Book Review: Daniels’ Running Formula

Book Review: Daniels’ Running Formula  by Jack Daniels

I know reading books makes my life better. I was recently reminded of this when reading an article about successful entrepreneurs and how much of their days are often spent reading. I am diving into reading again and I’m writing about it for two reasons:

  1. When I write about what I read I pay more attention to what I’m reading, I get more out of what I read, and I remember it longer, and it’s therefore more impactful on my life when I write about what I read.
  2. Some of you that read this blog may think somewhat like me and find the impactful points of books that I’m reading helpful. Maybe it’ll motivate you to read more too.

How was this book impactful to me?

I’m a running coach. I utilize Daniels’ training models as the foundation of my personal training and that of my coaching clients. Reading the 3rd edition (I have read the first and second as well) has sparked some new ideas in me, rekindled some old ones, reaffirmed my path as a runner and coach, and reminded me of some key ideas to share with the runners I work with. Definitely a worthwhile read for me given my love of running and my current work with other runners.  

Why did I choose this book?

As I worked my way through nursing school from 2013 through mid-2015, and as my coaching business grew, I felt that while I was qualified as a coach and was helping people improve with their running, I also needed to keep learning and keep improving my craft. I vowed that once school was finished, I would dive back into reading and learning about running as I did years ago when I decided to self-coach. Daniels was the obvious place for me to start because, while it has been foundational for me, I also hadn’t read it in years. Retreading some old ground first helped solidify my foundation.

What is the 3 sentence summary of the book?

There are some basic principles for training for endurance sports along with different physiologic systems; each system and principle need to be accounted for in planning training for endurance running. We’re all different and need to be flexible with how we approach training – hence the variety of workouts and training plans contained within the book. Lastly, it’s most important to think about the runner as a person and how this sport makes their lives better.

What am I doing differently and how am I thinking in a new way after reading this book?

I’ve done a few things differently in thinking about training for myself and my clients. I’ve added some new types of workouts and re-emphasized some components that I had been giving less attention to (Repeats focused on form and efficiency). It was also a good reminder not to train too fast in workouts. For example, tempo and marathon paced running shouldn’t be super-scary or intimidating. They’re hard, but they shouldn’t be killer workouts. They may get tough because they can be really long, but they’re not VO2 max workouts. I have a tendency to push these too hard and then not want to do them as a result. I could do more of these workouts if I slowed down a bit, got less scared of them, and put in more time at these elevated paces.

“The goal is to teach each runner to be an optimist, someone who internalizes good things and externalizes unfortunate things.” Much of what struck me in this reading of Daniels’ book was the emphasis on psychology, both from a runner and from a coaching perspective. Distance running is very much a mental activity and having a sense of calm and control in dealing with challenges makes for better running and better living. Daniels has a practice of focusing on the positives that a runner is able to achieve. This fits with my style and my general philosophy in life. Be optimistic, work hard, rejoice in success, learn from failure, and keep going!

What didn’t I like so much about this book?

While the first edition, which I read fifteen years ago, felt very scientific, it feels less so to me today. I’m also influenced by having been to a workshop that Jack taught in person last summer. He has his ways, I believe they’re grounded in a sound scientific manner. However, the data backing his assertions doesn’t feel as robust as it once did to me. This could be as much a reflection on me and what I look for in validating claims now, that I didn’t look for fifteen years ago, it could be differences between editions, or maybe he just doesn’t provide all the details that I’d want today to feel more confidence in the approach. I still use the training plans as a backbone for my training plans, but I think that currently I’m much more open to a combination of views than I once was and this reading of Daniels’ book didn’t do anything to change that. Informative, inspiring, insightful, but not the end-all of distance training.

What’s my overall view of the book?

Still the best training book for distance running that I’ve read. I’m looking forward to reading more training books in the coming months and years, particularly about ultra marathon running, to get a broader view of training philosophies, and to possibly challenge some of Jack’s views. I’m confident though that Jack will likely always have a special place on my bookshelf (though it’s no longer a real bookshelf, but instead a bookshelf somewhere in the cloud!).

Have you read Daniels’ Training Formula? What are your thoughts on this? Any recommendations based on my reactions to this book?

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