Friday, May 20, 2011

Gear Review: Daniels' Running Formula

Say the name "Jack Daniels" to any serious runner, and they'll assume you're talking about the world-renowned coach and exercise physiologist, not the whiskey. While Daniels himself is only able to coach a limited number of athletes, he has written a book to make his training philosophy available to world. I've read a lot of running books, yet one of my absolute favorites is Daniels' Running Formula.



Daniels' Running Formula is set up around the philosophy of VDOT, or an estimated V̇O2max (pseudoV̇O2max) based on one's running performances. Because V̇O2max isn't a perfect measure of an athlete's running ability (due to differences in factors like efficiency and mental toughness), VDOT is actually a better method than V̇O2max to determine training paces, since it is calculated solely by race times. In order to calculate their training paces, athletes figure out their VDOT based on recent race performances, and then uses the tables in the book to figure out what training paces correspond to their current VDOT. Note that these race performances should be recent times rather than PRs, since training is maximized at the correct pace for your current fitness level, not at your best fitness level or a level you'd like to be at, since anything faster than your current fitness level will give you paces that will lead to unfinished workouts, workouts that are finished at too slow a pace, burnout, overtraining, and numerous other potential problems.

One of the great things about Daniels' Running Formula is that it was written by an exercise physiologist, Therefore, it explains the science and physiology behind the training, helping the reader to understand why the workouts are set up as they are. However, it never goes into so much detail that it becomes hard to understand, a problem that sometimes plagues my other running bible, Tim Noakes' Lore of Running

Daniels' Running Formula lists five different paces at which athletes should run: Easy (E), Marathon (M), Threshold (T), Interval (I), and Repetition (R). Each of these paces is designed specifically to improve a certain aspect of an athlete's fitness, whether it's the cardiovascular system, lactate threshold, V̇O2max, raw speed, efficiency, or the muscles' ability to use oxygen. Each of these paces can be easily determined using the tables provided in the book (and that are widely available online). These paces are meant to be hit, not to be beaten, and in the book, Daniels explains why it is beneficial to run at the given pace, rather than faster (that's one of the biggest training mistakes that people make, whether it's racing the speedwork or running easy days too fast).

The majority of an athlete's mileage should be done at Daniels' easy (E) pace. The athlete's base miles, easy runs, recovery runs, warmups and cooldowns, and rest periods should all be done at this pace. This pace is easier than many people realize, and emphasizes the whole "keep your easy days easy and hard days hard" philosophy.

Marathon (M) pace is done to allow the runner to practice running at the pace which she would run a marathon. It is very challenging when used during long workouts, but over short distances, is not overly strenuous and can even occasionally replace easy running (especially for slower runners whose form sometimes suffers during slower running).

Threshold (T) training is run at a pace that produces an elevated state of blood lactate accumulation, and is done to improve endurance and increase lactate threshold. It is done at approximately 88-92 percent of V̇O2max, and is approximately the pace the runner can sustain for a 60 minute race. T-pace training is used for tempo runs (defined, according to Daniels, as a 20 minute run at T-pace) and cruise intervals (repeated runs with recovery intervals).

Daniels states that V̇O2max is best trained by working at 95-100 percent of V̇O2max, which he calls V̇O2max interval (I) training. Since it takes approximately two minutes (from full recovery) to reach the point where the body is operating at maximum oxygen consumption, and because a short, incomplete recovery will allow the subject to reach maximum oxygen consumption in less than two minutes for a following repeat, these workouts are optimized by including relatively long repeats (3-5 minutes, such that they are not so long as to cause significant blood lactate accumulation) with relatively short active jog recovery. Additionally, the subject should also perform threshold and marathon paced workouts, since V̇O2max is not the sole predictor of performance, and running economy, or rate of oxygen consumption at submaximal speed, also plays a large role.

The last type of training Daniels mentions is repetition (R) training. R-pace training is fast running that is geared towards anaerobic metabolism and mechanics. R-pace training teaches the athlete to run more relaxed and faster, making race pace more comfortable, and improving running economy. Additionally, it causes changes in anaerobic pathways. Because of the goals of R-pace training, neither the running time nor recovery time is very structured, and the runner should take full recovery. Finally, running time should be limited to under two minutes and 600m. 

In addition to training paces, Daniels' Running Formula discusses topics like supplemental training, periodization, specificity of training, and some basic physiology. It also lists some sample training plans, as well as training plans specific to certain distances. Athletes can easily take these plans and modify them, given what they learned from this book and their own past running experience, to help them write a plan specific to their body, their experience, and their goals. 

Daniels' Running Formula retails for $19.95, but can be found for less at Amazon.

Full disclosure: I bought this book on my own. The views expressed in this review are mine and based on my own experience.

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