned training plans that you can take and adapt for your own needs.

Back to the training principles in the beginning of the book, the trick is to find that sweet spot.

If you’re looking for some other training oriented books, check out this collection of the best books about running.

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