Daniels’ Running Formula

Daniels’ Running Formula
Jack Daniels, Human Kinetics, 1998

Jack Daniels has coached since the early 60’s, and unlike most coaches has done primary research on training effects as well. With the possible exception of David Costill no other American has contributed as much to the science of training.

Daniel’s findings lead him to describe the human body as a “threshold machine,” with distinct types of responses to distinct types of stresses. He lists easy running (roughly 70-75% of maximum heart rate), used both for recovery and for long runs, anaerobic threshold pace (roughly 90% of max HR), interval pace (98% max HR, roughly 3K race pace), and repeat pace (max HR, greater than max VO2 speed). He uses a training pyramid to show the relations between these: A base of easy running to very small tip of repeats.

Daniels’ most important principle is “minimum effective stress.” Knowing the benefits of training occur during recovery, Daniels combines common sense and 40 years of observation to conclude that the best training provides the right level of stress in the training session with the right degree of adaptation during recovery. Since Daniels’ sees the body as a threshold machine, the ‘right level of stress’ is enough to effectively stimulate the particular body system (VO2 max, anaerobic threshold, etc.) but little enough that complete recovery and super-compensation can occur.

Daniels introduces the idea of “quality junk,” an important and much under-appreciated concept among recreational racers. Daniels believes that training is purposeful, and that each training session should focus on one of the body systems that respond to the different categories of training. Daniels further believes that the best training is the minimum stress that achieves the goal. Like virtually all coaches, he advocates hard/easy alternation (or hard/easy/easy as appropriate.) He suggests that many runners do too much “quality junk,” typically running too fast for easy running but not fast enough for threshold training. The result is fatigue and diminished recovery, without the benefit of improved fitness.

Daniels advocates measuring duration rather than distance in designing and recording training. For instance, you’d record “60 minutes” rather than “eight miles.” His belief is that this approach minimizes self-competition. It’s easy to look at your log and say, “I ran nine in 70 minutes last week, I’ll do it in 68 minutes this week.” This is a slide into competing with yourself that distracts attention from making the workout the right level of stress. Two additional factors support measuring duration. If you run trails, you know that mileage estimates are pretty useless as measures of stress. Second, most runners overestimate how far they run. This would be harmless enough except it leads to unrealistic race expectations, which then leads to runners cheating themselves of deserved satisfaction in their race performances. For example, if you think you’re running six miles in training in 42 minutes (7:00/mile pace), you reasonably expect to run a 10K race in 38 minutes (6:08/mile). But if your estimated six miles is really only 5 1/2 — 7:38 pace — a 38:00 target time is unrealistic. You may run a tremendous effort, achieve a 39:00, but instead of being thrilled to run so well, you kick yourself for not performing up to expectation.

Daniels, alone among the authors I’ve encountered, suggests shortening your stride to improve running efficiency. He notes that elite distance runners, both male and female, take about 180 strides per minute (90 footstrikes with each foot), while less efficient racers and runners take many fewer. Daniels points out that fewer strides at a given speed means more time spent in the air, which in turn means more energy devoted to upward rather than forward movement.

As well as education on the principles of training, Daniels includes detailed sample schedules for target distances from 1500 meters to the marathon.

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