Daniels Running Formula

Within any reputable running web site or magazine there will always be a section devoted to running tips. Some tips are very bland and fairly obvious, but for Jack Daniels, tips were insufficient. He devised his own running formula which brought coaching and advice to a new level.

Daniels was born in 1933 and became a professor in physical education. Through his exploits in winning Olympic medals in the team modern pentathlon at both 1956 Melbourne games and 1960 Rome games, he became a cross country coach in North Carolina at Brevard College. Such was his success rate that Runners World bestowed upon him the title ‘Best coach in the world’, with an array of international athletes grateful to him for his welcome advice.

In 1998 his book ‘Daniels Running Formula’ was first published in which he expands upon the methods adopted over many years with the help of colleague Jimmy Gilbert. His principles are based on the VDOT approach which compares aerobic capacity and threshold values. The general idea is to guide runners through training at the appropriate intensity to become a better runner.

So what is VDOT?

It represents a VO2Max index which shows the maximum capacity at which a runner can use oxygen during training. Essentially it measures the physical fitness of an individual and the VO2max figure is achieved when oxygen consumption stabilises even after an increase in workload. Testing is usually performed on the treadmill, and figures are often used to gauge expected times for various distances based on the results for one specific distance. It aims for target times as opposed to current performances.

The formula can indeed look very complex and is certainly more advance than any average booklet devoted to running tips training, but it can be broken down into more meaningful dialogue. There are six different running components to the theory and for each of these a specific training intensity is required to improve performances.

The six components are…


  • The ability of the body to transport oxygen
  • The ability of the leg muscles to use oxygen
  • The mechanisms for dealing with lactic acid
  • The VO2Max capacity for the uptake of oxygen
  • Leg speed on the move
  • The gait of the runner and economies in movement.


Daniels then devised five training intensities which he considered essential to improve all the above components. The VDOT figure from the treadmill, for example, can be used to discover the required speed for each of the following…


  • Base Training

For this it all about running at a convenient pace which adds no strain to the body. This training is generally used for building up the strength of the body and heart, and is often used as a recovery run after a strenuous session. Runners in groups should be able to talk amongst themselves during base training.

  • Marathon pace Training

As the name suggests, this is the pace at which runner aspires during the marathon race. For this expect at least a two hour session and perhaps longer as the race date nears.

  • Threshold Training

This involves running at a training pace akin to racing speed. For whatever distance the training session, the body should become accustomed to running at the required speed expected during a race.

  • Repetitions Training

One of the hardest forms of training which may involving running hard over various distances during a session, often at sprinting speed, with recovery periods included such as very light jogging.

  • Interval Training

As with repetitions training, this allows runners run at faster speeds than normal, but the intervals are longer and not as fast.


Daniels has also suggested that when runners adopt his running formula, a specific plan should be followed depending on ability. There is a Beginners plan (white), Intermediate plan(red), a more advanced plan (blue) for good club runners and the Elite plan (gold).

Since his book was published, after which the formula became fairly common knowledge among competitive athletes, his ideas were sometimes expanded upon or even criticised.

For example the Runbayou method, devised by runner Jay Hendrickson, also uses the principles of the Daniels VDOT method, but uses the figures based on recent performance and not on targeted times. It argues that using target times rather than achieved times increases the likelihood of becoming injured.

Tim Noakes, a professor in sports science at the University of Cape Town has argued that the Daniels running formula is basically flawed in that it does not take into account the ability of the body to absorb punishment. He has stressed that leg muscles need to recuperate after a hard session on a hard surface. The make-up of leg muscles differs per person and so this cannot be quantified. Noakes has run over 70 marathons so has intimate knowledge of recovery and potential targets.

Of those people who have reviewed the Daniels book, the general consensus is that it can become quite technical in parts. It has been praised for giving a fundamental understanding of how a running body operates and the means by which performances can be improved. There is also a simpler model available at the end of the book which discusses training objectives for those runners disinclined towards scientific methods.

Another reviewer has simply said that ‘technical parts can be overwhelming’ but that as a book for giving general running tips and planning a weekly training schedule, it gives excellent advice.

At 304 pages, the book will be certainly be a bit daunting for the recreational runner who will be content to use running as a means of staying fit. But the sole purpose of the Daniels Running Formula is to improve running performance and not just stabilise. One excerpt from the book summarises his philosophy by claiming the formula should: “challenge the runner’s own body with training based on scientific principles”.

The ideas may not be universally accepted but they have become the building stones for other similar theorists in running, and have also created a dialogue for discussing the best methods available to improve and maintain performances for athletes.