Running Coach Jack Daniels has been called “The World’s Best Running Coach” by Runner’s World for his many successes, including guiding dozens of successful Olympians and All-Americans. Coach Daniels earned his doctoral degree in exercise physiology and used his scientific background to develop his coaching philosophy which helped him author Oxygen Power and his famous book Daniels’ Running Formula.
Daniels is the head of the “Run Smart Project,” and is the head coach of the Wells College Cross-Country Program. The “Run Smart Project” offers training plans and personal coaching for runners of all abilities.
In the interview below Coach Daniels talks about his book, his coaching philosophy, an overlooked ingredient that you can use for better running and much more. This interview is jam-packed with great advice for runners of all ability levels.
Coach Daniels, could you start off by talking about the process of putting together your famous book Daniels’ Running Formula? When did you decide to write it and how long did it take?
Based on previous international competing success, and coaching success with a couple Division I collegiate teams and with the Peruvian National Team (in the 1960s, 70s and 80s), various runners started writing me asking advice about training; basically how they personally should train. I like to help where I can, but this got to be rather time consuming, so, in the early 1980s, I started writing up some training plans that might satisfy more than just the one person who was writing me. That lead to me trying to figure ways to, as simply as possible, describe the training I was suggesting, based on scientific research that I had performed over the years and had learned from other researchers, with whom I had studied, in Sweden and in the US. Over a period of about 11 years I had put together quite a bit of training information and decided (or maybe my wife decided) that it would be simpler to publish some of this information in a book, so that is where the first Running Formula came from – all material that I had put together from published research (including my PhD dissertation), and some based on my communication with elite runners from around the country. I guess you could say the first edition took about 11 years to write.
That is quite a bit of time and research. Would you change anything about the book if you rewrote it today?
Much of the science is well established and not really something to change. Any changes should reflect more specific training programs for a variety of runners of all ages and ability categories. Many people train for and run marathons these days and they need some solid training advice. My primary interest is in helping people of all types, and levels of ability and fitness, to improve health and life in general. That is much more important than coaching someone to being a national champion; what you experience along the way is so much greater than what you might win at the end of the journey.
You have been called “World Best Coach” by Amby Burfoot of Runner’s World. Could you explain what that meant to you?
For Amby to make that comment a number of years ago, meant a lot. I think that comment may have been based on my coaching quite a few Division III National Champions and Championship teams; possible because you have no athletic scholarships to work with so coaching ability pretty well outweighs recruiting of the best high-school runners.
Who were some coaches who influenced you as a coach early on?
It was more a matter of scientists influencing me, rather than coaches. Often a coach is considered great by producing an outstanding athlete, regardless of whether that same coach may have even destroyed a few others along the way. I wanted to provide training information that could be based on each participant’s ability and degree of motivation. Dr. Bruno Balke was my doctoral director and he influenced me greatly relative to the relevance of science behind training. Dr. P.O. Åstrand (pronounced “Ohstrand)” who taught me when I studied in Sweden, was a major influence and also Larry Snyder, with whom I coached in Peru, was influential. Larry taught me that athletes make coaches rather than coaches making good athletes. He based that on the fact that the first year he coached in college he had a young guy on his team named Jesse Owens, the greatest of his time.
Who are some coaches that you follow today or whose coaching you admire?
I have based more of my coaching on what I have learned through study and personal research, and through my relationship with some very successful athletes. How can you be around people like Jim Ryun, Gerry Lindgren, Bob Schul, George Young, Tom Von Ruden and many more with similar success stories, and not be influenced by what they have done? These mentioned runners were all part of my dissertation research and I have even re-tested them twice over the years, following the original research I conducted in 1968 (we just this summer re-tested these guys again, a 45-year follow-up study). A few coaches I have had the pleasure of spending good amounts of time with (and I certainly learned some from each of them) include Bob Sevene (“Sev”), Vin Lananna (Vin), and Frank Gagliano (Gags). Although I only spent one week with Arthur Lydiard, a few talks with him were also insightful. No question that John Hayes is a great coach and Alberto Salazar (a good friend of 30 years) are doing outstanding jobs coaching.
What is your take on the emergence of American running in recent years? What do you think is the main cause of this?
Good question. I think the interest among middle-aged and older people to get out there and run (for whatever reason) is influencing some younger people. Youngsters see their parents run a marathon to raise money for some charity and they want to do some running with mom or dad. Some of them realize they have some running ability and get seriously involved. I feel a good number of high-school aged kids get into running to try to earn a scholarship to college, a major economic issue these days. I paid $40 tuition, per quarter, when I went to college, and my monthly rent was $5. Not possible these days without some aid.
From your standpoint, what are most runners not doing that they should do?
A couple things are of utmost importance in my mind. The single most important word relative to pursuing any goal is “consistency.” [Note: Consistency is the topic of Chapter 3 of my new, free eBook] You don’t achieve success just by getting in a good week of training now and then. Something of real importance is to be able to answer the question – “What is the purpose of this workout?” I wonder how many runners (or even coaches) can answer that simple question when they get into a workout? I learned a great lesson from one of my elite-runner subjects. Between 1968 and 1993 this runner had taken off over 1200 days for dealing with a small injury or illness – every time he had a little setback to deal with, he took a few days off rather than trying to work through the problem. His VO2max at age 24 was 78.6 and the year he turned 50, his VO2 max was 76.0 – the greatest I have ever heard of for a 50-year old. He also had broken 30 minutes for a 10k when 40 years old. Avoiding prolonged illness or injury is so important.
Can you talk about some long-term tips that runners should know or be reminded of to avoid injury?
Avoid feeling the need to train through injury or illness (as referred to above). Be consistent with good nutrition and rest – rest is part of training, not a matter of avoiding training.
How did you come up with the VDOT calculator and is the version on your site the same as the one in the book?
VDOT was originated by Jimmy Gilbert and I back in the 1960s – my research and Jimmy’s math, science and computer abilities worked together to generate the VDOT tables, both for training intensities and estimating performance abilities for races that have not been run. Our first publication on the matter of VDOT values for training and estimating performance levels was published in 1979, in our book – OXYGEN POWER. Over the years quite a few people have used the tables presented in this book to generate their own performance and training tables. Some have even sent me copies of what they have come up with; others not quite so kind. If the tables being referred to say they are related to VDOT, then they are the same; if not noted as being related to VDOT, then there is usually a variation in the math used to generate the tables in question.
If you had to put your philosophy of running into one sentence, what would it be?
Each runner is an individual, and my job as a coach is to provide an environment, for those whom I coach, that will allow their true potential to come out and be truly realized in competition.
Are there any techniques that you can share for runners to improve their recovery techniques?
Always stay hydrated, well fed and regularly rested. Recovery from intense bouts of exercise is better if it is active recovery.
What is your opinion on strength training for runners?
We are learning more all the time about benefits of resistance training and running. In my mind, even though some resistance training may improve running economy, the biggest benefit of resistance training for runners is that it helps prevent injury so you can run harder to become a better runner
Do you have anything that you’d want to tell runners to remember when they are at the starting line of a big race?
Focus on the task at hand and do what you are capable of achieving. Others in the race do not have control over what you are doing, nor do you have control over the others in the race.
What tips did YOU find most helpful for your running?