Training for My First Marathon with Jack Daniels 2Q Plan

After I spent the spring training for a half, the plan was to continue to ramp up my mileage and prepare for a full marathon in the fall.

The bad news is that life got busy in a variety of ways, and I stopped writing this blog for a while. I had hoped to write about my training experience more regularly, and to use this as a way to reflect on how things were going.

But the good news was that I remained committed to running. I found a plan, stuck with it, and finished my first marathon in October. More on that later – but for now, here’s a run down on how the training block went.

Choosing a Marathon Training Plan

The first challenge was choosing a plan to follow.

I’ve read through a bunch of different books on training philosophy, and I’m still drawn to Jack Daniels Running Formula (more on the book here). When training for my half in the spring, I mixed things up a bit and incorporated some ideas gleaned from the Science of Running by Steve Magness (more on the book here).

But in retrospect, I think the simplicity of Jack Daniels’ system is good – especially for someone like me who has a lot of room for initial improvement. I think some of Steve’s ideas would be great for developing more advanced running plans for people who are already close to their full potential. That’s not me by a long shot, and simply focusing on mileage, consistency, and the right intensities will yield huge potential.

I’d also considered using a plan from Pete Pfitzinger’s Advanced Marathoning. These plans are super popular on the Advanced Running subreddit, and many people have used them successfully. There are a lot of similarities between Pfitz and JD in terms of training philosophy, and if I had followed one of his plans I probably would have had similar success. But what turned me off off Pfitz was a) the rigid outline of the plan and b) the relatively fewer days spent running.

Jack Daniels includes a few different marathon training plans, and I settled on the 2Q plan. I liked the fact that it was very flexible. There are two specific workouts each week, and you can schedule the rest of your weekly mileage however you like. This made it easy to switch days to accommodate work, life, and travel.

As for mileage, I had been running about 45 mpw at the end of my spring training block. There was a 40mpw and a 55 mpw plan. I figured the logical choice was to bump up a bit and aim for 55mpw – so I ended up choosing the Jack Daniels 2Q 18/55 plan.

Transitioning from My Spring Training Block to Marathon Training

I wrapped up my spring training block with a half marathon time trial back in April. You can read about that here.

I knew I would need a bit of time to recover, and then I had to plan ahead to sketch out my training for the full marathon. I settled on the New Jersey Marathon in mid October. With that date (October 17) on my calendar, I counted back 18 weeks and knew that I needed to start the JD plan in mid June. That left me with seven weeks to recover, build my base a bit, and prepare for marathon training.

I took the first week post-half very easy. I took off on Monday completely, and then I did some short 3-4 mile recovery runs the rest of the week. After peaking at about 45 miles throughout the training block, I ran 26 miles that first week and 34 the next.

The Jack Daniels 18/55 plan peaks at 55mpw, but it starts about 45. I hoped that if I could in get a couple of weeks of easy running at 50mpw, that would put me in a good position. I ran 41, 45, 50, and 51 miles over the next four weeks. In the last week, I also ran two long-ish runs – 14 miles each – because in the plan both quality workouts are long. I wanted to make sure I could handle going long in the middle of the week and on the weekend, and it worked out well.

I took the final week before the plan started to let up a bit, and I ran 40 miles. I figured this would relieve some of the fatigue from hitting a new mileage peak and leave me ready to roll.

The Structure of the Jack Daniels 2Q Plan

The plan is pretty simple. Each week has two quality workouts. Each one is long-ish – at least 13 miles, and usually up to 16-17. The more important workout was usually a little bit longer – and I’d run that on Saturday or Sunday. The second workout for the week might be a mile or two shorter, but it was still long. I’d usually run that Wednesday or Thursday – depending on my schedule.

Many of the workouts included T pace running – Jack Daniels name for tempo or threshold efforts. The VDOT calculator (or the charts in the book) help you determine paces, but this is somewhere between 10k pace and half marathon pace. For me, it was about 7:35/mi. These workouts typically included a chunk of easy running, followed by cruise intervals of one or two miles at T pace. For example, one workout was to warm up (~6 miles easy), run 3×2 miles at T pace, and then cool down with a two more easy miles.

Throughout the plan, there are also some M pace efforts. These are “marathon pace” – what you could hypothetically run in a marathon. If you read the book, he’s careful to point out that you should start the plan somewhat slower than your goal marathon pace and work up to it over the course of things. These workouts are usually large chunks of time at marathon pace, usually with easy miles added in the pad out the distance. For example, the plan starts with this gut check – 4 miles easy, 8 miles at marathon pace, a mile at threshold pace, and a mile easy. It was tough, but when I got through it successfully it gave me a huge confidence boost that I was ready for this plan.

Jack Daniels doesn’t put a whole lot of focus on faster running in his marathon plans, but he does sprinkle in some I pace (~5k effort intervals) and R pace (~ mile pace effort). These are embedded in longer runs, so it could be something like six miles easy, five intervals, and then two miles easy. At first I thought this sounded crazy to do speedwork in the middle of a long run, but I actually kind of liked it. The workout broke things up nicely, and got used to running both hard and long.

How Things Worked Out

Over the course of the 18 weeks, I was able to make just about every run. I had a bad ear infection early on, and this did force me to skip one quality workout. Otherwise I ran (or attempted to run) each one.

My average mileage was a little over 50 miles per week. I started around 45 and increased to 50 and then 55 according to the plan. Jack Daniels uses percentages (80% / 90%) of peak mileage to prescribe how much to run each week. Six of the weeks were at peak mileage.

Some of the workouts went great. Here are a few examples:

  • 13 miles with 3×2 miles at threshold. I completed the cruise intervals at 7:39/mi pace – targeting around 7:35/mi.
  • 13 miles with 5×4 minutes of interval paced (5k effort) running. I hit these at 7:00/mi pace – right about on target.
  • 17 miles with 14 at marathon pace (the peak workout). I hit 8:09/mi, and my goal was 8:00/mi. A little slow, but I was happy.
  • 17 miles with 8 miles and 6 miles at marathon pace, with a mile easy in between. This time, I hit 7:58/mi in the first segment and 7:54/mi in the second. Felt really good.

But then some of the workouts did not go so great. The I and R workouts were all pretty easy, but I struggled with the T pace at times. Instead of hitting my target pace, I was dropping to 7:45 or 7:50/mi. On some, I started strong and died out on the later cruise intervals. I think there was one workout where I completely bailed on the last interval.

In retrospect, I think this might have been from the weather. This was my first time really running – in a structured way, with target paces – in the summer. I didn’t appreciate how heat and humidity impacted pace. And later in the plan, I found that adjusting my pace for the weather helped a bit.

Looking Ahead Towards the Marathon

Overall, I think the plan did an excellent job of preparing me for the marathon.

The marathon paced long runs gave me confidence that I could hit my target pace. Running the weekly volume, as well as the two weekly long runs, made me confident I could go the full 26.2 miles.

I did make one adjustment to the plan. There were no 20 mile runs in the plan, and I extended one of the 17 mile easy runs into 20 miles easy. It felt great, and this was an extra confidence booster.

With a few weeks to go, I ran a local charity 5k. Ideally, I could have raced a 10k or a half marathon to get an idea of my long distance fitness. But races were still scarce near my in late 2021 due to covid. I finished in 21:37 – a significant improvement over my previous 5k best earlier in the year. Another sign that things were looking good.

A few reflections that I’d share on the plan:

  • Heed JD’s advice to be conservative with your M-pace targets. Early on, my goal pace would have been tough to hit. But by the end of the plan, I was right on the money.
  • Make adjustments for the weather. The workouts are challenging, and if you start out at an aggressive pace you’ll suffer in the end. Better to be a bit slower and then speed up at the end of your cruise intervals or marathon pace segments.
  • Take it easy between Q workouts. Early on, these really beat me up and I had to take it slow on my other easy runs. But with time, I adjusted and I was recovering much quicker by the end of the plan.

I did get some bad news late in the game. The New Jersey Marathon was canceled due to covid. But the organizers were able to coordinate transfer of registration to the Atlantic City Marathon on the same day. So I changed my travel plans and shifted my registration there.

By mid-October, I was feeling ready. My goal was to run 3:30 (~8:00/mi pace), and I felt pretty confident I could do that.

More on how that went in my next post.

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