Book Review: Daniels’ Running Formula

daniels running formula

“Don’t compare yourself to other runners; focus on your own fitness and performance.”

Over a career spanning many decades, Jack Daniels has coached elite athletes as well as those rising through the ranks of high school and college. He believes in coaching the individual as there is no one size fits all training plan. Having said that, there are clearly approaches that work when the athlete wishes to improve their: endurance, speed, economy of effort. It is these, and the reasoning behind what is being suggested, that he wishes to explain in this book.

The opening chapters focus on what can be achieved. Factors include: inherent ability, motivation, opportunity, direction. Every time a runner goes out they should be able to answer the question: what is the purpose of this workout, why am I running today? Training may not always be fun but it should always be rewarding. The importance of progressing slowly, building up the necessary muscles to avoid injury, is a key factor. The runner should be aware of their personal limits at each stage and not push beyond until their body is ready. Eating well, staying hydrated and getting adequate rest are as important as working out.

The focus then shifts to training plan development. At this point the author becomes quite technical, although each concept is explained clearly. Daniels expects runners to know and be capable of adapting: stride rate, steps per minute, foot strike, breathing rhythms. They should also be keeping tabs on: heart rate, oxygen consumption; hemoglobin levels. There are useful graphs and tables provided that the runner can refer to. Many of these are based on current distances achieved and time taken.

By now it had become clear that I am not the target audience. As a 57 year old with a current Vo2 max of 36 who runs around 25k a week and has only recently come in under an hour on a 10k run, there is only so much I can take on board. I suspect the knowledge and advice being imparted is aimed at coaches or younger runners with a chance to compete at a high level. Nevertheless, the science behind what is being discussed was of interest, as was the author’s experience of working with athletes and what it is possible to achieve.

To be fair, runners at every level can work within the parameters and plans set out. Easy runs maintain good running mechanics, help build resistance to injury and develop heart and other muscles. Threshold running (comfortably hard for around 30 minutes) improves ability to clear blood lactate and build endurance. Interval training increases aerobic power. A great deal of detail is gone into as to different types of run to incorporate into a weekly training plan. Training intensity needs to be tailored and key measures tracked over time.

A runner’s body needs to be prepared for new stressors (increases in speed and distance) before they are attempted. It is important not to overdo it. Rest matters so long as this is not avoidance. Consistency is vital. No runner should train if injured or ill as this will exacerbate the problem.

Having presented the whys and hows of training, sections offer plans for specific distances and abilities. Each is typically divided into four phases to build on improvement. I was pleased to find a plan that I could work with.

“This red plan should do a pretty good job of preparing a runner for some recreational track or road races, even if the distance to be covered in a race is an hour or a little longer”

The more detailed plans provided in following chapters expect athletes to run at least marathon distance each week, going up to well over 100k per week as training progresses. These are clearly for serious runners with time for such dedication.

Mention is made of: treadmill running, altitude training, cross country. The focus, though, is on track and road – from 800m to marathon.

Daniels recognises that many people start running with a desire to simply complete a marathon. He provides plans for different approaches based on current ability and achievement aimed for. Novices are not expected to match the elites’ training, which is lucky as most runners couldn’t run close to the weekly distances required.

The final chapters mention supplemental training.

“nonrunning activities include such things as stretching, resistance training, massage, ice baths, and yoga”

Resistance work builds strength that protects against injury. Taking short breaks in training will aid recovery. I liked the look of the simple circuit routine detailed and will incorporate aspects into my own weekly training plan. I won’t be partaking in ice baths.

Appendices then provide more information on: aerobic profiles, times a runner should expect to achieve over various distances based on their current times. From this I learned that, given my typical 5k run time, I should be able to improve my 10k and half marathon. The final appendix provides suggestions for various high stress workouts. As with many of the training plans provided, runners are expected to keep tabs on their pace, heart rate and other factors while running. Perhaps Daniels expects all runners to work with a coach.

A great deal of information is provided in this book. A code is introduced early on (E for easy run, M for marathon pace and so on) which must be remembered if sense is to be made of subsequent advice. The more technical aspects seemed to me somewhat beyond the recreational runner. Nevertheless, I gleaned much of interest and will be taking applicable suggestions into consideration as I continue to work to improve my personal endurance and times.

Daniels’ Running Formula is published by Human Kinetics and is now in its 4th edition. I read the 3rd edition, a gift from my son.